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A Look At the Capitals’ Playoff Math, 4/1/12 April 1, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Okay.  As of this writing, Florida has lost to Detroit in a shootout, bringing them to 91 points.  Ottawa won, as well, taking them to 92 points and a playoff berth.

Overall, not the best day on the out of town scoreboard, but we can work with this.

The Capitals are down to 3 possible playoff positions:  7 (a long shot), 3 (more on that in a second), or 8 (likely).  And while they can be eliminated by Buffalo, that’s looking a bit less likely after Saturday night’s heads-we-won-and-tails-they-lost results.

Let me begin with the 7 spot, because I know the question is going to come up.  Ottawa needs to play .500 hockey to lock the Caps out of the 7 spot.  The Senators could theoretically lose every remaining game in overtime, and it wouldn’t matter what the Caps did.  So while the 7 spot is not impossible, it would require a very good run by the Caps, and it would also require the Senators to have a late-season swoon the likes of which only get seen these days at Justin Bieber concerts.  It is still possible, but it is unlikely.

As for the duel with Buffalo for the 8 spot…what would you all say if I said the Caps could potentially wake up Wednesday morning with playoff invites in hand?

Here’s why.  Buffalo is 2 points behind us, with 3 games to go.  However, the Capitals own the tie break (Regulation or Overtime Wins, shorthanded ROW).  So the Sabres would need to score 3 more points than the Capitals do this week to make it in.

Now, since the Sabres only have six points available, all it takes right now is for the Caps to score four points.  That’s it.  Two wins and they’re in (or, for that matter, 1-0-2 and they’re in.)  That works out EVEN IF BUFFALO WINS OUT.  4 points of their own, and the Caps clinch the 8 spot.

But what if the Caps only score 3 points?  Buffalo would still need six points:  i.e., they’d have to run the table, with games against Toronto (who just beat them Saturday night), as well as visits to Philadelphia and Boston (both playoff teams, and both teams that play tough).

But…but…but what if all the Caps can score this week is a measly two points?  Buffalo would still need five points:  Two wins and an overtime, or (again) three wins.  There’s no other way for the Sabres to get in if the Caps score “only” two points.

Now, we’re going to get into a nightmare scenario.  Suppose the Caps go 0-2-1 this week.  Even here, Buffalo still needs 4 points to get in.  They would need two wins, a 1-0-2 record, or better.  And that assumes the Caps lose every game this week, only getting to overtime once. 

Now let’s have a national panic, shall we, and assume the Caps go 0-3-0.  Highly unlikely, but I’m going to put this out here for completion’s sake.  In that highly unlikely event, Buffalo would still have to come up with 3 points.  I’m looking at road games in Boston and Philadelphia, as well as a rematch with the team that just beat them on Saturday, and I’ve got to wonder where those three points are going to come from.  And even THIS assumes the Capitals collapse like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and do not get a single point this week.

We’re going to think positive:  two wins and the Caps are in.  Boom.  Done.  Simple.

Or?  Here’s the intriguing part.  Buffalo is hosting the Maple Leafs Tuesday night, the same night the Caps head down to Tampa to take on the Lightning.  If Toronto beats Buffalo in regulation, and the Caps beat Tampa Bay, that’s it.  Game over.  Put an X by Washington in the standings and get ready to rock some playoff red.

The Capitals need 4 points–their own, or Buffalo’s losses–to punch their playoff tickets.  So if Tuesday night turns into a repeat of Saturday, that’s it.  Book ’em, Danno, playoff ducats.

Caps Nation, you’d better start Believing again.

Now, as for the Southeast Division:  The Caps trail Florida by 3 points, with 3 games remaining, one head to head.  Obviously, Thursday night’s game at Verizon Center is a must-win.  If the Caps lose that in regulation, the Panthers win the Southeast.  If they lose in OT, the Caps would have to be perfect in the other two games, and hope Florida loses its two other games in regulation.  Tuesday night, Florida hosts Winnipeg, against which Florida has a 3-1-1 record so far.  The last game, however, was a 7-0 thrashing by the Jets–get it?–and Winnipeg would, you have to think, love to play spoiler to a team that’s beaten them three times this year.

Saturday, Florida hosts Carolina, a series the Panthers lead 4-1-0.  Carolina is already out; whether they play for pride and try to play spoiler, or play for ping pong balls and roll over, is anyone’s guess.

The Capitals do own the tie break over the Panthers.  So if they win in regulation Thursday night, they would need to score 1 more point than the Panthers in the two teams’ other two games.  If they need more than sixty minutes to finish off the Panthers on Thursday night, they’ll need two more points than the Panthers get the rest of the week.

However, there’s a bit of intrigue here, too.  If both of the Sunshine State’s teams lose Tuesday night–Tampa to the Caps, Florida to the Jets–then a regulation win Thursday night could put the Capitals in position to clinch the division if they get into overtime in New York on Saturday.

The Capitals are going to need to win on Thursday, and do well in the other two games, to have a shot at the division title.  They’re going to need help from either the Jets or the Hurricanes; but as those are both division match-ups, anything is possible.

All that having been said, let’s at least focus on the 8 spot.  Two wins, and the Caps are in.  Let’s just leave it at that.

We’ll know more once the dust settles Tuesday night.  This is going to be one seriously nerve-wracking week.




1. CapitalSpirit - April 1, 2012

Whoa, hello.

Before anyone asks, I am not capsfan387 over on the Post. Whoever that was, thank you very much for the link love, and if you’re ever in Verizon Center for a Caps game, come on up to Section 417 and say hi. I’m pretty hard to miss.

As for the comment that this was too much analysis when the picture could be much clearer on Tuesday: Well, yeah…but in theory, the Caps could be in the playoffs by close of NHL business Tuesday night. I’m out of the loop a bit, but I’m not sure if that point has either been made or properly explained, so I opted to step in.

Playoff math is something I enjoy knowing how to do. (As an aside: somewhere out there, my high school algebra teacher is going, “See? You really WERE going to need this!”) And I actually have fun plotting the scenarios, crunching the numbers, and throwing out the occasional tantalizing “What if?” or two. This was more fun for me to write than you think, and if you enjoyed reading it, then we both came out ahead.

I ALSO went in depth with the scenarios, in part, because I know this season has been a bit discouraging at times. When we lost to Buffalo the other night, all of a sudden, we had no control over our playoff fate. Oh no, oh no, panicpanicpanic. I could almost smell the resignation of Caps Nation at the end of the Buffalo game…or, who knows, maybe that was just a Sabres fan who forgot to apply his Mitchum that night, I don’t know.

Now, however, not only are we back in the driver’s seat, we’re pretty darn close to the finish line–a prospect that was very much in question until Saturday night’s fortuitous turns.

How close to the finish line are we? That was the point of all the “4 points means this, 3 points means that,” and so on.

The Caps aren’t in the playoffs yet, and I’m not going to jinx it by saying it’s a slam dunk from here. I WILL say, however, that the playoffs are now firmly within the Caps’ reach.

2. CapitalSpirit - April 2, 2012

Ouch. Major eye cramp here. For some reason, I thought that the Caps-Bolts game was Tuesday; it’s tonight. *facepalm* I appear to have misread the schedule.

I’m blind, I’m deaf, I wanna be a ref. Terry Gregson, call your office.

The math is correct, however.

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