The path the Montreal Canadiens need to take to the playoffs is steep, it is treacherous, but they have a map.
After Sunday’s action, there are no longer any games-in-hand. Each team vying for the Wild Card has three games remaining, and the immediate target ahead of them has shifted.
With five wins in a row, including Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, the Columbus Blue Jackets have the inside track to a playoff spot. In order to pass the Blue Jackets, Montreal would need three points more than Columbus over the three remaining games. With only six points remaining, you can see the difficulty.
The Carolina Hurricanes are only one point up on the Canadiens, and perhaps most importantly, only have one regulation or overtime win (ROW) more than the Canadiens. It is entirely possible that the Canadiens could edge out the tiebreaker, but as it stands Montreal needs two points more than Carolina over the last three games to pull ahead.
Considering they have gained three points on the Hurricanes over the last 10, it’s not an easy objective either, but again the path they need to take is known.
The schedule is the other thing that is a bit trickier for Montreal. They host Tampa Bay, travel to Washington, and host Toronto. Carolina heads to Toronto, hosts New Jersey, and then finishes in Philadelphia. Columbus hosts the Bruins and then has back-to-back games on the road against the Rangers and Senators.
It is possible that the Blue Jackets could clinch a spot before Friday’s game depending on the results elsewhere as Montreal and Carolina play their second games on Thursday while Columbus plays New York on Friday. All teams play Tuesday and Saturday.
It is also possible - but not completely likely - that the Maple Leafs and Canadiens will be in a winner-take-all matchup for the final Atlantic Division spot. That, however, would take Toronto losing all of their games in regulation, and Montreal winning all of theirs.
The best path for Montreal to take is to win all of their games in regulation as that would mean they need Carolina to do the same. Montreal needs the Blue Jackets to lose in regulation to have realistic hopes of catching them. Any Montreal losses in regulation would mean they absolutely need help. But, realistically, they’ll need help anyways.
While this complicated and tough path to the playoffs may be disappointing when the team held a playoff spot for most of the season, if I take you back to September or October and tell you that this team will have a realistic shot at the playoffs in the final week, you’d take it right?
Enjoy this week. Worst case scenario, the draft lottery simulator can wait a few days.