For the past week the New York Islanders’ playoff hopes have hung by the thinnest of threads, thanks to a late-March swoon that took “destiny” out of their hands and put it in the possession of the Bruins (clinched), Senators (clinched), Leafs (on the verge) and Lightning (still hoping).
But with four consecutive wins and some timely Toronto Maple Leafs losses, the Islanders enter the final two days of the season still hanging on to hope.
Here’s how things stand with the three teams that can still access the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.
Leafs: 80 GP, 93 pts., 38 ROW
Lightning: 81GP, 92 pts., 37 ROW
Islanders: 80 GP, 90 pts., 37 ROW
The simplest way for the drama to end is for the Maple Leafs to win, either Saturday night at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins or Sunday night at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Of course, that option stinks for Isles fans seeking the chance to see a Tavares-less lineup slaughtered by the Capitals in round one.
So, if the Leafs lose both games in regulation...
- The Lightning can pass them with one more win (vs. the Sabres)
- The Islanders can pass them with two wins or a regulation win and an OT loss
If the Leafs lose both games in regulation and the Lightning win...
- The Islanders would need two regulation or OT wins. The Lightning hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Isles need to finish with more ROWs to pass the Lightning.
If the Leafs pick up one point (OTL or SOL) in their final two games...
- Then two Isles wins still does it, as long as one they are in regulation/OT.
As has been the case basically all week, the Islanders need to keep winning (in regulation or OT) while the Leafs keep losing in regulation. If both those happen in both their respective games this weekend, there’s nothing a Lightning win can do to change things.
But thanks to the NHL’s sometimes-two-and-sometimes-three-point game system, the other complicated scenarios above are still in play.
Extra Intrigue: Game Timing
Adding another wrinkle, Saturday’s Islanders-Devils game starts an hour before Toronto’s game with the Penguins. So even if the Isles do their part, they won’t know if they still have hope until about an hour later.
And on Sunday, the Islanders’ home finale against the Sens starts at the same time as the Lightning’s finale against the Sabres (5 p.m. EDT), but the Leafs start an hour later at home against the Blue Jackets.
Basically, if things are going to go wrong for the Leafs, it will play out in agonizingly slow fashion, like the Ghost of Wade Dubielewicz just walked through that door.