Breaking Down The 2010 NHL Playoff Races: Who Needs To Do What To Get In

As usual, the race for the final playoff spots in the NHL will come right down to the wire. At SB Nation, we like to make things easy to digest for as many people as possible, so without any more delay, we'll break down the hectic Eastern Conference playoff race and the milder, yet still exciting, Western race.

Eastern Conference

We start in the East, where five teams are still fighting for their playoff lives.

 TEAM #6 Montreal (86 pts) #7 Boston (84 pts) #8 Philadelphia (84 pts) #9 NY Rangers (82 pts) #10 Atlanta (81 pts)
 Monday at Capitals
 Tuesday at Islanders at Maple Leafs at Sabres vs Devils
 Wednesday vs Maple Leafs
 Thursday at Hurricanes vs Sabres
 Friday at Rangers vs Flyers at Capitals
 Saturday vs Maple Leafs vs Hurricanes vs Penguins
 Sunday at Capitals vs Rangers at Flyers


  • Montreal has a magic number of four. If they get four points in their three games, they clinch a playoff spot.
  • Boston has a magic number of six. If they get six points in their remaining four games, they clinch.
  • Philadelphia has a magic number of six. If they win their three games, they clinch.
  • The Rangers hold their own destiny, kind of. It all depends on the weekend series with Philadelphia. More on that below in the tiebreaker situation.
  • Atlanta needs help. The Isles can still make the postseason with a lot of help (see below).


  • Boston has the upper hand right now for positioning over Montreal and Philadelphia, because of their extra game. Unfortunately for them, two of the games this week come against the best team in the league.
  • Atlanta has a ridiculously difficult schedule, playing three of the best teams in the East to close out their season. Oh, and on Tuesday they'll welcome Ilya Kovalchuk back to Atlanta for the first time since the trade deadline, and there's no doubt he'll want to make their lives miserable.
  • One of the first things you'll notice is how much of an impact the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs will have on the Eastern race. They play sixth-place Toronto, eighth-place Philadelphia and ninth-place New York over the next week. The outcomes of those games will have a major effect on who makes the playoffs and who doesn't.
  • In just about every possible scenario, this weekend's Flyers-Rangers home-and-home will be gigantic.
  • Believe it or not, the Islanders actually have a shot still, but it's so far-fetched it's not worth including. For fun, though: NYI wins all four remaining games to put them at 84 points with a 37-35-10 record. If Boston loses out (would give them a record of 36-34-12 with 84 pts), NYI would pass them. But, if NYR gets just one more win, they'd eliminate the Islanders. Stranger things have happened?


  • As a refresher, the tiebreakers are... 1) games played, 2) games won, 3) head-to-head-points, 4) goal differential over the entire season.
  • MTL vs BOS: If the teams end up tied in wins and points, which would happen if both teams win out, Montreal wins the tiebreaker by having 10 points in games vs Boston, compared to Boston's four points in those games.
  • MTL vs PHI: In order to tie, the Flyers would have to win one more game than Montreal the rest of the way. Considering the teams are tied in wins right now, Philly would win the tiebreaker.
  • MTL vs NYR: It'd take a lot for these teams to tie, but Montreal holds the head-to-head points tiebreaker.
  • MTL vs ATL: Montreal will have more wins regardless of what happens the rest of the way.
  • BOS vs PHI: It'll be tough for Boston to catch Philly in wins, but if they do, the teams are tied in head-to-head points. Philly currently leads goal differential plus-9 to plus-2, so it'll be tough for the Bruins to catch the Flyers there as well. All signs point to Philly winning this one.
  • BOS vs NYR: In order for the teams to be tied in points, New York will have to win two more games than Boston. They are currently tied, so such a scenario would put NYR ahead of the Bruins in the tiebreaker.
  • BOS vs ATL: If Atlanta catches the Bruins in points and wins, Boston wins the head-to-head tiebreak.
  • PHI vs NYR: With two games left between these two teams, there's a lot to be said still. If both teams win their games heading into the weekend, they'll be tied in points. Philly would hold the wins tiebreak, but that wouldn't matter if NYR beats them both times over the weekend. A lot to be determined here. 
  • PHI vs ATL: Philly holds the tiebreak with more wins. 
  • NYR vs ATL: A three point game would have to come into play for these two to tie in points, but if that happens and they tie in wins as well, Atlanta holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Western Conference

Now we move on to the West, where the battle for eighth place is a lot easier to digest.

 TEAM #8 Colorado (91 pts) #9 Calgary (89 pts)
 Tuesday at Canucks vs Sharks
 Wednesday at Oilers
 Thursday vs Wild
 Friday vs Blackhawks
 Saturday at Canucks
 Sunday vs Kings


The bottom line? Calgary needs a bit of help. If the Flames win out -- and with games against San Jose and Vancouver, that won't be easy -- they'll need Colorado to lose at least two games. Calgary has a max of 95 points the rest of the way out, so if Colorado gets five or more points, it's all over for the Flames.

If the teams wind up tying in wins and points, Colorado wins the head-to-head tiebreaker. Ultimately, if Calgary wants to make the playoffs, they need to win out and hope the Avalanche only get three points or fewer in their four remaining games.

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