Lots of people around this time of year like to do an inventory of the games that are left and cal it a playoff check up. The logic being that few games mean we can start to predict what will happen just by looking at the schedule.
This may seem true, but there are actually millions of possible scenarios, even at this point for all the possible outcomes. That's what happens with so many teams and 4 possible outcomes from each game.
That's why, I prefer to let a computer do the thinking for me. Thankfully there is a computer that does just this. Sports Club Stats is a website that has posted the odds of NHL teams making the playoffs for the past few years, it also predicts the likely placement of teams.
Looking at this site, it becomes possible to see the relatively watertight position of teams that are in the playoff positions at this point and the hopes ever so faint of teams like the Maple Leafs that are trying to claw their way in.
The Leafs lost last night and it cost them valuable points. No big deal? Well not if you were thinking in terms of one simple scenario you thought needed to happen. But in reality, the Leafs just lost more than half of the possible scenarios where they could make the playoffs with that single loss. Because they have to catch teams (one which they lost to) and depend on losses from those rivals and leapfrog teams that could equally win (and will need to win if the Leafs hope the playoff teams are to lose), the chances slim down.
This is more complex because of the way the NHL schedules. By making things more interdivisional and intercoferencial at the very end of the season, the league ensures the most scenarios right to the end of the schedule. The Leafs are by no means out. But the thousands of scenarios where they make the playoffs all depend a lot on others.
The Canadiens are in a very different position. 97 points will guarantee a playoff position at this point. 97 points represents 14 points from 13 games, which is very much in keeping with their record.
96 points is a virtual lock as well. If the Canadiens get a record of 6-6-1 for the rest of the season, there are thousands and thousands of scenarios where they will end up in the playoffs in either 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th or 8th. There are 5,151,915 scenarios whereby they will end up 6th. And there is a single scenario where they could miss the playoffs. Even a 5-5-3 record only yields a single possibility where the rivals all win the right games and slip ahead.
Even if the Canadiens have an abysmal record like 4-9-0, because of the games that are left to play for every team, it is still more likely that they will make it with their 91 points than not.
Looking at things this way is a bit cold, and wouldn't be my tip for Leafs fans who probably don't want to extinguish the flames of hope just yet. But for Habs fans who might just want to cool off their nervous twitches in the month of March, some cold hard stats can be calming.