At this point in the season, a lot of teams are normally set in stone for the playoffs. The eastern conference has 3 teams that have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and NY Islanders) and Boston has clinched their division title/playoff spot. The western conference is a lot more up in the air. Other than San Jose (clinched the division title & playoff spot) and Detroit (clinched playoff spot), everything in the western conference is up in the air. The closer it gets to the playoffs, the less likely it is for some of the lower teams to make it into the playoffs, but there is definitely a lot more excitement this year surrounding the playoff race than I can remember in recent years.
It’s been suggested that this is largely due to the points for losing in overtime and shootouts. I didn’t feel like completely redoing the standings again this year to figure out if that’s the case. I suspect that the points for losing are a factor. Teams have been moving in and out of the playoffs for weeks in the western conference and it seems very likely that the last day or two of the season (April 11 & 12) will be very important to some of the teams in the western conference.
In spite of all the people I’ve heard who believe so strongly that the western conference is the stronger/tougher conference (due to the top two NHL teams coming from the west), teams in the eastern conference need 83 points to be in playoff standing (Montreal is in 8th place with 83 points). Teams like Edmonton (in 7th place in the west with 79 points), Anaheim (currently in 8th in the west with 78 points), and Nashville (tied with Anaheim in points, but with fewer wins) would be in 9th – 11th place in the eastern conference. The 6th place team in the western conference would just barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens for the 8th spot if the Blue Jackets were competing in the other conference. The eastern conference has more teams in the 80s & 90s than the west. Of course, the fact that each team doesn’t play every team from the opposing conference at home and away each year makes it even more difficult to argue either side of that dispute, but I think it’s worth thinking about the fact that the teams in the last two playoff spots in the west (a quarter of the qualifying teams) would not be in the playoffs if they had to qualify by the eastern conference point scale.