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As the season starts to wind down, the Atlantic Division is mostly confirmed as to where everyone will finish. The Philadelphia Flyers are now guaranteed to make the playoffs and are clearly in the driver's seat to win the division with a 6 point lead over their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The New York Rangers have stemmed the tide with 3 straight wins to keep ahead of other teams trying to make the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders had great runs in the last month or so, but they are on the outside, looking in at this point.
There will be only two more of these weekly Atlantic Division snapshots for this season. Like this coming week, they'll be filled with games that may not be important in the standings but at least for pride within the division. Check out what is ahead after the jump.
There are a few ways to describe how ridiculous and impressive the New Jersey Devils have played in this season half of the season. They have lost a total of 5 games since the All Star Break. Since January 9, they have lost only 7. Here's another: this past week of games was the first week since the week through January 2 through January 8 where the Devils lost the majority of games in the week. That's a run of 9 weeks. Like all good things, they come to an end and this was it for them.
While the Devils can still make some noise to move up the rankings, the incredibly low probability of jumping up 4 spots in the East by April 10 is just about zero now. Ditto for the New York Islanders. Even though they got half of all available points last week, they need nearly all of them now just to have shot.
Those who support the other three teams in the Atlantic should be quite pleased. Philadelphia clinched a playoff spot and even increased their lead on Pittsburgh for the division lead by taking 5 points out of 6. The Penguins are fighting for that #4 spot and sweeping their week keeps Tampa Bay at hand while having a faint shot at the Flyers. The New York Rangers needed wins and got them to keep ahead of Buffalo and Carolina. This past week gives them a larger margin of error for the remaining three weeks of the season.
Speaking of, here's what this week has for the Atlantic Division. It's busy and has a couple rivalry games.
On paper, no one really has an easy week. The Flyers and Islanders both have shorter weeks than the rest of the division, though the Flyers get the Capitals first and a rivarly game against Pittsburgh while the Islanders visit Tampa Bay and host the Thrashers. Then they play each other. I leave it to you to decide which is more favorable.
Pittsburgh gets to enjoy three inter-division games and Detroit right after today's game against the Rangers. Ouch. The Rangers do have two home games against two all-but-guaranteed-to-miss-the-playoffs teams, but they're book-ended by the Penguins and Bruins. The pressure's on the Rangers to take as much points as possible to avoid a late collapse in the standings. The Devils have their last road trip of the season, starting today in Columbus before taking on two playoff teams (Boston, Pittsburgh), and a team who has a real shot at making it right after the Pittsburgh game (Buffalo). Not an easy week at all. The Devils will hopefully make it a successful road trip and at least pick up points for consolation purposes. At least they aren't in dead last anymore like they were back on January 8, 2010.