Sunday, March 14, 2010

A decisive week for Habs playoff hopes

By next Monday morning, the Canadiens will finally have a real sense of where they stand for the first time since the fall. At that point every team fighting the Habs for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs will have 10 games left on the schedule except for the Boston Bruins, who will have 11. 

Basically, the imbalance in the schedule we've seen practically all season will be corrected in a span of seven days, with three of these teams playing four games in six days to catch up. And when you look at what lies ahead this week for the teams still hoping for a playoff spot, you’ll see that having games in hand is not necessarily always a good thing.

Ottawa: Three games – home to Toronto Tuesday, at Atlanta Thursday, at Dallas Saturday.

A pretty light and relatively easy week for the Sens, though with the way they’ve played since the break (1-4-1) I don’t think anything can be taken for granted.

Philadelphia: Four games – at Nashville Tuesday, at Dallas Thursday, at Atlanta Saturday, home to Atlanta Sunday.

Counting Sunday’s 3-1 loss against the Rangers, that makes five games in eight days for the Flyers, with four of them on the road. Three of the four games involve teams still playing for something, though that may not be the case for Atlanta by Saturday.

Montreal: Two games – at New York Rangers Tuesday, at Toronto Saturday.

A win Tuesday should more or less guarantee the Habs a playoff spot, even though I realize the superstitious ones among you must be cringing as you read that. A loss, on the other hand, and everything remains up in the air. As brutal as the Leafs are, Montreal-Toronto on Saturday night is never a gimme for either side.

Boston: Four games – at New Jersey Monday, at Carolina Tuesday, home to Pittsburgh Thursday, home to New York Rangers Sunday.

That’s a very difficult stretch, especially considering the possibility of a nasty situation against the Penguins on Thursday.

New York Rangers: Three games – home to Montreal Tuesday, home to St. Louis Thursday, at Boston Sunday.

A light week of work in terms of the number of games, but the Rangers face the two teams directly above them in the standings. We’ll see if Sunday’s win over Philly sparks something in these guys.

Tampa Bay: Four games - home to Phoenix Tuesday, home to Buffalo Thursday, home to Washington Saturday, at Florida Sunday.

How's that for a week of work? Four games in six days, three against pretty elite competition. Even though those three games are at home, I will venture to say the Lightning may very well be out of the picture by next Monday morning.

Atlanta: Four games - home to Buffalo Monday, home to Ottawa Wednesday, home to Philadelphia Saturday, at Philadelphia Sunday.

At the risk of repeating myself, there's very little chance the Thrashers survive this week from hell. Four games against playoff teams while you're riding a six-game losing streak? Not a good combination.


Sliver24 said...

One major deciding factor for the Habs at the end of the week will be the number of three point games played by the teams they're battling with for a playoff spot.

The Habs are looking great right now, but if a bunch of those games go into OT/SO, the gap could close much more quickly than if each of those games was only worth two points.

Paul O. said...

@Sliver24: That is a really good point. Although as it stands we have quite a nice buffer, with those teams having games in hand, OT points could quickly close the gap. Even if the bruins lost all of their games but did so 3 times, or even just twice. If we lose even one of our games they would be within a win or two of catching us. And that is with losing all their games this week.

Arpon Basu said...

The three-point game is the only reason the standings are as close as they are to begin with. The Bruins have 12 loser points this season, Montreal only has six, and the Rangers have nine. Ottawa would be leading the division if it weren't for the third point. It's a factor this week, but the Habs can just as easily go to overtime as any of the other teams. The only time it really hurts is when two teams you're fighting for a playoff spot go to overtime.

Eric said...

The way the Habs have set up this week makes the scoreboard watching so much fun. You guys may hate the 3 point game, but the fact that everyone is so close does make for an exciting finish to the season every year!

We just posted a different take on the playoff push:

Arpon, you get a shoutout about halfway through :)