Another dramatic victory by the Thrashers last night has brought back the hopes of some in Blueland that the team might still scrape their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs over the next month. While it's still a mathematical possibility, it is also a mathematical improbability. But, since it's not totally ruled out yet, and it's better to talk about this than listen to co-workers discuss their basketball brackets, let's take a look at the situation.
Atlanta now sits at 72 points with 11 games remaining. Carolina is one step up in the 9th spot, 74 points and also have 11 games left on their schedule. The Sabres occupy the 8th place rung with 12 games left at 76 points, and the Rangers are in 7th with 11 games remaining at 78 points.
To make the playoffs, the Thrashers will have to avoid a tie with any of those three teams or the Leafs and Devils who sit just below Atlanta in the standings because all of those other teams have more wins and will win the tie breaker.
So, the Thrashers will need to gain 5 points on the current 8th place team or 7 points on the current 7th place team to make the playoffs. We're not even going to worry about the Leafs and Devils today because if the Thrashers can't outpace the teams ahead of them, it won't matter if the teams behind them vault ahead.
Atlanta (and New York and Carolina) has 11 games left, meaning a potential 22 points up for grabs. Buffalo has the ability to gain 24.
If the Rangers, Canes, and Sabres all failed to gain another point the rest of the season (impossible since the Sabres play the Rangers and Canes once each) the Thrashers could make the playoffs by gaining just 5 points, meaning that they can afford to squander 17 points.
For every point the 8th place team gains over the remainder of the season, the Thrashers have one more point they can't afford to lose. Saturday's game in Buffalo is huge since a regulation win would deny two points to the Sabres while securing two for the Thrashers.
But obviously the Thrashers can't count on five other teams to tank the last 11-12 games of the season.
The Sabres have gone 5-3-2 in their last 10. If they continue that pace, they will finish with 88-90 points, meaning the Thrashers would have to gain 17-19 of the potential 22 points remaining.
That's a record of 8-2-1.
A tall order for a team who has gone just 5-3-2 in their last 10 after a horrendous first two months of 2011.
Are the playoffs still possible? Yes.
Is it probable? No.
Does Gorin's still have a great deal on beer to make all this enjoyable? Thankfully, yes.