It's going to go right down to the wire for four of the five teams in the Atlantic Division. The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling each other for the top of the Atlantic Division, and implicitly fighting the Buffalo Sabres for whether the Atlantic Division will have the second or third seed in the East. They have the exact same record, meaning the Devils have the advantage based on head-to-head record (6-0). Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers are suddenly finding themselves back on the playoff bubble and needing points to stay ahead of the New York Rangers. The Rangers have had the good fortune of teams losing in front of him and playing well to win games to give themselves an actual shot at sneaking in the playoffs. As for the New York Islanders, they have one role for this final week (+1) of NHL games: spoiler.
It's the final division snapshot of the season. Who knew it was going to be this interesting right to the end?
For the Devils, winning the division is simple: do as well as or better than the Penguins. The Penguins have it a little bit trickier, they just need more points than the Devils. Both teams will play on the same night through the end of the season. Therefore, if you care that much about the Devils winning the division, you're cheering on Pittsburgh's opponents as well as the Devils.
Mind you, winning the division could lead to the Devils play someone like Philadelphia in the first round. I wouldn't call that a reward, even if it means the Devils would avoid the Washington Capitals should the Devils get out of the first round.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The Flyers have the advantage over the Rangers with more wins. However, given how they have been playing recently, they are playing with fire. They needed wins like yesterday. They need points ASAP, PDQ to ensure a playoff berth. If not, then they'll be passed by the Rangers. The Rangers are hot and have got nearly all the breaks needed to climb back into the playoff picture. I would like to congratulate Glen Sather for putting together a team that doesn't say die; may he continue to be the GM of the Rangers for as long as he wants. What makes this more delightful is that the final two games of the season for both of these teams are against each other. Should they still be in eighth and ninth place, it's going to be a spectacle on April 9 and 11.
The Islanders are done, but they will finish with a better record than they did last season, 26-47-9. Good for them. They'll have a shot of ending the season on a high note will disappointing a few playoff-bound teams. Given how they did last week, it doesn't seem like they'll go quietly into the end of the season. Devils fans should hope they'll be particularly pumped for their games on April 8 and 11 - against the Penguins.
|NJD||@ ATL||@ FLA||vs. NYI||vs. BUF|
|PIT||vs. WSH||vs. NYI||@ ATL||@ NYI|
|PHI||vs. DET||@ TOR||@ NYR||vs. NYR|
|NYR||@ BUF||vs. TOR||vs. PHI||@ PHI|
|NYI||vs. MTL||@ PIT||@ NJ||vs. PIT|
I wasn't kidding when I said the Islanders are spoilers: three intra-division games to close out the season, against teams fighting for the top of the division. As noted earlier, Philly and the Rangers could very well fight each other for eighth place by this coming weekend. Exciting stuff, I'd say.
Now, here's a sub-plot. The Buffalo Sabres have a record of 43-25-10, they sit as the Northeast Division leader with 96 points. Short of a collapse by the Sabres (and a run by the Ottawa Senators), they're going to take the division. So they'll be fighting for the #2 seed from here on out. They play on the same nights as the Devils and Penguins as well and will have an arguably tougher schedule: vs. NYR; @ BOS; @OTT; and @ NJ. The first two are against teams still trying to ensure/make the playoffs; the third is an intra-division game; and the last one is against the Devils. Not easy at all for the Sabres.
Now, if the Devils/Penguins end up in the third seed, that isn't such a bad place to be in. A first round win would still see them avoid the Capitals in the second round. Maybe they would avoid the Flyers in the first round at #3. Still, it's another team to keep an eye on as the Devils are on the ice, hopefully finishing up the season with strong performances and good results.