Breaking down the playoff race
As we all know, there are no less than 5 teams in contention for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and there is a constant power struggle within the top 8 teams. Let’s finally make sense of the muddled picture and figure out where each team will land:
Philadelphia Flyers: Philly sits at the top of the Conference right now, but are only 1 point ahead of Toronto and only 3 ahead of division rivals New Jersey. Without consistent goaltending, it’s hard to imagine the Flyers holding off all this competition. Prediction: 4th seed
Toronto: The Leafs are currently in the #2 spot and are charging at injured Philly. With good goaltending, a good offense and solid defense, it’s hard to imagine the Maple Leafs finishing behind the Flyers this season unless somebody goes down. Prediction: 1st seed
Tampa Bay: The top team in the weak southeast, Tampa is in a battle with Atlanta in which they seem to be in the drivers seat. Tortorella may use questionable tactics and make questionable decisons, but the division race is over for them. Prediction: 3rd seed
New Jersey: Currently 3 points behind Philly with 3 games in hand. The defending cup champions are again the real deal, because teams can’t score on Brodeur and the Devils defense. This teams methodical style of play can drive any team up the wall, and they always come through in the clutch. Prediction: 2nd seed
Boston: The B’s have enough talent to take the cup this year, but they might not have the drive. When it comes down to it, they’re probably the 3rd best team in their division, which is a problem with the new format where you have to play division teams more often. They should still be able to finish strong, though, and Raycroft can make some noise in the playoffs. Prediction: 6th seed
Ottawa: A team bedeviled by inconsistency and have something to prove this season. They have an overload of talent, good coaching, and have proven their ability to win against their rivals. This team is going to give a lot of people a lot of headaches come playoff time, especially if they pick up Peter Bondra. Prediction: 5th seed
Montreal: A real overachieving team currently in the 7th seed, but with the pontential to move up or down rapidly. They are in the dreaded northeast, and also have a harder time keeping momentum then the Islanders, who are on their tails for the 7th seed. The upcoming head to head matchup with the Isles will be very telling. Prediction: 8th seed
New York Islanders: Another team plagued by inconsistancy, but they have proven the most important trait of a playoff team, which is to beat their rivals. They cleaned out the devils and bedeviled the sens, and have also effectively knocked Carolina and Florida out of the race. They will outlast the Canadiens because they have a lot of matchups with Pittsburgh left, as opposed to matchups with Boston. A real good playoff sleeper pick. Prediction: 7th seed.
Buffalo: A team on the edge, they trail the Isles for the 8th and final playoff spot by 7 points. They are yet another team from the Northeast in playoff contention, but the Isles have too big a head start for the Sabres to get in this season. Maybe next year. Prediction: Miss the playoffs
Atlanta: Rapidly dissapearing in the race for the Southeast, they are just as desperate in the race against the Isles. Masterful job by Hartley, but aside from Kovalchuk and Heatley this team just doesn’t have quite enough firepower to get them in this season. Prediction: Miss the playoffs
New York Rangers: A desperate team if I’ve ever seen one, they are way too far behind to make an impact much longer. The window has closed on the ranger$, get ready for a few more summers off. Prediction: Miss the playoffs.
While there are still some other teams left in contention, none of them can make a big enough impact in 30 games unless they go on a big run. My playoff teams: Islanders, Senators, Maple Leafs, Habs should all be interesting to watch and should make an impact.