The Carolina Hurricanes overcame a two-goal deficit and defeated the flagging Chicago Blackhawks 6-3 in Raleigh last night. Carolina’s win blocked the Florida Panthers path to first place in the Discover Central Division, as the best the Cats could do now is tie the Hurricanes at 79 points, but what they can’t do is match their 27 regulation wins. What a bunch of jerks, indeed!
That result all but ensures the first-ever playoff meeting between the Panthers and their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts can still pass the Hurricanes and swipe first place, setting up a Panthers - Carolina first round series, but currently down six points with four games remaining, the odds of that happening are slim to none. Money Puck gives the Hurricanes a 98.3% chance of capturing the division crown.
Heading into their final two games of the regular season slate, the Cats hold a two-point lead over their closest neighbor, who have two games in hand. The Lightning will play a pair at home against the Dallas Stars tonight and Friday before tussling with the Panthers on Saturday and Monday.
Tampa Bay can max out at 81 points while can the best the Panthers can do is 79. The math seems to favor the Bolts gaining home-ice advantage, but as of today, Money Puck gives the Cats slightly higher odds of finishing second rather than in third at 51.1% to 48.9%.
Let’s look at the various positions the Panthers will find themselves at week’s end heading into Saturday’s game.
If the Lightning lose both games against the Stars in regulation and remain at 73 points, a Florida win of any sort in one of the two games against the Bolts gives the Cats second place.
If Tampa Bay picks up one point (combination of regulation loss and overtime/shootout loss) against Dallas, the Panthers can clinch second place by merely winning one of the two games against the Bolts in regulation or by collecting three points via an OT/SO win and OT/SO loss.
If the Lightning picks up a total of two points against the Stars, the Panthers will have to collect at least three points with the win needing to be in regulation against Tampa Bay to finish in second place.
If the Bolts pick up three points against Dallas, the Cats will need win both games to move into second, but they can go to overtime in both cases to do so.
if Tampa Bay picks up four points against the Stars, the Panthers can take second place by winning both games, but one of the victories must be in regulation.
While Monday’s season finale may turn out to be a meaningless affair no matter what happens, there will be a lot on the line come Saturday.
As for fourth place in the Central, the Nashville Predators are in the driver’s seat. Their magic number for clinching a playoff spot is down to five and Money Puck gives them a 92.3% chance of making the postseason. The Stars will be playing for their playoff life against the Lightning this week and must pick up at least one point at Amalie Arena or they will be eliminated. If the Predators beat Columbus tonight, Dallas will have to leave Tampa with three points to remain in the chase.