The Race for #1 Has 3 Horses

With roughly just under 20 games remaining for most Eastern Conference teams the division races are still largely undecided. Carolina is expected to hold their division lead from Tampa, but the Rangers are closely tailed by Philly, and Buffalo is a mere 2 pts behind Ottawa for the Northeast.

For that matter, Ottawa trails Carolina by only 1 pt and Buffalo also is only 3 pts back, both teams hold a game in hand on the Canes. I predict fairly safely that the race for the top seed in the East will be won by one of these 3 teams.

Without Erik Cole it is possible that Ottawa will catch Carolina and take over the top spot. However, don’t discount the Sabres especially with 4 games against Ottawa and 2 with Carolina left on their schedule. The destiny of the Northeast division and perhaps the Conference champion lies in who wins more of those 4 games remaining between Ottawa and Buffalo. If the Sabres can win 3 of the 4 or even split with the Sens it is still very possible they could surpass Ottawa and Carolina with them. The last game of the regular season for the Sabres is against Carolina, that game could determine who wins the East. All 3 teams are strong in all aspects of their game, it’s going to be a very exciting finish.

It is still a strong possibility to see this year’s President’s Trophy go to a Eastern team, and these 3 are the likely candidates. Detroit, Calgary, and Dallas are the 3 Western teams that will challenge for the President’s Trophy, but which team gets it will be fun to watch. What are your thoughts?


81 Responses to The Race for #1 Has 3 Horses

  1. Flyers4Ever says:

    It has definietly been one of the more interesting years for the top team in the league. It is ashame that Philly had so many injuries this year because they would have most certaintly been up there at the top as well. Buffalo is a pretty scary team. If they get number #1 I could see them being a very dominate force come playoff time. Especially starting off against a bad team, if they get hot they will ROLL over most teams they face.

  2. Marky2Fresh says:

    Detroit will win it

  3. thatleafsguy says:

    Is Sea Biscuit 1 of the 3 horses?

  4. ranger_fan says:

    KEVIN WEEKES SUCKS!

    Its probably because he is not the biggest fish eater…

    DAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

  5. 24_cups_and_counting says:

    Sabres have no chance at passing Ottawa in the Northeast. The Senators have absolutely destroyed the Sabres this year. They’ve outscored them 23-6. The only loss to the sabres was a 2-1 shootout loss. The 4 games against ottawa could get ugly (eg. Ottawa vs. Toronto). I don’t dislike the sabres, i just don’t think they have what it takes to get past ottawa.

  6. LeafyMcLeaf says:

    My cup odds:

    Philadelphia Flyers 3:1

    Calgary Flames 5:1

    Buffalo Sabres 5:1

    Dallas Stars 5:1

    Colorado Avalanche 10:1

    Carolina Hurricanes 10:1

    Ottawa Senators 10:1

    New York Rangers 15:1

    Detroit Red Wings 15:1

    Nashville Predators 20:1

    Vancouver Canucks 20:1

    Los Angeles Kings 20:1

    New Jersey Devils 20:1

    Montreal Canadiens 25:1

    Edmonton Oilers 25:1

    Tampa Bay Lightning 25:1

    Toronto Maple Leafs 25:1

    San Jose Sharks 30:1

    Anaheim Ducks 30:1

    Atlanta Thrashers 35:1

    Phoenix Coyotes 35:1

    Minnesota Wild 40:1

    New York Islanders 40:1

    Florida Panthers 45:1

    Boston Bruins 50:1

    Chicago Blackhawks 150:1

    Washington Capitals 150:1

    Pittsburgh Penguins 150:1

    Columbus Blue Jackets 175:1

    St Louis Blues 200:1

    That’s not scientific, in fact, the last few teams really have no shot in hell. But most people get it from what’s written there. It’s all based on talent, and how good a playoff team your team is. Philly is my pick because they have real winners with the team (Simon Gagne, Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher) they have amazing goaltending (Esche and Nittymaki) and some real hard ass gritty guys. (Turner Stevenson, and Donald Brashear). And just cuz he’s hurt, doesn’t mean Keith Primeau can’t act as a good leader. Too bad his name ain’t gonna be on the cup.

  7. zdeno_duchesne says:

    you must be a pro-leaf (anti-senator).. they seem to go hand in hand

  8. thatleafsguy says:

    you have to much time on your hands.

  9. zdeno_duchesne says:

    i found the vegas odds.. keep in mind, these are not in order.. but i should point out that they have the sens as the odds-on favourites..

    Philadelphia Flyers 9/2

    Ottawa Senators 5/2

    Detroit Red Wings 3/1

    Colorado Avalanche 15/1

    Tampa Bay Lightning 15/1

    Boston Bruins 100/1

    Calgary Flames 10/1

    New Jersey Devils 15/1

    Vancouver Canucks 7/1

    Dallas Stars 10/1

    Toronto Maple Leafs 20/1

    San Jose Sharks 20/1

    Los Angeles Kings 20/1

    Pittsburgh Penguins 400/1

    Edmonton Oilers 25/1

    Montreal Canadiens 25/1

    New York Islanders 50/1

    St. Louis Blues 300/1

    Nashville Predators 10/1

    Chicago Blackhawks 300/1

    Anaheim Mighty Ducks 40/1

    Atlanta Thrashers 35/1

    Florida Panthers 75/1

    New York Rangers 15/1

    Minnesota Wild 50/1

    Phoenix Coyotes 50/1

    Columbus Bluejackets 100/1

    Buffalo Sabres 20/1

    Carolina Hurricanes 10/1

    Washington Capitals 2000/1

  10. SDG says:

    The Sabres absolutely have a chance of passing the Sens. True, the Sabres were rolled over by the Sens in the beginning of the year, but I think it is a confidence issue at this point. They were in awe of Ottawa, but that 2-1 SO win was big. The Sabres are beating everyone right now. Also, the Sabres know what Hasek can be like when he gets injured, and that could be a huge problem for Ottawa.

    As a Sabres fan, I can’t wait to face Ottawa so they can show they do belong.

  11. zdeno_duchesne says:

    as a sens fan i am scared of losing a top 3 spot to buffalo, and the scary thing is i can see it happening.

    buffalo can score goals like very few teams can, and they’re getting great goaltending from that yank, miller.

    ottawa’s showing some poise down the stretch here even with a rookie goalie, but they better not lose a step to the sabres or the playoffs will be a lot tougher.

    i think either buffalo or ottawa will end up on top, but to not seem partisan, i’m going to say the sens.

  12. 19AVSFANFoLIFE19 says:

    when did they come out with these odds? cause washington has more points then pittsburgh shouldnt they have better odds?

  13. 19AVSFANFoLIFE19 says:

    columbus should be higher then chicago washington and pittsburgh. columbus is something like 17-11-7 in the last few months. watch out for them next year.

  14. gohabs73 says:

    Miller has also looked shaky in his last 3 starts (WAS, PHI, TB)…

    We could see some high scoring battles between the Sens and Sabres.

    With Briere back into the lineup and looking good, the Sabres are pretty scary!

  15. FoppaFlyers21 says:

    I hope you’re right, but the way they’ve been playing lately is embarressing. It’s hard to watch them, especially on the Special Teams

  16. LeafyMcLeaf says:

    Pretty interesting. But I’m counting on Hasek getting another injury, and they need his leadership and experience, they don’t have guys who have won, aside from Hasek, and you need that, and Emery will one day be a fantastic goalie, but he’s not going to lead you to the cup.

    You just don’t win cups with guys like Alfredsson, Chara, and Havlat.

  17. FoppaFlyers21 says:

    I think Philly will overtake the Rangers, and I think Buffalo will easily take over Ottawa as long as Briere keeps playing as possessed as he is, and as long as Hasek stays out of the net. And as soon as Staal wakes up from his funk, they will continue to hold number one.

    1. Carolina

    2. Buffalo

    3. Philly

    I think Detroit will win the Presidents, and as long as their goaltending is fair (and yes, you only need fair with Lidstrom shadowing your teams sniper), they will take the Cup

  18. toronto77 says:

    no offence to red wings or devils fans but if detroit or new jersey win the cup it will be so boring, because detroit and new jersey always win the cup, and it is exciting to see a new team win the cup, if detroit or new jersey win the cup it will feel like a waste of a season. If the same repetitive teams win the cup it will be boring.

  19. LeafyMcLeaf says:

    Pretty even teams.

    Ovechkin >>>>>> Crosby

    Kolzig>Fleury

    Gonchar>Eminger (sad when you don’t have a defenseman better then Gonchar)

    Leclair>Halpern

  20. LeafyMcLeaf says:

    Detroit ain’t that great, they just have an easy schedule, Nashville is good, but not terriffic, and then the other 3 members of their division are 13th, 14th, and 15th, in the Western Conference.

  21. LeafyMcLeaf says:

    Fopes, you gotta see, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Legace, and the likes are fantastic players. Shanny, Stevie, and Lidstrom, they’re beauties, but they’re over rated because of their division, Nashville is ok, but Columbus, St Louis, and Chicago are 13th, 14th, and 15th in the conference.

  22. FoppaFlyers21 says:

    yes that’s true. If they weren’t in that division they may not have the presidents trophy, but i still think they can win the Cup playing at their best.

  23. i_know_hockey says:

    Buffalo is 7-1 since the Olympic break and have won 7 straight after a sloppy loss to Atlanta. It is very possible for this surprise of a team to surpass both Carolina and Ottawa.

    The Sabres play Ottawa twice and Carolina once in the upcoming 10 days. Buffalo can get some major points to swing their way with these games as each game is like a 4 point differential. With wins like 5-8, 6-5, and 6-4, the goaltending on this team deserves some attention. Sabres fans must only hope that Miller can return to that pre-Olympic break form.

    However, the one major obstacle for Buffalo is their schedule. Last week i believe i recall reading that Buffalo has the 5th hardest schedule to close out the season. This is most definetley true aftrer reading the upcoming games:

    Toronto: 4

    Sens: 4

    Hurricanes: 2

    Habs: 2

    Bruins: 2

    Devils: 1

    Flyers: 1

    Rangers: 1

    Thrashers: 1

    Im pulling for the Sabres… They have 4 strong lines rolling and seem to be returning to that old saying “the hardest working team in hockey.” I only question if they can continue this pace, keep healthy, and go into the playoffs with momentum. This is a team effort and they need everyone to contribute to win. Just look at their player stats and ask yourself… can you name either of their top 2 scorers?? In case you couldnt its Ales Kotalik and Maxim Afinogenov.

  24. Tweek says:

    I know he is a idiot zdeno but dosnt that statement also hold true the other way around?

  25. FoppaFlyers21 says:

    Briere would be number one without question if it wasn’t for his injury. They are a whole different team with him playing. I fear the Sabres as well. If things stay EXACTLY as they are they could be playing Philly in the first round in the 4th and 5th seeds. That would scare the hell out of me. It would be a dissapointing finish for either team that loses that round.

  26. 19AVSFANFoLIFE19 says:

    u do win cups with alfredsson chara redden heatley spezza. all you need is a decent goalie and they have one.

  27. GretzNYR99 says:

    Buffalo is scary, no denying that.

    There is a vital flaw in that team though… and it is playoff INEXPERIENCE. A lack of experience will be this team’s downfall. Guys like Varada, Satan, Barnaby, Hasek, Barnes, etc. from Buffalo’s last playoff trip are gone. Names like Tallinder, Kotalik, Dumont, Fitzpatrick, Biron, Miller, are all coming in and have no playoff experience. Even Briere doesn’t have a lot of experience in the playoffs, and he’s their biggest offensive threat. It’s one thing to have a good team, but it’s another to have a clutch and experienced team who have won the battles before. This will also be Carolina’s downfall, that and some choke artists, most notably Doug Weight. Rod Brind’Amour has also never been able to take his team the whole way, he got there in 97, and 02, but fell short to Detroit both times. Carolina has a lot of question marks, despite the firepower they have up front. I’m still not sold on them as a cup contender.

    I’ll take Ottawa over any of them. The best line in the NHL. One of the better playoff goaltenders in the league in Dominik Hasek, probably the best, if not for Martin Brodeur, who still has yet to prove that his cups were not simply a biproduct of the neutral zone trap, and two guys named Scott. They have the best defensive 4 in the NHL, in Chara, Redden, Meszaros, and Phillips. It doesn’t matter who you put behind them, not Pothier and Volchenkov aren’t good, but good luck getting through those 4. Then you throw two decent and somewhat young defenders in Pothier and Volchenkov, and you’re screwed.

    If Hasek is back and healthy, I still stand with, as I have from day 1, Ottawa over Calgary in 6 for the Cup.

  28. kicksave856 says:

    I have a question. Does Lindy Ruff have anything to do with the Sabres being as good as they are, or could the guy I see with the “will work for food” sign in Camden every day on my way home from work have coached this team to the same record?

  29. i_know_hockey says:

    last NHL season, the sabres were ninth place with 85 points and 37 wins, 34 losses and 11 ties

    From that team 18 are returning that players are the same, 2 are new this year, and 4 are rookies. Now going from 37 wins and 85 pts in 82 games to 43 wins and 91 pts in 64 games… thats a drastic improvement. I think this can be attributed to the new rules and Ruff’s committment to these kids. Its a very young and fast team. He definately has done an excellent job this yr.

  30. kicksave856 says:

    But on a day to day basis, behind the bench, is he doing anything special, or is the team so good that they’d be playing this well no matter what coach was standing behind them? That’s really my question.

    Hopefully you are a Sabres fan, because I’m looking for an answer from someone with some insight. A lot of times, people just answer to answer. So give me the good stuff. Is Ruff really a key to their success, or is the team just so good that it almost doesn’t matter who their coach is?

  31. kicksave856 says:

    By the way, your points are well taken, but I see that more as GM type stuff, I’m asking more about strictly gameday-coaching type stuff.

  32. muckies says:

    The Sens will finish second, and then destroy in the Playoffs.

    The Sens have so much confidence right now in everybody on the team its scary, this is a totally different Sens team.

    Ottawa wins the Cup and losses only 5 games while doing it.

  33. i_know_hockey says:

    yea i live right outside of buffalo.. ive missed like 4 games this season b/c they werent on tv… personally id say hes doing a great job. He deserves coach of the year! But yea, the GM Darcy Regier has done some great drafting as of late. His guys are starting to develop and come along. And who brings these players along… Ruff does, hes got the hands on work with them getting them to where they are at today. Ruff has got this team working its tail off every single game. Hes got hot lines that can be dangerous at any point. Id say Ruff has been a great coach for this team. Hes no slug that just sits behind the bench doing nothing. This is a team with the #2 PP and PK in the league! Its battled injuries, lost 2 of its best players from last season (satan and zhitnik), and had been calling up guys from the AHL all year. Russ deserves credit for getting this team to play.. but ultimately its up the players and what goes on in that locker room. I look forward to seeing this team play its heart out during the playoffs. I expect them to give their all every game and certainly do some damage.

  34. Wigdog says:

    Where are you getting the crack your smoking? What are you about 12 years old……your post has so much depth and merit.

  35. i_know_hockey says:

    oh wait.. remember when Hasek got injured late in the year with the sabres??? oh yea, remember how he was supposed to return??? oh yea.. and remember how he never did leaving buffalo without a starting goaltender. i know i do…

  36. i_know_hockey says:

    i heard someone call in with this about the sabres GM… the question was what has been Darcy Regeir’s best trade ever?

    The guy called in and said Mike Wilson for Rhett Warrener and a draft pick… that became Ryan Miller! lol just thought id say that

  37. detY192003 says:

    Sens will choke in the second round as always. or the first, either way. Watch for a Stanley Cup rematch between The Wings vs The Flyers. Detroit wings in game 6

  38. Flyers70 says:

    Buffalo looks, to me, like the Lightning when they won the Cup.

  39. Flyers70 says:

    Not so sure about Detroit, even though I like their forward lines. The situation is goal is going to have to be better than fair, I think, to get through the playoffs. They have to be the odds on favorite out West, but I think the Cup winner will come out of the East this year.

    Buffalo scares me because they remind me of Tampa when Tampa won it. If Buffalo’s forwards figure out how to back check, they’ll be tough.

    Ottawa is talented, but Bryan Murray has never won anything. And it seems any team he coaches always finds a way to come up short. As a Flyers fan, I liked it better when Chara was on the Isles and he stunk. He’s just a machine on the backline.

    Not sure if my Flyers are fast enough. They have “foot speed issues” as Hitch put it in the past.

    The Rangers have the talent, but I wonder about intestinal fortitude for the long haul. As good as Lundquist is, Robert Esche is a more accomplished playoff goalie than Lundquist is.

    As long as Martin Brodeur can hold a stick and glove, I’m worried about the Devils.

    I’m not nearly as big a believer in Carolina as most, but they do seem set up well.

  40. Boocoo says:

    Nope!

    Put the Leafs @ 2000:1 and then it looks right…

  41. Boocoo says:

    It looks like the Sens are starting to pick-up the pace intentionally and are starting to play more responsibly in light of getting ready for the playoffs. Come playoffs they will start to bang (well maybe not Speeza…haha) and with their speed and grit, not to many teams will be able to hang with them. I think the Sens have learn to keep a little in the tank before commencing playoffs. I think they realize that finishing first at all costs is not all it is crack up to be… the big difference this year is that they actually have a world class goalie…

    I agree Buffalo is not to be taken lightly. After a slow start, they probably have the best record in the league since about Dec or Jan…

    Keep the faith brother!

  42. kicksave856 says:

    Good answers. I’m a Philly fan and I’ve heard a lot of crack smokers blame the Flyers underachieving on Hitch, even though anyone with an ounce of hockey knowledge knows that he’s one of the best coaches in hockey. So I respect and believe in your reasoning, as you sound like a reasonable, intelligent hockey fan.

    Thanks for the insight.

    PS – I hope that the situation with Lindy’s kid isn’t anything too terrible and that everything turns out ok.

  43. RangerSteve says:

    That Atlantic Division crown might become one of the most important titles before the season is over. NYR and Philly are now tied for 1st while NJD only trails both by I believe 8 points. The bigger picture would include all 3 of these teams staying away from Buffalo in that #4-#5 match-up. This of course is if Buffalo doesn’t catch Ottawa.

  44. GretzNYR99 says:

    Tampa had young superstars.

    Buffalo doesn’t have any young superstars aside from Ryan Miller. Daniel Briere is the closest thing to a legitimate offensive threat that they have, Tampa had 5 of them spread out on two different lines. Tampa also had a goaltender with playoff experience, and 6 good veteran defenders.

    If any team draws frightening comparisons to the 04 Tampa team, it’s Carolina. The difference is they lack in net as well.

    Ottawa’s still taking it all at the end of the day.

    Ottawa over Calgary, 6 games.

  45. NemiNA says:

    you have way too much free time and you need a girlfreind. just a thought.

  46. NemiNA says:

    also rhett warrener turned into chris drury

  47. GretzNYR99 says:

    Esche? Haha, are you serious?

    Yeah, he’s sucked since he lost game 7. Talk about accomplishments. What did he accomplish? Nothing but a 3rd round loss. Lundqvist has a gold medal, and a Elitserien championship to his name, and outside of the NHL, the Elitserien is probably the best league out there. Lundqvist has proven that he is a gamer, and quite frankly the only thing that scares me about this team is not Lundqvist’s lack of NHL playoff experience, but the defense. It’s been horrendous all year, and he’s made it look like a godsend.

    I’d be worried about Esche if I were you, just because of Niittymaki’s inexperience, and who knows how losing the gold medal game has affected Niittymaki’s psyche.

  48. Flyers70 says:

    Anytime you take a rookie goalie into the playoffs it should be a concern. How many rookie goalies took their team to the Stanley Cup? Only one (Roy in 86) that I could think of. Think of all the rookie phenom goalies that have come through the league. Even Brodeur didn’t win the Cup as a rookie.

    Also: Niitymaki won a Calder Cup last year (and was MVP of the AHL playoffs), so he has about as much “playoff experience” as Lundquist.

  49. Flyers70 says:

    Buffalo may not have the MVP of the league like Tampa did, but they have good young talent and they are fast. 8 different players with over 15 goals…. Kotalik, Thomas Vanek, Afinogenov, and Briere are pretty darn good.

    There is somthing about Carolina that I just don’t trust when I watch them. I was never a big Laviolette fan, even when he was on the Island.

    If they only had more fish eaters.

  50. my_sphincter says:

    Vanek will be a superstar in my opinion.

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