The Detroit Red Wings continued to strengthen their grip on a wild-card spot as they beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Friday night securing another crucial two points.
With those two points, the Red Wings now have 88 points and bumped their odds of clinching a 23rd consecutive playoff berth to 95.4 percent, according to SportsClubStats.com. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I like the Red Wings’ chances of at least clinching a playoff spot.
Here is how the Eastern Conference looks as of Saturday morning, per NHL.com:
Barring a meltdown from the Boston Bruins, they have all but secured the No. 1 overall seed in the East, with Pittsburgh holding on to the No. 2 spot. The Red Wings have a 73 percent chance of facing the Penguins in the first round, according to SportsClubStats.com.
If the Red Wings can hold on to that first wild-card spot, the first-round matchup with Pittsburgh would be ideal for Detroit.
I know what you’re thinking: “But, Tom. The Red Wings just beat the Bruins earlier this week, they shouldn’t be a problem, right? And the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Who wants to face those guys?”
Yes, the Red Wings did just beat the Bruins, but a team like Boston is a team that is built for the playoffs. They are big, physical and they like to use that toughness to wear down opposing teams.
Sure, any team could beat Boston once in the regular season, but if I were a betting man, I would take the Bruins in almost any playoff matchup because of the way they are designed.
The Bruins have a lot of depth on their forward and defensive units, and they have an elite goaltender in Tuukka Rask. That’s a scary-looking team to face in the first round of the playoffs.
For argument’s sake, let’s say a team miraculously beats the Bruins in the first round. Now, you’re so wiped out from playing a physical team like Boston you probably don’t make it out of the second round because you used all of your energy to beat the Bruins.
That’s not to say the Penguins are going to be a cake walk. They will be anything but.
However, the Penguins don’t have any depth beyond those top six forwards. Their bottom six is a mix of 30-year-olds and recent AHL call-ups.
The Penguins haven’t been the most consistent team as of late, either. Since March 15, Pittsburgh is 5-6-1 with back-to-back losses to Philadelphia, an overtime loss to the Red Wings and a regulation loss to Carolina.
The playoffs are all about momentum — finishing the season strong and carrying that momentum into the first round. The Penguins are limping into the playoffs at this point.
Boston, on the other hand, lost just two games in the month of March. One team is soaring with confidence, the other is not.
Not to mention, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been anything but stellar in the playoffs for the Penguins. In five games against the New York Islanders last year, he posted a 3.51 GAA and a .883 save percentage and was yanked for Tomas Vokoun, who led Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference Final against none other than the Bruins.
If the Red Wings can shut down, or at least limit, the top six of Pittsburgh, they could be finding themselves in the second round of the playoffs.