How does a team clinch a playoff spot? Does that mean even if they lose their remaining games they'll still make it?
okay, let me explain it on the example of Leafs or/and Capitals, I’m gonna try to make it as simple as possible, for those who don’t know the NHL well yet.
this is the Atlantic Division only; table of it
first three (3) teams of each division (amount of the teams in the divison doesn’t matter– it’s always three) automatically clinch a playoff spot. so let’s edit it.
as you can see, the Leafs are 4th, 3 points behind Bruins. a couple years ago it would end like this, no chance for the Leafs to get to the playoffs, of course if we’re talking about the season ending this soon.
however, we have Wild Card these years and this is where it gets more difficult. it really used to be simplier without it.
here’s Eastern Conference, all these teams except of the Islanders are in playoff position now. they’re also the only eastern teams to be so.
the Wild Card is basically (or almost literally) combination of two (2) best teams of the specific conference that have not enough points to be in top three in their own divisions.
you can see all these teams are mixed, from two different divisions.
kinda tricky thing about this is that there could be 3 teams of Atlantic Division in the playoffs + 5 teams of Metropolitan Division (3 top of the division + 2 Wild Card teams), it literally happened last season, same with the Western Conference where there were only 3 Pacific Division teams in the playoffs. so yes, the Islanders and Bolts are direct, really serious enemies of the Leafs in the run for playoffs though they’re not playing in the same division.
but what if the Leafs end up having the same number of points at the end of the regular season, as the Islanders have? well, then that’s quite easy. or not. I’m gonna explain this on the Caps, which have the same amount of points as the Blue Jackets but are still listed as first in the division.
NHL deals with this following ways.
(let’s say we’re/you’re rooting for the Capitals)
1. the first and most important thing you must look at, is the number of games played. 71 - 71. same. this doesn’t solve the problem, so here comes the next thing you look at.
(if the Jackets played one less game, they would be listed first automatically)
2. you would think the second criterion is number of wins, right? well, not exactly… the W column stands for all wins overall- including shootouts, but that’s not the column we’re thinking about now. we’re looking at this one. ROW.
it literally says Regulation plus Overtime Wins. like I said, W is wins overall, but ROW is only number of games won in regulation time and overtime. as you can see, the Capitals have won 46 games overall this season so far, but 45 of them were won in regulation or overtime. that means they have only 1 game in shootouts this season. so shootouts are really not that important to the NHL.
and as you can see, this number is the same with the two teams. again.
3. third and usually the final criterion is the number of points the Caps have earned in games against the Blue Jackets. so basically, it’s a thing about who has been better in the mini Caps-Jackets series of 4 games this season so far.
the first game of this season the Capitals played against the Blue Jackets ended with regulation win of the Capitals, 3-2, so the score is ‘2 points - 0 points’
the second game they played ended with regulation win of the Capitals, 5-0. ‘4 points - 0 points’
that’s all they have played against each other this season. they’re playing 2 more games against each other until the end of the regular season– since they’re in the same division the number of games playing against each other is 4 per regular season.
so what’s the score in the mini series? 4-0 for the Capitals.
so this is finally the reason why they’re listed first in the battle of division title against the Blue Jackets.
4. but since we’ve come this far, let’s talk about the last criterion anyway. this one is simple. NHL literally describes it as ‘The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.’
now you have to look at these three columns.
the first one, GF, stands for Goals For so the number of all goals they have scored in this season. it includes shootouts goals, where one win in the shootouts = plus one goal. this column is tied, again.
the second one, GA, stands for Goals Against so the number of all pucks they have officialy let get past their goalie’s goaline. you can see that the Capitals have been less time got scored at than the Jackets.
the third one, DIFF, goal differential is always and simply this: GF - GA = DIFF.
so 228 minus 159 is 69, that’s the Capitals’ DIFF; while 228 minus 164 is 64, that’s the Blue Jackets’ DIFF.
(DIFF can be totally below 0, Avalanche’s -96 is the worst DIFF in the NHL currently, while Capitals’ +69 is the best.)
the Capitals have this number higher than the Jackets, so even if they have lost one of the games against the Jackets in regulation (let’s ignore the GF/GA change), and the score in the mini series would be ‘4 points - 4 points’, the Capitals would still be listed first in the division, because of the DIFF.
oohhhh and one thing. what about the x next to the names of the teams?
- the x next to a team means the team will 100% get to the playoffs, even if they/it lose every single remaining regular season game, even if their divisional opponents win every single remaining regular season game.
- the y next to a team will soon appear to a team that will 100% end the regular season with the Divisional Title– will 100% end first in its division.
- the z next to a team will soon appear to a team that will 100% end the regular season with 1st place in its conference.
- the p next to a team will soon appear to a team that will 100% end the regular season with 1st place in the entire league. there’s an actual trophy for it, called Presidents’ Trophy. the latest winner of it, for the 2015-16 season were the Capitals.
okay, I really enjoyed writing this, more than I expected and I hope the anon, and so you others, find this at least a bit helpful.