Most NHL teams have about nine or ten regular season games left. For those teams fighting for a playoff spot every game is important. Now is the time teams need to dig deep and find the extra strength to pull off a win and make the playoffs. There are several teams competing for the seventh and eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. It is do or die time for these teams.
The New York Rangers currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 81 points. The Rangers have nine games remaining; three at home and six on the road. The three games at home are the least of all the teams still in contention for the last two playoff spots. However, two of their road games are against the local rival New York Islanders. Ranger fans will be in full force at the games. With some luck on their side, the Rangers have managed to get at least a point in nine of their last ten games.
They could have easily fallen apart with the recent injuries to Martin Straka, Karel Rachunek, Brendan Shanahan, Marcel Hossa, and Fedor Tyutin, but they did not. Shanahan was back in the lineup last night. Straka is scheduled to be back by Saturday. Their return will greatly help they Rangers top power play line. The acquisition of Sean Avery has been underrated. He has provided the much needed spark the team had been missing. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has also been playing well. Overall the team has been playing better defense and the hustle on the back-check is evident. They have not allowed a first period goal in their last eight games. Look for the Rangers to make the playoffs.
Toronto is currently tied for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. While they did play well and beat New Jersey in their last game, the Devils were missing several key players due to injuries. The Leafs have five home games and four away games remaining. Of all the teams fighting for the final two spots, they have the toughest schedule. Their next five games especially feature two against Buffalo, then Carolina, then Atlanta and Pittsburg. This tough schedule will not bode well for their chances and the Leafs will fall short of the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes are currently tied with Toronto and Montreal with 80 points for the eighth spot. The Hurricanes have five home games and four away games remaining. They are 5-4-1 in their last ten games. Goaltending and defense could be the important factor for this team down the stretch. Their defense has not been steady all season with various injuries to several players. Goaltender Cam Ward is just about ready to return from his knee injury. John Grahame has played well in Ward’s absence. This team will fight until the end with Montreal to make the playoffs and will barely squeak by.
The Montreal Canadiens have the least amount of games remaining of the teams in competition for the final two spots in the East. Of their eight games remaining, four are at home and four are away. Their schedule is not as tough, but unfortunately this team is inconsistent. At times they play well and other times they play passionless. When a defenseman (Sheldon Souray) leads the team in goals, it is not a good sign. If Jaroslav Halak finishes the season in goal, it does not look good for the Habs either. He has allowed three or more goals in six of his last nine games. Unless their scoring steps up, look for them to fall just short of making the playoffs.
With 79 points the New York Islanders are still in striking distance of the eighth spot. They have ten games remaining, which is the most of all teams fighting for a spot. Their schedule is fairly tough featuring games against Pittsburg, New Jersey, Buffalo and Ottawa. The recent injury to Rick DiPietro was unfortunate timing. He missed about a week and in that time his teammates did not step up. While DiPietro has since returned, his team has a tough battle ahead of him.
Captain Alexei Yashin has not done anything special since his return from injury. Coach Ted Nolan has demoted Yashin to the fourth line in hopes to put some fire in his belly. At the trade deadline many thought the New York Islanders had made the right moves that would for sure spring them into playoff momentum. At first, the additions of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Ryan Smyth seemed to be great. Unfortunately the Islander fans that are spending their money on a Smyth jersey are wasting their money. He will not bring them a Stanley Cup and he will be gone from the team next year. This team will not make the playoffs.