Even a 11-20-3 collapse down the stretch could get John Tortorella's New York Rangers into the playoffs. (Getty Images)
As teams begin their post-All-Star-Weekend playoff push, six teams in the Western Conference can almost hit cruise control, while several teams in the East could fall from or rejoin the playoff picture.
With the NHL All-Star Weekend in the books, NHL teams got back to business Tuesday night to resume the exhausting push to the playoffs. Out of 13 games, five of them went to overtime or shootout -- which means not 26 but 31 standings points were handed out in one night alone.
The advent of such "three-point game" in the NHL makes erasing a deficit in the standings all the more daunting. Odds are the teams in a playoff position today are the teams that will be there at the end of the season Apr. 7.
But there will be exceptions. The exceptions will require impressive late-season runs.
Here is where the two conference's seeds stand today, a projection of how many points each team needs to qualify based on the eighth seed's pace after last night (this tends to fluctuate nightly), and the minimum record each team must put up to reach that conservative threshold.
For most teams on the outside looking in, it will take a much better record than they've currently logged in 2011-12 to make the climb.
A few rules about the rankings below:
1. Division leaders -- even in the weaker Southeast -- are projected based on what it would take to make the 8th seed, not what it would take to win their division.
2. Overtime/shootout losses were picked based on the number of overtime/shootout losses the team has already compiled. In truth the number of extra points that will come via such losses is a flip of the coin, but penciling in those provides a glimpse at the different routes to a season-ending record that would get it done.
Eastern Conference - 8th Seed Pace: 92 Points
Team (current record) ... (record needed to reach 92 points)
- Rangers* (31-12-5) ... 11-20-3
- Bruins* (32-14-2) ... 12-20-2
- Flyers (29-14-6) ... 12-17-4
- Penguins (29-17-4) ... 13-15-4
- Senators (27-20-6) ... 14-11-4
- Devils (27-19-3) ... 16-14-3
- Capitals* (26-19-4) ... 17-14-2
- Maple Leafs (25-19-6) ... 16-12-4
- Panthers (22-15-11) ... 15-12-7
- Jets (23-22-6) ... 18-9-4
- Lightning (22-23-4) ... 20-9-4
- Islanders (20-22-7) ... 20-8-5
- Canadiens (19-22-9) ... 19-6-7
- Sabres (21-24-5) ... 20-7-5
- Hurricanes (18-25-9) ... 20-3-7
*Current division leaders
Of all the East's teams currently in a playoff position, Ottawa looks vulnerable because it has the fewest games left to play (just 30), while the two Southeast leaders Washington and Florida could be at risk if they don't take their division title outright.
Western Conference - 8th Seed Pace: 90 Points
Team (current record) ... (record needed to reach 90 points)
- Red Wings* (34-16-1) ... 10-20-1
- Canucks* (31-15-4) ... 10-18-4
- Predators (31-16-4) ... 10-17-4
- Blues (29-13-7) ... 10-18-5
- Blackhawks (29-15-7) ... 10-16-5
- Sharks* (28-14-6) ... 12-18-4
- Kings (24-16-10) ... 12-12-8
- Wild (24-19-7) ... 15-12-5
- Avalanche (26-24-2) ... 17-11-2
- Stars (25-21-2) ... 18-14-2
- Flames (23-22-6) ... 17-10-4
- Coyotes (22-21-8) ... 16-11-6
- Ducks (19-23-7) ... 20-8-5
- Oilers (19-26-5) ... 21-6-5
- Blue Jackets (13-31-6) ... 28-2-2
The West is a different animal entirely. Four conference title-chasing teams in the Central Division along with only one (virtually) guaranteed playoff team in the Northwest combine to create a tier of six very likely playoff teams followed by a bubble of six teams fighting for the final two seeds.
As we move toward the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline and teams stumble into the kind of streaks and slumps that can mark any month, the drama lies in which teams get hot and which ones see their hopes simply fade away.