Confused? Read on.
The Isles have 95 points, and 38 Regulation-Overtime Wins (ROW)
The Sens have 88 points, and 32 ROWs. Ottawa has six games to play, so the best that they can do is 100 points and 38 ROW.
The magic number is the number of points won by one team or lost by the team that is trailing, however the tiebreakers (the first of which is ROWs) complicate matters a bit.
If the Isles get to 101 points they are assured of making the playoffs as they will finish over Ottawa; if they reach 100 points with at least 39 ROWs that will also punch their post-season ticket.
But what if the Isles earned 5 points in their last five games, but without an ROW (0-0-5, 1-3-1, 2-2-1 with wins in SOs would get them there)? That would give the Isles 100 points and 38 ROW, allowing the Sens, with 6 ROW to end the season in a tie.
That would lead to the next tie-breaker -- points in head-to-head games. As several people pointed out, the Isles won the season series 2 games to 1 (and 4 points to 3). However, since this is the NHL, things are not always so simple. 2 games were played this season on Long Island and one in Ottawa -- according to the tie-breaker rules, when teams play an uneven number of games, the first game played in the city hosting the extra game does not count. The Isles won that December game in OT, so for purposes of tie-breakers the season series is tied.
That leads to the final published tie-breaker -- "The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season. NOTE: In standings a victory in a shootout counts as one goal for, while a shootout loss counts as one goal against."
Entering play today, the Isles are +20 while Ottawa is +16, however given that Ottawa would need to win 6 straight they would be at least +22 while the Isles would be no better than +19.
So how did the Isles get closer last night? Ottawa's SO win means that they have to win out, all in ROWs, to tie the Isles in ROWs. It also means that the next Islander ROW, or the next Sens game that does not end up with an Ottawa ROW will reduce the magic number by 1 extra, because the Isles will have clinched the tie-breaker,
For example, the Isles are in Columbus and Ottawa hosts Tampa Bay on Thursday. If both teams post ROWs, the Isles will be at 97 points / 39 ROW while Ottawa will be at 90 points / 33 ROW. Ottawa will still have a chance to get to 100 points, but with a maximum of 38 ROWs. As a result, the magic number would shrink from 6 to 3.
If you think this is confusing, wait until next week --as the Isles and Penguins have 95 points while Washington has 94 -- and all three teams have 38 ROWs.
NHL Accounting -- you have to