There's only three weeks left in the NHL regular season and there's a new kind of drama in the Atlantic Division. The Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils are starting to settle in their spots, while New York Islanders has locked up fifth place plenty of time ago. The New York Rangers, on the other hand, have a different kind of tension: the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Yep, the Penguins can catch the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic. Funny how an eleven game winning streak will do that. More details and upcoming schedules for the division and the Eastern Conference playoff race are after the jump.The Penguins remain the hottest team in hockey with two crushing wins over the Rangers and Devils to finish off their relatively shorter week.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
Thanks to their streak and the schedule, the Penguins are only two points behind the Atlantic Division leaders with a game in hand. While they're essentially a lock for the playoffs, the Rangers could easily find themselves in the fourth seed very soon unless someone can stop the Penguins. After seeing them on Saturday, that's going to take both a great effort by their opposition and a poor one by Pittsburgh. Sorry, Philadelphia Flyers, a good week isn't good enough to catch a streaking team. Hope the Pens cool off soon if you want a chance at second in the Atlantic.
The Devils are an interesting spot. They split that last week, but it was enough to get some space between them and seventh place Ottawa. The three teams ahead of the Devils in the Atlantic will get to use their game in hand on them this week, so short of some losses, it appears fourth place is where they will finish. It's OK because they're still on pace to make the playoffs unlike the New York Islanders. That postseason ship sailed a long, long time ago and they're just spoiling right now. Unfortunately, they've only been spoiling Montreal in the last week, which is why they're in fourteenth and not fifteenth in the East.
The upcoming schedule for the Atlantic Division shows only two intra-division games but they're filled with hate:
|NYR||vs. NJD||vs. DET||vs. BUF||@ TOR|
|PIT||@ PHI||vs. WPG||vs. NSH||@ OTT|
|PHI||vs. PIT||vs. FLA||vs. WSH||vs. MTL|
|NJD||@ NYR||@ OTT||vs. TOR|
|NYI||@ TOR||@ TBL|
Yep, the Battle of Pennsylvania continues today and I'm sure the Flyers would love to give the Penguins their first loss in the month of March today. On Monday, the Devils will play Our Hated Rivals in a game that Devils fans obviously want to win and Penguins fans will hope New Jersey succeed. The rest of the week is a smattering of Eastern Conference opponents with the exceptions of Detroit (enjoy them Rangers) and Nashville (not an easy opponent, but Penguins have made everything look easy as of late). It's entirely within the realm of possibility that the Penguins can jump the Rangers while the Flyers keep it close. The Islanders will time off and will play opponents that won't make the playoffs; they're just playing out the season at this point.
As for the Devils, that Tuesday game at Ottawa is big should they want to keep the #6 seed. I'd say it's their biggest game of the week given the playoff implications, even more so than the rivalry game on Monday. Two out of three is entirely possible and I'd say that's a positive result. Of course, how positive will also depend on how the Eastern Conference Playoff Race is going. First, here's the battle for #2, #3, and #7, teams Devils fans should keep an eye on at this juncture:
|#2 BOS||vs. TOR||@ SJS||@ LAK||71||85|
|#7 OTT||vs. NJD||@ MTL||vs. PIT||73||84|
|#3 FLA||@ PHI||@ CAR||vs. EDM||71||83|
Since Boston has started to crash to Earth, the Northeast Division winner isn't guaranteed anymore. Ottawa is breathing down their necks. The Bruins' saving grace is that Ottawa has played two more games than them. Those games in hand will come in big at the end of the season. The real concern here is Florida. They could overtake either Boston or Ottawa for the #2 seed in the East. They're only behind Boston by two points, so if the B's slip and the Sens can't take full advantage, then the Panthers could move up a spot. Devils fans should really hope that doesn't happen because it means their first round opponent could become the Bruins instead of the Panthers. To that end, the Devils should hope Boston gets back to their winning ways, that New Jersey and Pittsburgh beat up on the Sens, and that the Panthers falter - which will be hard beyond their game against Philly.
|#8 WSH||@ CHI||@ DET||@ PHI||vs. WPG||71||78|
|#9 WPG||vs. CAR||@ PIT||@ WSH||@NSH||71||76|
|#10 BUF||@ TBL||vs. MTL||@ NYR||vs. MIN||72||76|
As for that last playoff spot, well, Washington has it, but it's not really secure. The games in hand on Winnipeg are made up and they're only ahead by two points. Moroever, Buffalo still has an outside shot at making it happen. All three teams will be busy in this week. The good news is that Washington is behind the Devils by nine points so it's almost a lock that the Devils will be in the postseason. That may not seem like much, but keep in mind that last season, that didn't happen. It's a good feeling to know that it will.
Will the Penguins stay hot and catch the Rangers for first in the Atlantic? Will the Flyers secure third or will the Devils make a late push? How badly do you want the Bruins to start succeeding again such that Florida doesn't catch them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Atlantic Division, the playoff race in the East, and the upcoming schedules in the comments. Thank you for reading.