NHL Finally Gets What It Wants

The NHL really wanted tight playoff races. It wanted every game to count. But it couldn’t have dreamed of a scenario like the one it had this year, with races for a number of playoff spots not decided until the last week of the season, and in the case of the Southeast Division, the last game of the season.

The “E” in Eastern Conference is for excitement. There’s the NHL version of a play-in game tonight, with the Caps (who are 10 and 1 in their last 11, 14 and 4 in their last 18) assured of a three seed if they win tonight. If they lose, the season–and all the fun we have watching the incandescent Alexander Ovechkin–is over for Washington for the 2007-08 season. In that case, the Hurricanes will be saved from elimination.

The positional battles aren’t quite so fraught. But in the East there isn’t a single pairing set yet. The New York Rangers can finish fifth or sixth, depending on their game Sunday and Boston’s game tonight. Boston can finish fifth through eighth depending on those games and Philadelphia’s game tomorrow. Ottawa, which has finished regular season play, can finish sixth through eighth depending on the Bruins and the Flyers. And the Flyers can finish sixth through eighth.

At the top of the East, Montreal’s game tonight and Pittsburgh’s tomorrow will decide the 1-2 seedings.

On top of that, except for the 1-8 pairing in the Western Conference, no one knows yet who they’ll be playing. At least they know who’ll have home ice advantage in the first round for all the series in the West. But out there, if Colorado wins tomorrow and Dallas loses, the fifth seed will come down to goal differential! But if Calgary wins tonight and Colorado loses tomorrow, Colorado would be the seventh seed.

When you put together a schedule, you can’t hope for better than to have so much depend on the last week, and day, of play. The juice in the buildings is a sweet foretaste of the next weeks of playoff passion.

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