Last week, I said the Devils would remain ahead with at least a win; they did just that; and they remain at the top. They were also helped by Philadelphia going 2-1 in that same time span. No one in the Atlantic plays tonight so these standings will hold through tomorrow:
The Devils are ahead of Philadelphia by 7 and ahead of the Rangers by 11. The lead is truly 5 points at minimum, given the Flyers' current game in hand. For this week, the Devils and Flyers play the same amount of games. Therefore, the Devils need a minimum of 3 points to truly stay ahead of Philadelphia.
GP This Week (H, A)
|Potential Pts.||Last 5 Games||Conference Position|
In short, unless the Devils lose all their games and the Flyers win all of theirs, the Devils will remain in first for another week. Given that the team has not lost two games in a row for over 2 months, as Chere noted yesterday, the Devils should be safe. The goal for New Jersey is to not look back, but keep looking ahead and continue to play hockey as they have been all season. The week ahead for each team lies ahead after the jump.
The Devils have a mix of games ahead: Phoenix at home tomorrow; a trip to struggling Montreal on Saturday; hosting Chicago next Tuesday; and then a game in Carolina next Wednesday. The big story for these games is that Martin Brodeur could break Patrick Roy's career wins record in this week. If he wins tomorrow, he can tie it in Montreal (what a sight that would be! A big record by a famous Hab tied in Montreal!), and then have some chances to just make history afterwards. With respect to the Devils, they just need to keep pace.
Philadelphia has done very, very well this season and they really aren't out of the running for the division title like the Rangers are. However, despite the game in hand, the Flyers have a lot of work to do. As with most teams, it's difficult to judge how they will do. First, Philly finish up a long homestand against Washington tomorrow and the Rangers on Saturday. On Sunday, they hit the road by first going up to MSG to take on the Rangers and then they visit the league leading Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Two of the top teams in the league and a division rival who needs points badly. I think it's fair that to say that none of these games will be easy.
Here's a question. Do we want the Flyers to lose so they can fall further behind the Devils, even though that means technically rooting for the Rangers? Do we want the Rangers to lose because, hey they're the Rangers, even though that could pull the Flyers closer to the Devils' position? If only both teams could lose!!
Now, Pittsburgh is on fire right now. They were sitting on the outside of the playoffs, but they've done the best thing they could have done for themselves: win hockey games. They have won their last 7, they are now back in the mix at the right time. Though, when you're this hot, you wonder where the loss will come from. It could come tomorrow night in Columbus, who are also fighting for a playoff spot. It could come against Boston on Sunday, the top team in the East. It could even come from playoff-hopeless Ottawa on Saturday or Atlanta on Tuesday. As of now, assume they're going to keep piling up the points.
The Rangers have started winning some games under John Tortorella, but unfortunately for them, they need to up the pace. Since everything is so tight from #5 through #10, the Rangers currently sit in ninth, one point behind that all important eighth spot. They'll have the opportunity to get the points they need with 4 games. Too bad all of them are hard. Nashville needs points too, expect the Predators to play hard in their home. As stated earlier, they have a home-and-home with the Flyers this weekend - a set that could help decide the Atlantic. Then they visit Montreal on Tuesday, another team that needs points - especially at the expense of another playoff-fighting team in the East. Road games, rivals, and increasingly desperate opponents. This week will see what the Rangers are made of!
Interestingly enough, based on the last 5 games, the Islanders have the third best recent outing (all of the division has done fairly well, really). The spoilers get to travel this week, everything is on the road. They also only get one opponent to spoil: Montreal on Thursday. The others are fairly safe in making the playoffs: Boston on Saturday and Chicago on Sunday. That's a tough weekend! The youth movement has started to yield some results and wins for the team, so perhaps the relatively good times can roll for the Islanders.