There will be no worrying about the playoff streak, no standings watching to see what middle-of-the-pack team found another creative way to lose and gift the Red Wings a spot in the standings, no last-minute chaos just to make a tournament that more than likely will end for Detroit after the first round.
With 30 games to go, it’s safe to say it: Barring a complete collapse, the Red Wings will coast into the playoffs, and they’re not collapsing. They’re not the Maple Leafs.
That means the main opponent watching to do down the stretch is Detroit’s probable first-round opponents. Let’s look at the landscape.
Right now Detroit sits in third place in the Atlantic division with 71 points, tied with second-place Montreal and two points behind first-place Tampa Bay with three games in hand. Boston is eight points behind Detroit.
Its unlikely the Bruins make up that much ground. Since the 2008-09 season*, just seven teams have made up eight or more points on a playoff team after February 1st of that season. (2011-12 Phoenix, 2010-11 Washington, 2010-11 Buffalo, 2010-11 Los Angeles, 2008-09 Pittsburgh, 2008-09 St. Louis and 2008-09 Vancouver).
So, the three seeds in the Atlantic will be Tampa Bay, Montreal and Detroit in some order. The highest probability is that the Red Wings earn either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed and either play Tampa Bay or Montreal in the first round.
Then again, the Red Wings are 9-1 in their last 10 games. Maybe they continue their run and maybe they take the top seed in the Atlantic. If they do that they’ll probably be the No. 1 seed in the East, considering the Metropolitan division leader, the Islanders, has 69 points, two less than the third-place team in the Atlantic.
If the Red Wings are to get the No. 1 seed and play the last wildcard team, The options open up. If the playoffs started today, the Bruins would be the opponent. The Rangers are the first wildcard, but they’re only one-point behind third-place Washington in the Metropolitan and four points behind the first-place Islanders. Any one of those four top Metropolitan teams (Islanders, Penguins, Capitals, Rangers) are in play.