I've been working Excel a bit this morning, and I think I've got it figured out. If the Avalanche get 6 points in their final 4 games, they are in regardless of what any other team does the rest of the way.
Before I go more in depth, here's a quick look at the NHL's tie-breakers:
- Games played (obviously, everyone will be at 82 when all is said and done).
- Points earned in head-to-head games.
- Goal differential (for the entire season).
Here's a table that lists the Western Conference standings, with some additional columns - maximum number of points, maximum number of wins, and goal differential (yowza, Detroit).
Looking at the playoff hopefuls, if Colorado gets a win tonight - regulation or otherwise - they would be at 90 points and 42 wins. Columbus and Phoenix can't get to 90 points. Chicago still could, but would have less wins. Edmonton - Colorado's opponent - would scratched off our list as well. Even if Edmonton gets an OT point, their max would be 90 points and 42 wins. But Colorado has the head-to-head point advantage (10 points vs 5) and will maintain that no matter what happens tonight. So, a Colorado win tonight - regulation or otherwise - means that Nashville is the only playoff chaser we'd need to worry about. The remaining teams could still get in, but they'd be chasing Vancouver - not us.
Pertinent games for us tonight:
Nashville @ Columbus (7 pm eastern). I don't really have much fear that the Preds are going to climb back into this, but a loss here would give us some breathing room. The Blue Jackets need a win here to keep their dim playoff hopes alive. They are eliminated with a regulation loss and a Vancouver win. Meanwhile, Nashville moves into 8th with a win and a regulation loss by the Canucks.
Vancouver @ Minnesota (8 pm eastern). I think folks could go either way on this one. Personally, I'd like to see the Avs get to the #3 or #6 seed to avoid a first round matchup with Detroit or San Jose. So, I'll root for the Canucks here knowing we still have a game against Vancouver coming up.
Edmonton @ Colorado (9 pm eastern). Edmonton should be mighty hungry tonight, so we can't afford to underestimate them again. Again, a win tonight means that Edmonton can't catch us in the standings. But that motivation isn't as great as the Oilers' - they'd be just 1 point out of 8th with a win tonight and a Vancouver regulation loss.
San Jose @ Anaheim (10 pm eastern). Technically, we can still catch Anaheim for 4th place. We'd have to run the table (4-0) to do it, though, and any single point by the Ducks would put the kibosh on it.
So, there you have it. I'll be rooting for Colorado, Columbus, Vancouver and San Jose to win big.