NHL playoff picture: Flyers, Wild can clinch; 5 teams face elimination

USA TODAY Sports

It's a busy night in the NHL playoff race on Tuesday. Two teams can clinch playoff spots, while five teams face the realization of an early summer.

If the playoffs started today...

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Odd rule keeps Minnesota from clinching

In Monday's update, we wrote that a Minnesota Wild win in overtime or regulation against Winnipeg would have given them a playoff spot. Minnesota beat the Jets, 1-0, on Monday .... but they didn't clinch.

Our math was right. The Phoenix Coyotes can at best tie the Wild in the standings no matter how you look at it, and the Wild should win any tiebreaker. But Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune shared an insane NHL rule that actually doesn't guarantee Minnesota the tiebreaker just yet.

If the Wild ends up tied in regulation/overtime wins with Phoenix, the next tiebreaker is head-to-head. Yes, the Wild is 2-1 against the Coyotes this year, but technically, in a bit of a strange rule, the Wild's first win in Phoenix ceases to exist.

In determining the head-to-head tiebreaker when an odd number of games were played in the season series, the first game played in the city with the extra home game is not counted. So the Jan. 9 game (4-1 Wild win) is thrown out. Thus, for tiebreaker purposes, the Wild and Coyotes split the two-game season series, both teams earning two points and coincidentally tied in goals because they were each 3-1 victories.

So if the Wild's actual totals and the Coyotes' maximum totals after Monday night are 94 points and 34 regulation/overtime wins (which would happen if the Wild wins in regulation or overtime tonight), that still would not officially clinch a playoff berth for the Wild. If the Wild at the end of the season is tied with Phoenix in points and regulation/overtime wins, the next tiebreaker is goal differential for the season. Since that couldn't be determined until Game 82, the Wild would have to wait to officially clinch if it wins in regulation/overtime.

Pretty nuts. In any event, the Wild can indeed clinch Tuesday night with either a single point in their game vs. Boston, or if the Coyotes lose in any way vs. Columbus, or even if Phoenix wins in the shootout vs. CBJ. A Dallas Stars loss vs. Nashville will clinch a playoff spot for Minnesota as well.

Flyers can clinch

The Philadelphia Flyers clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. Five years ago to the exact day, the Flyers clinched a spot in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win ... also over the Panthers. We'd call it deja vu for Philly, but they've traded basically everybody since then.

Maple Leafs collapse complete?

Toronto's unbelievable -- or, if you've been listening to the advanced stats community for the last year and a half, completely predictable -- collapse could finally become reality on Tuesday night.

  • If the Leafs lose in regulation vs. the Lightning and the Blue Jackets earn just a single point vs. Phoenix, Toronto is eliminated.
  • If the Leafs earn one point vs. the Lightning, Columbus will need two points and Detroit will need one point to eliminate Toronto.

Two points for Toronto will keep their playoff hopes alive for another day. Barely.

Elimination looms for Capitals

Washington has made the playoffs every year since 2006-07, but there's slim chance they'll be there this year. Any faint hopes could be eliminated on Tuesday night. Here's the scenario that'll eliminate the Caps from playoff contention:

  • A Washington loss Tuesday vs. St. Louis.
  • Columbus win vs. Phoenix, in any fashion
  • Detroit earns a point or more vs. Buffalo

This scenario would give the Capitals a maximum of 89 points on the year. It'd also give Detroit and Columbus 89 points a piece, and Washington's heavy reliance on the shootout this season means they don't have a chance in any tiebreaker situation, no matter the opponent.

Other elimination scenarios on Tuesday

  • The Nashville Predators are eliminated with a loss plus a Dallas Stars win.
  • The Carolina Hurricanes are eliminated with a loss in any form, or if Columbus earns one point.
  • The Ottawa Senators are eliminated with a loss in any form. If Ottawa wins, they can stay alive only if Columbus or Detroit fail to earn a single point. Columbus wins any potential tiebreaker against the Sens, which they'll guarantee with at least a point Tuesday. Detroit could still technically lose a tiebreaker if Ottawa wins their remaining games without shootout help, Detroit loses all their remaining games in regulation (including Tuesday), and the Sens score 24 more goals than they allow in their final four games.

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