NHL Playoff Push: Can the New Jersey Devils Pull It Off and Gain Entry?

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIIMarch 3, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 02:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates scoring what turned out to be the winning goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center on March 2, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 2-1. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

With each win they accumulate, the New Jersey Devils begin to believe all that much more.  It's been a season of lows and highs, but the team has been flying high in the second half, posting an 18-2-2 record in their last 22 games, and the talk of a miracle comeback to a playoff spot continues to gain steam. 

After defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Devils moved to within nine points of the eighth seeded Carolina Hurricanes (with a game in hand) and 10 points of the seventh seeded New York Rangers (with two games in hand).  They also moved up in the standings past Florida Panthers, lifting the Devils into 12th place in the conference.

At this point, there is a major question circulating its way around people who follow the NHL.  Can the New Jersey Devils actually pull off the unthinkable and make it into the playoffs?  The easy answer is to say they have too high of a mountain to climb and there isn't enough time to make up the gap they face in the standings, not only in terms of points, but teams to pass as well. 

That's the easy answer, because anyone who doesn't think it's a huge long shot for the Devils at this point is kidding themselves. 

However, let's take a quick peek at the tougher answer, that the Devils will make it into the playoffs.  For the sake of argument, let's set the barometer to be needed for a playoff spot at 90 points and take a quick look at the teams currently in seventh to 12th place in the Eastern Conference: 

(NOTE: I've generated this number based on the fact it took 88 points for Montreal to get the eighth playoff spot last year, and the average for the post-lockout seasons is 91.8 points for the final playoff spot in the East.  Leaning towards there being more parity than in the past, I averaged the two to get to 90 points.)

  • New York Rangers, currently in seventh place with 70 points and 17 games left, need to play at a .588 win percentage to reach 90 points
  • Carolina Hurricanes, currently in eighth place with 69 points and 18 games left, need to play at .583 win percentage to get to 90 points
  • Buffalo Sabres, currently in ninth place with 67 points and 20 games left, need to play at .575 win percentage to get to 90 points
  • Toronto Maple Leafs, currently in 10th place with 65 points and 18 games left, need to play at a .694 win percentage to get to 90 points
  • Atlanta Thrashers, currently in 11th place with 63 points and 18 games left, need to play at a .750 win percentage to get to 90 points
  • DEVILS, currently in 12th place with 60 points and 19 games left, need to play at a .780 win percentage to obtain 90 points
  • Florida Panthers, currently in 13th place with 59 points and 19 games left, need to play at a .816 win percentage to get 90 points

It's fair to say that whatever teams secure the last two playoff spots, they will need to be playing good hockey (assuming it will take 90 points to make a playoff spot), as the minimum percentage on this list is .575, meaning Buffalo will need at least 23 out of a possible 40 points in their last 20 games.  When you factor in the records of these same teams in their last 10 games, it gives the Devils and their fans some additional hope:

  • Rangers       4-6-0 .400
  • Hurricanes   4-4-2, .500
  • Sabres        5-3-2, .600
  • Maple Leafs 5-1-4, .700
  • Thrashers    2-6-2, .300
  • Devils         9-1-0, .900
  • Panthers     3-6-1, .350

Obviously, the last 10 games do not have any bearing on the next 10 games, at least not directly, but it does give some indication of who is playing well and who is not.  The Devils face a lot of potential elimination games in their next 19 games, and while it remains a long shot to get there, who would've thought at the beginning of January that the Devils could reel off an 18-2-2 streak in their next 22 games?

Exactly.  No one. 

So, who's to say the Devils can't go 15-4 in their last 19 to get to 90 points and a possible playoff spot?  The way this year has gone from the ultimate lows, who is to say it can't be offset by the ultimate high?  I, for one, am not ready to count them out just yet. 

While it's easy for the off-ice fans and stat hounds to watch the standings, the mission for the team is simple: one shift, one period, one game at a time to ensure there are no slip ups.  Next up is Pittsburgh on Friday night at the Rock, as the Devils to look for their third straight victory.  A win is a must to keep the "impossible" dream alive.