#81 Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs is spent as the game and his teams dream of a Stanley Cup end.
Detroit's victory leaves only two teams with a chance of passing them and knocking them out of the playoffs: Washington and New Jersey. Detroit would have eliminated Washington last night too, had the Capitols done what was expected of them: to go out and lose in St. Louis to the best team (111 points) in the Western Conference , but somehow (perhaps the goal--#50 by Alex Ovechkin and his two assists to go with?) they didn't, instead besting the Blues 4-1. So, Washington can still finish with 91 points by winning their 3 remaining games. Should the Wings lose their remaining 3, all in regulation, they'd finish with 90, and if Columbus, a point back of the Wings, were to pass the Wings too, Detroit would miss the playoffs. If Detroit and Washington were to each finish with 91 points, then it's good news for the Wings as they own the tie-breaker over Washington: ROW (currently 33-26, Detroit).
As for Jersey, the only way they can knock the Wings out is to win their remaining 3 to finish with 90 points and for the Wings to lose their remaining 3 in regulation. That would leave each team with 90 points and New Jersey would oust Detroit due to more ROW. Again, assuming Columbus were to pass the Wings, it would mean Detroit would miss the playoffs.
The Bottom Line is this: the next point the Wings get--if they indeed do get another point--puts them in the playoffs no matter what anybody else does. At the same time, the next point Washington and New Jersey fail to get will mean they cannot finish ahead of Detroit and just as soon as that happens, the Wings will be in the playoffs...again.
As an aside, here's the most unlikely playoff scenario of them all: Detroit loses their remaining 3 games in regulation. Columbus loses their remaining three in regulation. Washington and New Jersey each win their remaining 3 games. Washington finishes as the First Wild Card, New Jersey is the Second Wild Card and Detroit and Columbus miss the playoffs.
This is why it's always fun at this time of year as teams try to get in and others try to stave off elimination. (Is there any other situation in the English language in which the word "stave" is the appropriate one to use?)
Failing at staving was Toronto, whose collapse this year was a macrocosm of their Game 7 collapse in Boston in the playoffs last spring. In that game you'll recall, the Leafs led 4-1 with 10:18 left and yakked it up before regulation time was done. It was the largest lead ever lost so late in a Stanley Cup playoff game. This, the 2014 stretch run to the playoffs, was just like that. Only 26 days ago, on March 14, Toronto was in second place in the Atlantic Division and looked like a mortal postseason lock. They had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Boston and Pittsburgh. And then Toronto went 2-10 (4 points in 12 games!) and 8 ( really, 8!) teams passed them in the standings and all coach Randy Carlyle could say after what turned out to be his teams elimination game last night was, "Numb and shock I guess would be the words to describe this. Extremely disappointed. Shallow. Embarrassed. All those things.” Which, if you think about it, is pretty much all could say, verbatim really, after the Disaster in Boston just eleven months ago.
So. Toronto is left to re-tool. The Red Wings are left to pick up that one last point or ope their pursuers fail to get at least one last point in order to play on. The winning percentage of the teams Detroit closes against (@Pittsburgh tonight, v. Carolina Friday, @St. Louis Sunday) is .622--the toughest remaining schedule in the Conference and the second-toughest in the National League. Columbus has the easiest remaining schedule of the Wild Card contenders (.521) while Washington's remaining foes have played at a .589 clip and New Jerseys are at .568.
Tonight's game, "Rivalry Night" although I don't really think there's that much of a deep-seated "rivalry" between the Wings and Pens aside from the Cup Final a few years back--can be watched and streamed on the NBC Sports Network. The puck drops at 8:10 Eastern time.
The last time these two teams met, on March 20, I thought about retiring after the game because I figured I'd finally seen it all. That was the night the Wings took a 2-0 lead, fell behind 3-2, went ahead 4-3, got tied 4-4 and won in with 0.4 seconds left in overtime. Well, I didn't quit and so, here we go again.