The Tampa Bay Lightning still have five potential teams that could be first-round playoff opponents. The Maple Leafs, Devils, Panthers, Blue Jackets, and Flyers are all still crammed between a 13% and a 24% chance of opening the playoffs against the Lightning. With the season down to exactly two weeks, we’ll likely be paying attention to at least two or three of these teams until the final days of the season.
As always, we’ll use the First Round Matchups graph from hockeyviz.com to get our probabilities and tell us who we should be watching. You can get early access to these charts by signing up for the site’s Patreon.
Just like last time we checked in on this chart, the Leafs sit as the most likely opponent just slightly ahead of the Devils and Panthers. This hasn’t been the case every day but after last night’s games, we’re right back to where we were mid-week.
This doesn’t mean that the model is predicting that the Lightning will finish second in the Atlantic. The numbers here suggest that the lightning have about a 75% chance of winning the Atlantic. The reason the Leafs are the favorite is because they are the only reasonable opponent if the Lightning do finish second while four teams are in play if the Lightning finish first.
Let’s check in on how these teams rank using some key metrics from corsica.hockey.
This gives us a good idea of the importance of winning the division. Losing would mean facing the Leafs who are a real threat offensively and have been better on defense recently. They also have a strong goaltender in Frederik Andersen. Both Florida and New Jersey are comparatively weaker teams sitting below average in most metrics. The Panthers look particularly weak and seem buoyed by a high shooting percentage.
While the Devils have swept the Lightning this year, I don’t think that’s an indication that they’re a particularly bad matchup. The Lightning have won the shot share battle in all three games: 52%, 59%, and 59%. Things happen in small samples but nothing about these games suggest the Devils would win in a seven game series. On the whole, the Lightning have been a much better team all season and I would expect that to show through in a playoff series.
A matchup with Columbus would be the worst case scenario here but that outcome currently sits at only 13%. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Things with a 1 in 8 chance of happening occur all the time. But it would require several teams to get streaky in either direction over the last couple weeks for it to happen.
Here’s what’s ahead for all the teams on this list and a game to keep an eye on today.
What to Watch Today:
Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 12:30 EDT on NBC
Implications: The Flyers still have an outside chance of being the Lightning’s first round opponent. The Pens also have a minimal chance, which would be very very bad. If you’re rooting based purely on math, the team to root for would be the Pens to keep them as far from the Bolts as possible. But I can’t endorse rooting for that team so I’ll just abstain.
Implications: The biggest factor in who the Lightning will face in the first round is whether they win the division. The Bruins will look to gain two points on the Lightning tonight and cut the lead to two points with a game in hand. This is a big game and Bolts fans should be rooting hard for Minnesota.
Toronto Maple Leafs
They’re off tonight and play next on Monday against the Sabres.
New Jersey Devils
They’re off tonight and play next on Tuesday against the Hurricanes.
They’re off tonight and play next on Monday against the Islanders.
Columbus Blue Jackets
They’re off tonight and play next on Tuesday against the Oilers.