NHL East: Playoff Races Will Go Down to the Wire
As the NHL regular season enters its final week, there are only four teams that have clinched Eastern Conference playoff berths, which leaves five teams fighting for the final four spots.
The New York Rangers are the Metropolitan Division champions, which comes with home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds.
Trouble is, the Rangers actually have more wins on the road than they do at Madison Square Garden. They won two tough games on the road, at Winnipeg before the clincher in Minnesota, and coach Alain Vigneault is hoping for more quality home wins as his team defends its Eastern Conference championship. In that respect, Saturday's game against the Devils served as a good tune-up:
Montréal and Tampa Bay have secured playoff spots and are fighting for the Atlantic DIvision championship. The Canadiens lead by two points with two games to play, both are even in the win column, and both won't see action until Thu 9 Apr. The 'Ning get New Jersey at home while the Habs host playoff-jostling Detroit before travelling to TO for the regular-season finale on Sat 11 Apr. That'll be when Tampa Bay entertains Boston, with whom the Red Wings are jostling.
The New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Divsion most of the season but are now in danger of falling out of the top three and into a wild card position. Frankly, they need more of what John Tavares had been doing during earlier in the season, not to mention his career:
As it stands, the Isles are now tied with Washington for second place.
Speaking of, Alexander Ovechkin has had a great season to push the Capitals in playoff position.
Both the Isles and Caps are ahead of Pittsburgh, and if the Pens don't watch out, Sidney Crosby & Co could fall out of the playoffs altogether. The Penguins are slumping, injured, and failed to pick up points over the weekend against the hottest team in the league, Columbus.
Ironically, the Blue Jackets are free to book tee times, as are Pittsburgh's heated rival, the Flyers, who just took the other two from them in the Pens' last three games. Ottawa hosts them tomorrow night, and the Senators are lurking just two points behind. Dicey times in the 'Burgh, especially with incidents like this preventing the Pens from staying in one piece:
The scenario is rosier in Beantown. Boston has won four in a row at the right time to move back into the race.
The Bruins are now tied for third with Detroit in the Atlantic Division. They've gotten great goaltending from Tuukka Rask in beating the Rangers, Carolina, Florida, and the Red Wings. Against the Wings, Boston erupted for three third-period goals, including the game winner by Zach Trotman -- his first in the NHL goal -- to claim the game with just over two minutes remaining.
So, here's the survival scenario with three games left for each of the combatants:
- The Islanders have 98 points and 46 victories, so they're all but booking a post-season appearance;
- Boston, Pittsburgh, and Detroit are sitting on 95 points each, and
- Ottawa's on 93 with the Penguins, Rangers, and Flyers on the docket.
Looks like the makings for a rather intense Saturday.