The New Jersey Devils won 3 out of their last 4, which is great. By doing that, they have doubled their lead over second place in the Atlantic compared to last week. A first place lead of 8 points is a beautiful thing in this time of year. Especially when the point difference between fourth and ninth in the conference is only 6 points.
Right now, the danger squad are the Philadelphia Flyers. 3 games in hand means they aren't that far off from first. Though, that assumes they'd win all three of those games. Still, the best thing for the Devils to do is to never assume they wouldn't. When you're in the lead, keeping up the pace is vital.
That will be very difficult in the coming week. The Devils host the best team in the NHL (Boston) tomorrow, the second best team in the NHL who recently beat the best team in the NHL (San Jose) on Sunday afternoon, and then they begin a three game road trip with a game against a playoff-hungry Florida Panthers on Tuesday. I'd be ecstatically surprised (or, were I English, "over the moon") if the Devils get more than 4 points out of this. Even then, it's really possible they don't get more than 2 points.
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Fortunately, the Devils will definitely remain in first place by next Wednesday. The Flyers can get real close, though, if they begin and continue a winning streak in their next three games and if the Devils squander their games. They host Ottawa tonight, the Islanders on Saturday, and take a trip to MSG on Sunday for a national TV game. Bizarrely, vis-a-vis the Devils' position in the standings, we may want the Rangers to win that one. I can see the Flyers going into Sunday having won four straight.
The Rangers got two points in a game recently, but their recent tailspin has them on the wrong side of the games played column while tied in points with Philadelphia. They get the benefit of 4 games in 7 days, so mathematically - if no one else moves in position, the Devils fail, and the Rangers win out - they could catch up to the Devils. But the Devils would have more wins in fewer games, so they'd stay in first.
Still, it'll be really unlikely for them to win all four of the following: at Florida on Friday, hosting Philadelphia on Sunday (on NBC!), visiting St. Louis on Monday, and back to the Garden for the Islanders on Wednesday. Given their recent form and the wide swath of opponents, I don't think the Rangers will be shooting up the division anytime soon.
Pittsburgh is still on the outside looking in with respect to the playoffs. But they are starting to get hot. They won their three out of their last four, including
wins over Detroit (!) and a win over San Jose (!!). Unfortunately, they only get two games in the coming week: away games at Toronto and the Islanders. They won't even get into striking distance of third. Not yet, at least. The Islanders are, well, losing games and are chillin' in last place. All three of their games are division games, so they aren't a non-factor. They are also against all of New Jersey's rivals. This means we may want to be consider being temporary Isles sympathizers. If they can upset the Rangers or the Flyers, it would benefit the Devils greatly by keeping them down.
One last thing: In the next week, the Devils only have two games. The rest of the division is a little busier than that. Getting points against the best teams in the league would be massive in the standings as well as it would be for the team's confidence and, of course, fans like us.