The Washington Capitals are in the driver’s seat for the Southeast division crown. And even though tonight’s game against the Jets looms large, a loss won’t kill the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs — though it will make it much more difficult to win the division. If they lose tonight and manage to still win their final two games, they will be guaranteed a playoff spot.

As it stands right now, the Caps have a 91.1% chance of making the postseason and an 86.7% of winning the Southeast. The Winnipeg Jets have a steeper climb. Despite a big win over Buffalo on Monday, the Jets have just a 31.6% probability of making it to the Stanley Cup playoffs and a 13.3% of becoming division champs.

There are a lot of ways this could shake out, and a lot of possible tiebreakers to consider.

Tiebreaker Rules

From the NHL:

If two or more clubs are tied in points during the regular season, the position of the clubs is determined in the following order:

1. The fewer number of games played (i.e., superior points percentage).
2. The greater number of games won, excluding games won in the Shootout. This figure is reflected in the ROW column.
3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any “odd” games, shall be used to determine the standing.
4. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season. NOTE: In standings a victory in a shootout counts as one goal for, while a shootout loss counts as one goal against.

  • We can easily eliminate #1. By the end of the season, all of the NHL teams will have the same number of games played, 48.
  • ROW is a little tricky. A lot will depend on who (if anyone) will take the lead in this stat tonight. Caps having a game in hand seems to be a big factor here. This one may also be tied.
  • “Adjusted head-to-head” comes in full effect here. The Caps win in Winnipeg on March 2nd is considered an “odd” game and excluded from this tiebreaker. The Caps, however, have a 4-2 lead in points earned in other games. So the Jets can only tie it with a regulation win. Even their OT win will mean Caps have it.
  • It’s highly unlikely that it will come to this, but if it will, Caps have a huge advantage in goal differential.


These charts show how the rest of the season may play out based on tonight’s game.

Legend: GP – Games Played, Pts – Points, ROW – Regulation/OT Wins, H2HPA – Head-to-Head Points Adjusted (will not change after tonight), POP% – Possibility of making playoffs. Worst-case scenario represents what would happen if the Caps lose all of their remaining games in regulation and Jets win their remaining game in regulation.

Winning tonight, Caps clinch and won’t even need tiebreakers – they have a three-point lead that will be impossible to overcome. That’s too easy, so…

The Caps still clinch with an overtime win, but they’ll need some tiebreaker magic to do so. In “Worst-case scenario” part (the Caps lose all remaining games, the Jets win), none of the most important parameters allow the Caps to clinch, so we go to head-to-head points, where the Caps have a sizable advantage.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this. A Caps’ shootout win will get them one step closer to the promised land, but the Jets’ would still be alive as they could still win the ROW tiebreaker. Please notice that this loss will actually help the Jets’ playoff chances as they will tie the 7th place Rangers and 8th place Senators in points. Those two teams, however, have a game in hand right now and if the Rangers beat the Panthers tonight, the Jets chances will fall out, and the Caps would still clinch with a single point in their last two games.

The Caps’ chances to make the postseason are still solid if they lose in the shootout, but the Jets would get past the magical 50% threshold. All of a sudden, two Southeast teams in the playoffs looks like a possibility. The Caps would need a regulation win in of the last two games to clinch the division due to the higher H2HPA.

An overtime loss for the Caps. And now it becomes a complete mess. The Caps’ chances are still favorable, but the Jets have inched closer. To clinch, the Caps would have to get at least three points in their last two games.

The disaster scenario. The Jets will nearly tie the Caps in playoff chances if they win tonight in 60 minutes. The Caps would need two wins in their last two games to win the race regardless of the outcome of the Jets-Canadiens game.

Probability percentages from SportsClubStats. Also, please note that odds will be also influenced by the outcomes of other games tonight, particularly Florida-NY Rangers and Carolina-NY Islanders. In either game, a win by the Southeast division team would improve the Caps’ chances.

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  • How about we just win tonight, that could be written it terms I can understand.

  • As I scroll down the article I get a little bit sadder with every scroll.

  • Great work, Fedor!

  • JenniferH

    Done. 🙂