1. New Jersey Devils - 112 Points
2. Boston Bruins - 109 Points
3. Washington Capitals - 107 Points
4. Philadelphia Flyers - 99 Points
5. Pittsburgh Penguins - 98 Points
6. New York Rangers - 96 Points
7. Carolina Hurricanes - 95 Points
8. Montreal Canadiens - 94 Points
9. Florida Panthers - 90 Points
10. Buffalo Sabres - 87 Points
11. Ottawa Senators - 84 Points (37 Wins)
12. Toronto Maple Leafs - 84 Points (36 Wins)
13. Atlanta Thrashers - 79 Points
14. New York Islanders - 72 Points
15. Tampa Bay Lightning - 71 Points.
It seems increasingly, actually virtually certain, unless catastrophe hits the top three spots will be New Jersey, Boston and Washington. The only real questions seem to be: 1) How long can/will New Jersey keep up their current great play before they decide to start resting a few folks and will that be before or after they overtake Boston? and 2) Will the Capitals be able to take advantage of their "easier" schedule during their remaining 12 games to overtake either New Jersey or Boston?
My answers: 1) The Devils will keep their current level of ply up long enough to pass the Bruins; and 2) The Caps will come close but will not pass the Bruins who will slide into second.
The next group of teams are basically all at least 10 points and 3 or more games behind Washington. They are all basically in a pack fighting it out for playoff spot seeding between fourth and eighth. The major questions here are: 1) Will Pittsburgh be able to keep up their league leading performance of late (8-0-2) long enough to overtake Philadelphia for fourth place in the Conference or not? 2) Will Philadelphia be able to raise their performance of late against the numerous playoff contention teams they face in what will be intense games over their remaining schedule (8 of 13 games remaining) to use their three games in hand to stay ahead of the surging Penguins who they face only once more this season? 3) Will Florida be able to raise their performance in light of recent injuries enough to over take either Carolina, who they have 2 games in hand on or Montreal who seems to be sliding again of late (lost last three games)? and 4) Will a seemingly rejuvenated New York Rangers team continue to stay ahead of a surging Carolina Hurricanes team?
My answers: 1) Pittsburgh will keep up a high level of play but Philadelphia will also stop their two game losing streak tomorrow night against Buffalo and then play well enough the rest of the season to hold onto fourth place in the conference. The real key game for both teams between now and season's end is their final meeting on Sunday in Pittsburgh and I project Philadelphia as a 1 goal winner. 2) Yes the Flyers will raise their game, I'm projecting them to play 0.576 hockey (vice their recent 0.450 hockey over4 their last 10 games) the rest of the way this season. I project 5 games to be key for them in their stretch run to do that: their game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, their two games against the Rangers and their home and home against the Maple Leafs who so far this season they are 1-1 against. 3) Short answer is unfortunately no, I'm rooting for them though as I'd love to see three teams from the "weak" Southeast Division in the playoffs. However, I project they won't be able to make it mainly because Florida's final 12 games include 7 against teams who like Florida are fighting for either a spot in the playoffs or seeding position so they have a pretty tough schedule ahead and even though Montreal is sliding they are currently 1 1/2 games ahead of Florida and both teams have similar recent past performance over the last 10 games. 4) Yes barring some sort of Sean Avery blow-up which seems unlikely the Rangers with 30 goals for; 19 goals against and a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games will have enough to stay ahead of the Hurricanes who have played to a similar set of results over their last 10 games.
Well now we'll see if the Caps can continue to stay ahead of the Lightning and hold or extend their 2-1 lead to make it a 2 point night.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!