Hockey is combat. With injury rates on each team greater than casualty figures for units in the U.S. Civil War, don’t let anyone tell you different.
When you add in that the average difference in the East between 8th and 9th seed since the Lockout has been 1.2 points, in the West, 2.8 points, and overall, only 2 points, it is understandable that the battle for final playoff seeds will once again go down to the wire.
How do the teams engaged in these ‘Border Wars’ stack up through Saturday, 12 March's games? We compare those in the range of the playoff possible below…
Eastern teams within two points of the final,projected point spread of the 8th seed based on On Goal Analysis’ ability to project from all possible points that can be awarded are only the NYR and BUF.
NYR are projected at the #7 seed with 90 – 91 points, behind #6-projected MTL by 7 – 8 points. They are winning at a .543 clip, just under the Eastern Conference’s average winning percentage (W%) of .550. They have 12 games left to play which include: one each with MTL and BUF who bookend their projected position; two with BOS and one each with PIT and PHI who are playing at better than the Eastern W%; and six additional games against NYI (x2 – a traditional thorn in the side), FLA, OTT, ATL and NJD. The Rangers have won three of their last four games. NYR has only had four players in all 70 games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to DelZotto, Biron, Boogaard, Frolov and Drury. Caution: If NYR needs a win against NJD in their last game of the season, they may be in trouble.
BUF is projected at the #8 seed with 90 – 91 points, behind #7-projected NYR by 1 point or less and ahead of #9-projected CAR by 4 – 5 points. They have a .523 W%, also under the Eastern Conference’s average by greater than .025. They have 14 games left to play which include: two against CAR and one vs NYR who rest on their flanks; one each with NSH, MTL, WSH, TBL and PHI who are all sporting W%’s better than .580; and six additional games against OTT, ATL, FLA, NJD, TOR and CBJ. The Sabres have lost two of their last three games, a trend they need to reverse. BUF has only one player, Tyler Ennis, who has participated in all 68 games for the team this season. Their injured roster includes Butler, Gaustad, Kaleta, Stafford, Lalime and Roy. Caution: The stretch of NJD, TOR, NYR, WAS, CAR and TBL from 26 MAR to 5 APR will make or break them as far as the playoffs go this season.
Honorable mentions: CAR likely to finish 9th with 85 – 87 points; ATL weighs in at 9th or 10th with 83 – 85 points; NJD – with a great comeback attempt – likely to come in at 9th – 11th with 84 – 86 points; and TOR rests at 10th to 12th seed with 82 – 84 points.
It looks like the East boils down to PHI, WSH, BOS, PIT, TBL, MTL, NYR and BUF with CAR falling just short.
The competition in the untamed West is even more ferocious for teams that are within three points of the final, projected point spread of the 8th seed. Teams in this range include CHI, ANA, PHX, NSH and CGY.
CHI is projected at the #6 seed with 97 – 98 points, behind #5-projected LAK by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .596 clip, above the West’s average W% of .570. They have 14 games left to play which include: only one game against PHX in the Border Wars gang; three with DET including a Black and Blue pair on 8 and 10 APR to close out the season; games against WSH, SJS, DAL, BOS, TBL and MTL who are all playing at a W% greater than .600; and four more games against FLA, EDM, CBJ and STL. The Blackhawks have gone 0-1-1 in their last two following an eight game W streak. CHI has only had three players compete in all 68 games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to Bolland, Campbell, Hendry and Johnsson. Caution: Three games left versus DET, including the away-and-home pair to close out the season may give the ‘Hawks some fits.
ANA is projected at the #7 seed with 96 – 97 points, behind #6-projected CHI by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .581 clip, still above the West’s average W%. They have 14 games left to play which include: two games against CGY and one each against PHX and CHI within the Border Wars circle; they have three with LAK including another Black and Blue pair on 8 and 9 APR to close out the season; two each against DAL and SJS and one versus NSH who look to be in the Western playoffs already; and one more each against STL and COL. The Ducks are 5-1-1 in their last seven games which is the right trend for right now. ANA has only Perry and Ryan who have made every opening faceoff and currently reports injuries to Blake, Hiller and Jafray. Caution: Two speed bumps for the standings may crop up: LAK, CGY, DAL, NSH and CHI from 19 – 26 MAR and CGY, SJS DAL, SJS, and 2x LAK closing out the season from 30 MAR – 9 APR.
PHX is projected at #8 with 95 – 96 points, behind #7-projected ANA by about 1 point. They are winning at a .587 clip, ahead of the Wests’ W%. They have 13 games left to play which include: only one game against ANA, CGY and CHI from the Border Wars group; they have three against SJS with that Black and Blue pair on 8 and 9 APR to close out the season; games against VAN, DAL, and LAK who are already projected in the playoffs; and four more games against EDM, STL, CBJ and COL. The Coyotes have gone 2-0-1 in their last three games. PHX has only four players who have played in all games so far this season and currently has injuries reported to Hanzal, Klesla, Whitney, Sauer and Jovanovski. Caution: PHX games at LAK, and home-and-away versus SJS 6 – 9 APR may have a huge impact in terms of points and player health rolling toward the playoffs.
NSH is projected at the #9 seed with 94 – 95 points, behind #8-projected PHX by 1-2 points. Their W% is .580, still above the West’s average. They have 13 games left to play which include: ANA as the only Border Wars game; a pair at home against DET; games against LAK, BOS, BUF, DAL, and VAN who are projected as playoff teams; and five more games against EDM, COL, ATL, CBJ and STL. The Predators have gone 4-1-2 in their last six games. NSH has five players who have started all 69 games so far and currently has injuries reported to O’Reilly, Sullivan, Goc, Bouillon and Lombardi. Caution: Complacency versus ATL, CBJ and STL to close out the season may actually close out the season.
CGY is projected at the #10 seed with 94 – 95 points, behind #8-projected PHX and #9-projected NSH by 1-2 points. They are winning at a .570 clip, right at the West’s average W%. They have the least games left at 11 to play which include: two versus ANA and one against PHX in the Border Wars gang; they have one each with LAK, SJS and VAN who are likely seeded above them in the final playoff standings; and two each against COL and EDM and another at STL. The Flames are on an 0-2 mini-streak after going 5-1-1 in the previous seven games. CGY has five players who have made all 71 starts and currently has injuries reported to Jackman, Modin, Morrison, Langkow, Pardy, Wahl, Ivanans and Negrin, the most of all Border Wars teams. Caution: Their final 11 games over 26 days / one-game-every-2.36 days is a double edged sword. It is good for recovery purposes, but is a slower rhythm than the rest of the teams they struggle against for the final playoff positions.
Honorable mentions: MIN likely to finish 11th with 91 – 92 points and the final Western team projected over 90 would likely nudge out #7 NYR and/or #8 BUF for a playoff seed were they in the Eastern Conference.
Most likely in the Western Conference, we are looking at VAN, DET, SJS, DAL and LAK with three of CHI, ANA, PHX and NSH rounding out the top eight.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Border Wars in the Eastern and Western Conferences will decide who rounds out the final playoff pictures. History tells us only once – EDM in 2005/6 – has a team below the fifth seed at the end of the regular season been a Stanley Cup finalist. So the odds are against survivors of the Border Wars playing into June. But you never know, so gather your provisions, reload the batteries on your remote, strap on your recliner, and enjoy the Border Wars from now until April 10th.