The Shape Of The Endgame

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Dallas redo has been scheduled and we know what the final month of the season is going to look like for the Blue Jackets, let's look at what the road to the playoffs looks like for Columbus and their competition in the Metro.

In case you missed it yesterday, the Jackets game against the Dallas Stars that was suspended due to Rich Peverley's collapse has been rescheduled to Wednesday, April 9th. That means the Jackets will play Phoenix here in Columbus the night before (their home finale), then fly to Dallas to replay that game, then travel to Florida with a one day break before back to back games against the Panthers and Lightning to end the season. Oof.

The only consolation is that the clubs fighting for the final two Metropolitan Division playoff spots are facing equally rough roads down the  stretch. So I thought it might be a good idea to put things in perspective by looking at the schedule for each club with a realistic shot at the postseason (Pittsburgh was excluded because they've effectively clinched a spot already. The Islanders and Canes were virtually eliminated over the last few weeks, so I left them off for the same reason.)

First, let's start with the Blue Jackets.

Teams currently holding a playoff spot are marked in bold.

CAR
@MTL
NYR
@NYI
DET
PIT
@CAR
COL
@PHI
CHI
NYI
PHX
@DAL*
@TBL
@FLA

15 games, eight of them against clubs in playoff position as of today. Seven at home, eight away.

The teams they're hosting here in Columbus are a combined 136-105-28 on the road.  (An average record of 19-15-4). The good news is that average is thrown off a bit by clubs like Colorado, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers, who have been incredibly strong on the road, but only two opponents (Carolina and Phoenix) have losing road records.

When the Jackets hit the road, it gets a little easier. Sort of. The combined record for their 8 road opponents is 115-87-36. (Average: 14-11-5). The Islanders and Panthers in particular have been wretched at home, but they're great at getting a point out of their games. (10-17-8 on home ice). Don't be shocked if we see quite a few OT / SO results when all is said and done.

So, Columbus has their work cut out for them. As crazy as it sounds, though, they're nowhere near the worst schedule to end the season in the Metro. That honor belongs to the Flyers, who get this lovely slate of opponents:

CHI
DAL
STL
LAK
@NYR
TOR
BOS
@STL
@CBJ
@BOS
BUF
@FLA
@TBI
@PIT
CAR

Three non-playoff teams out of their final fifteen games. All of them except Boston, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh scrapping for position, and three opponents (Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis) whose losses in their road or home records can be measured in single digits.

The only good news is that they've got eight of their games at home, including the finale, but it's still not a terribly pretty picture. The road record for the teams they face at home is 146-114-37, and that's with the utter tire fire that is the Buffalo Sabres on the road (7-21-3) skewing the numbers. They're still looking at an average record of 18-14-5, with Buffalo and Carolina having losing road records, while Dallas and Toronto are virtual coinflips. (14-14-4 / 14-14-7)

Oh, and when they do get on the road? They're facing a record of 142-66-25. (20-9-4). Even if we throw out their final road game against Pittsburgh, since they seem to have the Pens' number this year, youre still looking at clumbs like St. Louis, Tampa, and Boston who just don't lose at home. St. Louis is rocking a 24-5-4 record on home ice right now. That's terrifying, especially sandwhiched between hosting the Bruins at home, then going back out to Boston after facing the Blues, where the Bruins are 27-7-2. (Oh, and they also get visit New York and Columbus, who are directly competing with them within the division.)

If the Flyers stumble down the stretch, it's going to be these opponents that do it to them, and I wouldn't be shocked if they're worn down pretty badly should they reach the first round of the playoffs.

That brings us to the Rangers, who are currently holding down the Wild Card 2 spot - and with two more games played than Columbus and Philly.

@OTT
@CBJ
@NJD
@PHX
PHI
@CAL
@EDM
@VAN
@COL
OTT
CAR
BUF
@MTL

On the one hand, the Rangers have just four opponents in playoff position right now, two of whom will be divisional games. On the other, boy, that's a lot of frequent flyer miles down the stretch- particularly that Western Canada trip, with a nice foray down to the buzzsaw that is the Colorado Avalanche to finish up? Ouch. The Rangers face just four of their last thirteen opponents at home, but they can take some comfort in the fact that three of them aren't in the race, and that Buffalo and the Canes suck on road ice. (50-63-20 total record, 13-16-5 average record)

That road slate, though...you're looking at a combined record of 153-107-39 (17-12-4 avg), with teams like the Jackets, Coyotes, Avs, and Habs sporting 19 or more wins in their rinks. That's not very good news when you're trying to keep pace, particularly when the teams around you have more games to get it done with.

In the division, that leaves us with our two outliers - the Capitals and Devils are still technically alive, though they don't have much margin of error.

Of the two, despite being a point behind the Capitals, the Devils have a game in hand and a pretty friendly schedule - if they can survive their next four games (BOS, MIN, NYR, TOR), their next nine games come against non-playoff clubs, including a match with Washington and then wrapping up with one last game against the Bruins.

They've also got home ice for ten of those final fourteen games, against teams with a combined  record of 146-147-39. That's as close to .500 hockey as you can get, which means they've got a good chance to push ahead, and in their few road games, they're facing clubs who have been terrible at home, so I'd bet they'll take at least three of those four as well.

Breaking up the current block at the top of the Metro isn't going to be easy, especially since Columbus and Philly both hold a game in hand, but Jersey might just have the most amenable schedule to pulling it off.

As for the Capitals? It's not pretty.

Their next five games are a swing through all three California teams (who are a combined 68-22-11 at home), then hosting LA and Boston. After that they have a relative breather when they visit Nashville and host Dallas, but then it's out to Jersey and the Island for back to back road starts, and their final four games feature a visit to St. Louis, stopping off in Carolina, and a final homestand of Chicago (as the second night of a back to back, no less!) and Tampa.

Is it possible that some combination of Jaroslav Halak standing on his head and Alex Ovechkin's scoring prowess could pull them through that schedule? Sure. Is it likely, especially considering most of the teams competing with them have a game or more in hand? Not so much.

All things considered, I'd give the Jackets pretty good odds of going something like 8-5-2 in the final 15 games. That'd put them at 94 points, which would likely see them as the third seed in the Metro - maybe second depending on how those divisional games break.

My gut says that Philly is likely to stumble a bit, but still come out of things with the other division spot alongside Columbus and Pittsburgh, and I could see a scenario where Jersey gets hot and beats out Detroit and/or the Rangers for that final wild card berth.

Buckle up. It's going to be quite a ride.

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