The Magic Number is a way represent how close a front-running team needs is to clinching its division and/or a playoff spot (to see a detailed magic number description, click here). While usually used for sports with win-loss records, it can still work for hockey. So, with apologies to Chevy Chase’s classic SNL President Ford (“It was my understanding that there would be no math?”), I crunched a few numbers to see where the Capitals’ playoff rivals stand.
Any combination of points gained by the teams listed below, or points left on the table by the Capitals, results in the team’s magic number decreasing. A Capitals regulation loss or CAR/PHI/BOS win reduces the number by two. A Capitals overtime/shootout loss reduces the number by one.
As of Saturday evening, these are the Caps’ key rivals’ magic numbers. Once a team’s magic number reaches zero, the Capitals can no longer pass that team in the standings:
- Carolina’s Magic Number: 4 (four games remaining [Edit: now 3 games remaining, yet the same magic number. Thank you, Tampa!])
Yes, technically the magic number is 5 here, but only if three or more of Carolina’s points come via OTLs . . . taking the tiebreaker into account and the fact that only about 7% of their games ended in OTLs, I’m assuming most of their points will be via wins, hence the 4.
- Philadelphia’s Magic Number: 6 (four games remaining)
[Edit: Magic number now 4 with three games remaining.]
- Boston’s Magic Number: 5 (four games remaining)
[Edit, Sunday evening: Magic number now 4 with three games remaining.]
What if two or more teams remain tied at the end of the regular season, you ask? That was accounted for in the above calculations, but a re-post of the NHL’s tiebreaker rules may sate your appetite for knowledge:
1. The greater number of games won. [e.g., 41-41-0 beats 40-40-2]
2. 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.
3. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.
Let’s assume the first tiebreaker will resolve the issue. The Hurricanes have three more wins that the Capitals with a four-point, so to capture the Southeast the Caps would have to exceed the Canes’ point total to pass them–equaling Carolina’s point total is not good enough, since the Caps would still be one game behind in the win column.
Right now the Caps have 39 wins and 86 points. The Flyers have 39 wins and 89 points, and Bruins have 39 wins and 88 points. . . so if the Caps close the gap with wins (rather than OTLs, for example) and end with the same point total as either team, they’ll have more wins that either the Flyers or Sabres, thus giving the Caps the first tiebreaker for 8th.
Basically, if the Caps and Canes end with the same number of points, the Canes win the division. If the Bruins and/or Philadelphia end with the same point total as the Capitals, the Caps will likely have the first tiebreaker unless two or more of the Caps’ points come via Overtime Losses.
And in such a tightly-contested race, it may come down to that slim of a distinction between playoff hockey and game over.