It’s right down to the wire. The Utica Comets have just one game remaining in their 2016-17 season, and they’re currently sitting outside of a playoff – but that doesn’t mean their season has to end tomorrow after completing their 76th game.
There are a few different scenarios in which they can still make it, and unfortunately they need help in each one of them. With some inconsistent play of late, the Comets have put themselves in a position where they will not only need to gain at least a point in their final game, but they’ll need other teams to lose as well.
Here’s the situation as it stands now:
In case you weren’t aware, the AHL (unknowingly) did the Comets a huge favour in the offseason by changing the Calder Cup Playoff qualification rules so that the top four teams in each division make the cut, rather the wild card/crossover rules that determined the lower seeds in previous years.
This has turned out to hilariously foolish this season, as the top team in the North Division of the Eastern Conference (the Toronto Marlies) have fewer points (89) than the 5th place team in the Atlantic Division (currently the Bridgeport Sound Tigers), who will thus miss the playoffs despite having three more points than the Atlantic’s best team. They’re not going to be happy about that.
Anyway, today’s 5-4 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack, in conjunction with St. John’s losing 5-3 to Toronto, and Albany losing 5-4 to Rochester, the Comets are now one point back of St. John’s and two points back of Albany, with all three teams set to play their final games tomorrow.
Both Albany and St. John’s will play rematches of the games they played (and lost) tonight, while Utica will play their final game on the road against Syracuse. The tie breaking procedure between a pair of teams works like this:
Between two teams:
a) percentage of games won (excluding shootout wins)
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage
Looking at the first rule, we’ll see that catching Albany is already out of the question. Albany currently has 35 Regulation-or-Overtime-Wins (ROW’s), while the Comets got their 33rd tonight. Even if they win tomorrow, tying Albany in points, they’ll still be behind in ROW’s. So whatever Albany does tomorrow doesn’t matter to us.
The St. John’s Ice Caps however, despite being one point up on Utica, has one fewer ROW. That means that Utica only has to tie them in points to pass them in the standings. That opens up a few more possibilities.
First, if St. John’s loses their game tomorrow against the superior Marlies in regulation, the Comets need only one point to lock in the final playoff spot. Winning would certainly be ideal, but keeping the game going past 60 minutes of regulation time would also do the trick.
Alternatively, if St. John’s losing in overtime or a shootout and gains one point against the Marlies, the Comets can still make the playoffs by winning their game against Syracuse tomorrow – regulation, overtime, or shootout wins would all suffice, as they’re already covered in the ROW department.
The long and short of it is this: Utica will make the playoffs as long as they get at least one more point than St. John’s tomorrow.
As for the Comets’ matchup tomorrow, it won’t be an easy game. The Crunch have taken seven of the 11 games in the season series, with all but one game ending in regulation (a shootout win for Syracuse being the outlier). During the most recent game between the two clubs (just last Wednesday), Utica got lit up, losing 7-2 on home ice.
The addition of Nikolay Goldobin has proved highly beneficial, as Goldy put up two goals today in the season’s penultimate contest, playing on a line with Utica’s two leading scorers, Curtis Valk and Darren Archibald. Valk and Archibald each assisted on Goldobin’s two goals, while Archibald also added a goal of his own.
It would stand to reason that the Comets could have used Goldobin’s offence earlier, considering that they’ve put a premium on having Utica make the playoffs, to the extent that they wouldn’t call anyone up even when tasked with playing with 11 (or even 10) forwards for the last couple of weeks.
On the flip side, seeing what Goldobin could do at the NHL level was probably the smarter play, and he’s likely better off with the boost of confidence gained by scoring in each of his last two NHL games, both with playing with the Sedin twins.
The Comets will be hoping that Goldobin has more to add tomorrow – and they’ll also be needing a little luck in the way of a St. John’s loss, which leads me to one last note: The Crunch are a single point behind the Marlies in the standings, which means that the conditions that would lead to Utica making the playoffs (a Toronto win and the Comets taking at least a point from the Crunch) would also guarantee a first round matchup between Toronto and Utica, which could prove very interesting.
If everything falls their way, they’ll be headed to the playoffs, which should be of great benefit to the likes of Goldobin and other Canucks prospects like Thatcher Demko, Jake Virtanen, Jordan Subban, and Evan McEneny.