Sometimes it matters. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Teams playing their best hockey down the stretch may actually peak too soon and become vulnerable in the opening round, when they hit an inevitable flat period.
Either way, my preferred truism when it comes to playoff prognostications is the one that starts with somebody saying, ‘the regular season doesn’t matter; in the playoffs, you’re back to square one and every team’s record is the same – 0-0.”
That one, based on the evidence, is harder to dispute.
THIS AND THAT: Of course, the time when a pre-playoff nose dive hurts you most is when it drops you completely out of playoff contention, which is where last year’s finalists, the New Jersey Devils, find themselves. The Devils have now lost 11 in a row, if you count regulation and overtime defeats, and have not won a game since Ilya Kovalchuk exited the line-up back on Mar. 23. Losing Kovalchuk hard on the heels of losing Zach Parise as a free agent depleted the Devils too much … Parise landed with the Minnesota Wild as did defenceman Ryan Suter, whose absence from the Nashville Predators lineup – along with a run of injuries – has bumped the Preds out of the playoff picture for just the second time in the last nine years. Nashville has been ravaged by injuries, heading into the second last weekend of the regular season missing Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, Gabriel Bourque, Patric Hornqvist, Brandon Yip and Paul Gaustad. With Martin Erat in Washington, the Predators are surging towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings and now look as if they’ll draft in the top five. The Predators are not in line for a serious makeover, according to reports out of Nashville this week, which likely means that they will not dangle Shea Weber on the open market. The Preds matched a Philadelphia offer sheet for Weber last summer. Under CBA rules, they were obliged to keep him for a full year before listening to offers for his rights. If they decide to move him, you can be assured that both the Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers will be in there, making offers … Just how serious was new Oilers’ general manager Craig MacTavish about making bold and sweeping changes to his team? We’ll see in the next six months. The expectation is that Ales Hemsky will be gone for sure, that Shawn Horcoff might get a compliance buyout and that their first pick in the 2013 entry draft might be in play, all of which might have happened anyway, even if Steve Tambellini kept the job in Edmonton. The way Taylor Hall has improved this year and considering how young Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is – 21 now after celebrating his birthday last Friday, but young enough to play in the world junior tournament this past Christmas – you’d have to think they would constitute the two untouchables on the roster … The Bruins acquired Wade Redden from the St. Louis as insurance and so it wasn’t until this past Wednesday, in the game against Buffalo, that he made his Boston debut. Redden played a limited role and got just over 12 minutes of ice time. He doesn’t figure to play much in the playoffs unless someone from the starting six gets injured. There is greater uncertainty about Carl Soderberg, the Swedish scoring star, who joined the Bruins after an excellent year with Linkoping of the Eliteserien. The Bruins plan to audition Soderberg in the final week to see if he can help them in the playoffs. The expectation was that Soderberg would go in for the struggling Milan Lucic, who’d been demoted to the fourth line for Wednesday’s game (Greg Campbell took his place with Jagr and David Krejci). You wonder if Lucic’s struggles continue, would the Bruins listen to overtures for his rights in the summer? Lucic’s name came up in the Oilers’ press conference appointing MacTavish GM, as the sort of player they need to support their skilled players up front.
AND FINALLY: The first playoff tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins (ROW) and that represents the Winnipeg Jets’ best chance of qualifying for the playoffs. They are currently tied with the New York Rangers for eighth spot, with 48 points apiece. New York holds a game in hand, but Winnipeg is significantly ahead in the tie-breaker (21 ROWs compared to just 18 for the Rangers). It means if the Jets can catch New York, they will finish ahead of them. Toronto is also in good shape, as far as the tie-breaker goes. The Leafs have 24 ROWs, tied for second in the conference with Montreal. Ottawa is lagging there, just 19, but the team that the stat really hurts is the surging Sabres. Buffalo has just 13 ROWs, so while the Sabres are technically still in the playoff hunt, that four-point gap with two teams (Winnipeg and the Rangers) to overtake with four games remaining and all the tie-breakers working against them, will be hard to overcome.