Death Watch: Flyers, Wings control the universe for a night

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

How would you like to make it all the way to the pearly gates of heaven, preparing for your soul to be judged, and Saint Peter's standing before you wearing a Philadelphia Flyers' sweater?

(Well, it's probably better than seeing him in a Devils' jersey, come to think of it.)

With two of their last three games of the season against the New York Rangers, the Flyers are going to have a massive amount of influence on the final standings in the Eastern Conference and the fate of the playoff souls near the bottom.

Consider this: If the Rangers win tonight at home, they're in the playoffs and the Buffalo Sabres are eliminated. If the Flyers win ... well, the Florida Panthers would still have more than a glimmer of hope depending on their game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Which is a must-win, because the Flyers dealt a near-death blow to the Panthers earlier this week.

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Meanwhile, in the West, the Nashville Predators could see their chances at making the playoffs drop all the way down to 4.7 percent overall if they can't upset the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe. But then again, they've been one of the few teams to have a winning record against Detroit this season.

Coming up, playoff probabilities and tragic numbers as the season nears its climactic finale.

The following Western Conference playoff picture is painted by the invaluable resources from Sports Club Stats, which offers percentage probabilities for teams, and NHL Playoff Race, which provides the "tragic numbers" (the amount of points gained by the eight seed and/or lost by a team chasing it) for teams.

For the West:

Team

Place/Record/Pts.

Tragic #

% Chance of 7th

% Chance of 8th

Anaheim Ducks

7th/41-33-6/88

-

60

29

St. Louis Blues

8th/39-31-10/88

-

29

48

Nashville Predators

9th/39-33-8/86

3

1

13

Minnesota Wild

10th/38-33-9/85

2

1

7

The Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff-clinching win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night had minimal impact on the bottom of the playoff race.

The same can't be said for the Predators and Red Wings tonight in Detroit, as Nashville begins the day with a 14.4 percent chance of making the cut. A loss to the Wings would drop that likelihood down to a paltry 4.7 percent; a victory over the Wings, with both the Ducks and Blues off this evening, gives Nashville new life with a 32.4 percent chance of making it.

A loss tonight by the Preds would also mean dramatic upticks in playoff probability for the Blues (90.1 percent) and the Ducks (97.4 percent). 

The Predators are saying all the right things heading into this must-win, having taken three of five games against the Wings. From The Tennessean:

"It's probably just because we're very familiar with them,'' Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. "Therefore the awe of playing the Red Wings is not there like it used to be.

"For a number of years, they were so skilled, we just gave them too much respect and we watched them instead of competing against them. But they're just too skilled to watch. You've got to compete very hard against them.''

Calgary (96 points) has two more wins than Vancouver (96 points), so the Canucks need to finish at least a point ahead for the division title. The good news for 'Nuckleheads -- the Flames finish with two games against their bitter rivals (or just plain bitter) Edmonton Oilers.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference:

Team

Place/Record/Pts.

Tragic #

% Chance of 7th

% Chance of 8th

Montreal Canadiens

7th/41-29-10/92

-

64

28

New York Rangers

8th/41-30-9/91

-

30

56

Florida Panthers

9th/39-30-11/89

2

2

13

Buffalo Sabres

10th/39-32-9/87

1

0

2

The Sabres gave it their all last night, and were rewarded for the effort: The probability they'll finish in the No. 8 seed increased by a whopping one percentage point.

Buffalo is done with a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes or a win by the Rangers over the Flyers. The Panthers are eliminated if they lose to the Atlanta Thrashers. So it's entirely conceivable that the field of eight will be set this evening in the East, if things break the right way. Or the wrong way ... you know, depending on your loyalties.

But those pesky, unpredictable Montreal Canadiens continue to puzzle. Panthers Coach Peter DeBoer believes that his team can make the playoffs with two wins, and there's just this vibe that the colossal misfortune of the Centennial Season -- the injuries, the inconsistency, the perpetual tease for the fans -- might continue for Montreal in its final two games against the Bruins and Penguins.

If the Habs lose the next two in regulation and the Panthers win the next two, Montreal is out and the Southeast has three playoff teams. Unlikely? It's been that kind of season for the Habs, hasn't it?

Meanwhile, the Rangers don't want to hear anything about their Flyer-ific nightmare scenario. From The Journal News:

The worst part for the Rangers, hypothetically, is that if they lose tonight and Florida wins its games tonight and Saturday, they go into Philly Sunday in the ninth position, in a win-and-in, lose-and-out situation.

But the Rangers aren't having any of that.

"I don't think what-ifs really mean a whole lot right now because we're not in a position where we need somebody else's help for us to find our way in," Brandon Dubinsky said. "It's not one of those situations where it's like, you know, 'We really need Buffalo to win tonight' or whatever. It's just one of those things where it's like, we've got to find a way to get the job done ourselves and worry about (tonight's) game ... and not worry about Florida or Sunday's game or anything else."

The current playoff matchups are here. The Capitals need one point (or a lost point by New Jersey) to lock up second place. The Devils need a point (or a lost point by Philadelphia) to wrap up the division title.

Meanwhile, Flyers fans are trying to figure out if they'd rather have the Hurricanes or the Penguins in Round One. Either way, it'll be a hell of a series.

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