Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Playoff races heating up as deadline looms

Just how tight is the Eastern playoff race? Well, 19 total points is all which separates first in the conference Ottawa and Montreal (75) from 15th ranked Tampa Bay (56).

With most teams having 21-22 games remaining unless you're the Rangers or Hurricanes, there's still plenty of time left for teams to make their moves. At the top level, you have five teams vying for playoff position and home ice. Well, if the league adopted the NBA rule which rewarded a team with more points than the Southeast Division winner, it's really four teams who can move up or down because whoever wins that division automatically is locked into the third seed.

With shootout wins last night, both the Sens and Habs moved a couple of points ahead of the idle Devils and victorious Penguins, who fought back from two down to win 3-2 over the Panthers.

New Jersey has been playing extremely solid hockey as of late and will try to stay hot when they host San Jose. The Sharks recently blew a two-goal third period lead in a bad loss to the Islanders. They also lost to the Rangers this past weekend. So they don't want to go 0-for-3 in the metro area when they visit The Prudential Center later tonight.

The Devs had an easy 5-1 win over the Canes on President's Day getting contributions from Johnny Oduya, Jay Pandolfo and Travis Zajac. In a stretch which has them playing 15 of 18 at The Rock, Brent Sutter's club has done well taking advantage of it. They'll also host the Islanders this weekend hoping to finally notch a win over one of their local rivals.

Meanwhile, the Fishsticks have been playing inspired hockey having reeled off four in a row to get within three of the final playoff spot. You have to give Ted Nolan's club a ton of credit because they have lost so many key defensemen to injuries. The latest victim was Andy Sutton (torn hamstring) who is gone for four to six weeks after being helped off the ice in their 3-2 win over the Sharks Monday.

With no Sutton, no Chris Campoli (done for season), no Brendan Witt (MCL) and Bruno Gervais (oblique) all sidelined, somehow the Islanders are mustering up enough energy to find ways to win and stay in the race.

Freddy Meyer, Bryan Berard and Marc-Andre Bergeron must continue to step up while All-Star goalie Rick DiPietro needs to continue his stellar play giving his team a chance to win every night.

It should be interesting to see what happens. A lot depends on the next few days for each team as they battle for key points and positioning which will determine whether they're a buyer or a seller at next week's deadline.

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