As early as mid-January, it seemed as though the Eastern Conference playoff picture was already complete given the discrepancy between the top eight and bottom eight teams. At the time, it was the Boston Bruins in the second wild card spot and the Detroit Red Wings as the first team out, but separated by .157 percentage points. Over the past two months, the Bruins have continued at the same clip but the Washington Capitals have fallen off, now sitting soundly in the second wild card spot with a .617 points percentage. On the other side of the midpoint, the Columbus Blue Jackets have emerged as the best of the rest and are sticking around the fringes of the East playoff picture with a .517 points percentage. Separated by .100 and with their final head-to-head match-up of the season approaching on Thursday, the question must be asked: can the Blue Jackets pull off the unthinkable and catch the Capitals, shaking up a conference playoff group that looked set in stone?
In terms of absolute points, Columbus sits 13 points back of Washington. However, they do hold a game in hand. Regardless, its still a significant gap between the teams with just over a quarter of the season remaining. The Blue Jackets do have an edge when it comes to remaining schedule. Not only do they have an extra game on Washington, but Columbus also has an easier slate with 11 games against playoff teams – less than half of their remaining contests. In contrast, the Capitals will face 12 playoff teams in their remaining 22 games. It is isn’t a major advantage for the Jackets, but could make all the difference in a tight race.