Brain Buster: The Sabres Playoff Scenarios

Posted on April 9, 2010 by Patrick Moran

This Buffalo Sabres will be in the playoffs when they start next week and by winning the Northeast Division, they earned no lower than a third seed.  That much we know for sure.

After that things hit a state of nebulous.  Buffalo can still finish in second place in the Eastern Conference.  They could play the sixth or the seventh seed in the first round.  Who will those opponents be? It’s too hard to tell right now.

The playoff picture is presently more scrambled than Rocky Balboa’s brain.

Fortunately for those craving scenarios and information, we’re impatient and not ready to give up so easily.  The following is a breakdown of what could happen entering the final weekend of the NHL regular season, how the Sabres could fare and who they may be face when the postseason commences next Wednesday or Thursday (no, we don’t even know that yet either.)

The Race for Second Place

New Jersey and Pittsburgh both lead the Sabres by a single point and all three teams have two games each, including Buffalo traveling to New Jersey Sunday for the regular season finale.

For the Sabres to finish ahead of the Devils the formula is very simple; if they beat Ottawa and the Devils (in regulation) over their last two games and Pittsburgh loses one of their last two on the road to Atlanta or Carolina, they finish second.

Buffalo is at a disadvantage in that they will lose a tiebreaker to either team based on total victories.  The most wins the Sabres can finish with are 46.  Both teams they’re vying with already have 46 wins.

If the Sabres are to lose at Ottawa on Saturday night, something they’ve done with alarmingly consistency over the past two years, the most the team could finish with is 100 points.  To still finish second they would need Pittsburgh to lose their last two (at Atlanta and at Carolina) and they’d need the Devils to lose at home to the Islanders on Saturday and of course, Buffalo would then have to beat New Jersey to end the regular season on the road.

Atlanta, Carolina and the Islanders all winning over the weekend is a little too much to ask for.  Simply put, the Sabres basically need to win out, make sure the Devils game is handled in regulation time, and hope Pittsburgh loses once.

The Race for Third Place

There isn’t any scenario to factor in here.  Buffalo has already won the Northeast Division. If they fail to finish in second they will end up in third.  In this case, the team that loses the Atlantic Division will be the fourth seed and face Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs. No matter what happens, the Sabres won’t be playing the Senators in round one (exhale, Sabres fans).

The Sabres Opponent in the First Round

If Buffalo manages to capture the second seed, they’ll face the seventh seed in the first round.  Right now that’s completely up for grabs.  If the playoffs began today it would be Boston.  They are tied with Montreal with 87 points but have fewer wins in the tiebreaker.

However, many things can still happen near the bottom of the Conference playoff race.  Let’s take a look at each team.

Montreal has 87 points and 39 wins, but only one game remaining.  They host Toronto on Saturday, a likely victory.  If they win they’ll get up to 89 points and 40 wins.  To not finish sixth, Boston would have to get at least three points over their last two (Carolina and at Washington) and/or Philadelphia would have to get at least three points as well (home and home against the Rangers to complete the season)

The Flyers would beat either Montreal or Boston in a tiebreaker because they have far more goals scored; the second tiebreaker in the formula.

Although they are technically in seventh place right now, the Bruins actually control their own destiny in the race for sixth place. If they win at home against Carolina on Saturday and at Washington Sunday the team would finish with 91 points, more than the Canadiens, Flyers or Rangers could get to.

For Philadelphia to finish in sixth they’d have to beat the Rangers in both games of their home and home series and have Boston lose once to clinch the spot.  They could also win it if they only beat the Rangers once, Montreal loses Saturday and Boston drops both their final two contests.

Confused yet?

Even the Rangers, who wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if it began today, could finish in sixth.  If they sweep Philadelphia over the weekend, have Boston drop their last two and Montreal falls to Toronto Saturday night, they’d end up with 88 points, one point more than Montreal or Boston.

Coincidentally, if the Rangers are to sweep the Flyers this weekend, Philadelphia would be on the outside looking in.

Montreal and Boston could be out of the playoffs all together as well if they lose out and Philadelphia loses to New York twice in overtime and/or shoot outs.

Don’t worry—my head is starting to hurt too.

For Buffalo, the more likely scenario is they’ll finish third in the conference and face the sixth seed.   Frankly, it’s too close to call who will finish sixth or seventh, let alone the eighth.

The good news is by late Saturday night things should get much clearer.

Then again, maybe it won’t.  All we know is the Sabres will be playing next week and after two years of watching the postseason on television, that’s all they care about.

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1 Comment on Brain Buster: The Sabres Playoff Scenarios

  1. Cross: Education Challenges, the realities | | Educational Vermont

    [...] Brain Buster: The Sabres Playoff Scenarios : Buffalo Sports Daily [...]

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