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Weekly Atlantic Division Snapshot: 4/1 - 4/7

Welcome to the final Weekly Atlantic Division Snapshot of the 2011-12 season. Thank you all for reading this post throughout the season, be it from the very beginning, when the playoff races became clear, or even if it's your first time.

In the next-to-last week of the season, the New York Rangers got back to getting results and are very close to securing the division and the conference for good thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins not keeping pace. The Philadelphia Flyers slipped a bit, but they're not in danger of moving out of their spot. The New Jersey Devils got better and better as the week went on and clinched a playoff spot. The New York Islanders had a very good week as spoilers and could avoid the dregs of the Eastern Conference with a strong finish.

Atlantic Standings

X - New York Rangers 78 50 21 7 107
X - Pittsburgh 78 48 24 6 102
X - Philadelphia 78 45 24 9 99
X - New Jersey 79 45 28 6 96
New York Islanders 78 33 34 11 77

X = Clinched a Playoff Berth (updated 3.31.2012 at 10:34 PM EDT)

Four playoff berths for the Atlantic Division. Normally, a fourth place finish in a five team division isn't good. But the Atlantic Division isn't normal, it's filled with quality. Please continue on after the jump for a brief summary how each team has performed last week and what lies ahead for them in the upcoming week. There's even a schedule for th remaining playoff battles in the East - something Devils fans should notice.

The two NY teams and the Devils had very good weeks, whereas the Pennsylvanian teams weren't as strong. Still, everyone earned at least half of the available points in their schedule.
Potential Points Last Week Conf. Position
NYR 8 3-0-0 1st
PIT 8 2-2-0 4th
PHI 8 1-1-1 5th
NJD 6 3-1-0 6th
NYI 8 3-1-0 13th

The Penguins had some small windows to catch the Rangers but a move didn't happen for one reason or another each time. This week definitely hurt their cause as the Rangers swept their schedule and the Penguins lost twice to the Islanders. While it's not mathematically impossible for the Penguins to jump the Rangers in the standings, Pittsburgh needs to get hot and the Rangers need to drop points before their game on April 5. That game will be a must-win if that somehow happens. As good as the Penguins have been, I think it would be highly unlikely for the Rangers to start dropping games now. After all, they're won their last four games. Then there's Pittsburgh's upcoming schedule, which not only includes a game against the Rangers but two against their hated rivals, Philadelphia.

The Flyers got a relatively shorter week and got an average amount of results. Like the Penguins with respect to the Rangers, the Flyers need their cross-state rivals to drop points to have a shot at catching up. Like the Penguins, the Flyers will have games to make up the difference quickly: today and at the end of the season on Saturday. It's looking like these two teams will see each other in the first round. Don't count on these two games to be taken lightly; rivalry games rarely are and there's still the matter of home ice.

Congratulations to the New Jersey Devils. They have officially made the playoffs. That doesn't sound like an accomplishment since 16 out of 30 teams make it every season. Given that they didn't make it last season, it must be seen as one. Even better for New Jersey, the sixth seed is looking like a lock at this point with a six point lead over Ottawa. Granted, the Sens have a game in hand on the Devils, but that still leaves the Devils with a four point. Should the Devils get another win or two ahead of the Senators, and it'll be secured. On top of all of that, the Devils won't have to play today, so they get an extra day of rest. All that and a three game winning streak with 11 goals scored in the last two wins. An excellent week.

Speaking of excellent, look out for those Islanders. They did the Devils a solid and beat Florida. They didn't just beat the Penguins, they did it twice last week to put a big dent in the Penguins' hopes of winning the Atlantic. They actually had a three game streak until Boston smacked them down on Saturday. Still, 3-1-0 is a good week, particularly for a team that didn't have enough of them. They are in a position to finish around 11th in the East as opposed to 14th or 15th, so at least they have that going for them.

This will be the final look at the week ahead for all five Atlantic Division teams. Everyone not named New Jersey is playing every other day, with the entire NHL finishing on April 7. If you love rivalries, then this is the week for you.

4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7
NYR vs. BOS @ PHI @ PIT vs. WSH
PIT vs. PHI @ BOS vs. NYR vs. PHI
PHI @ PIT vs. NYR vs. BUF @ PIT
NJD vs. NYI @ DET vs. OTT
NYI vs. OTT @ NJD vs. WPG @ CBJ

Let's go over the rivalries first. The Battle of Pennsylvania will come to a regular season conclusion on Sunday and this coming Saturday. It's quite likely the rivalry will continue into the first round; these two games could determine home ice. And if Pittsburgh gets both wins and the Rangers falter, then maybe they can steal the Atlantic - and the Eastern Conference - from behind. That possibility makes the Rangers-Penguins game on April 5 huge. Depending on what the situation is, the Penguins fans could be cheering on the Rangers on April 3 against the Rangers - which always makes for a nice twist.

As an aside, not only do the Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins have three rivalry games coming up, but their fourth non-rivalry games can be quite challenging. Boston is definitely a quality team and they'll give Pittsburgh a good game. The Flyers should be prepared for a desperate Buffalo team on April 5. The Rangers could have a first round preview on Saturday against Washington, who will probably want to make a statement in that game. I leave it to you to decide who has it harder.

The Devils get off somewhat lightly with only three games. They have a trap game against the Isles on Tuesday. They'll have a game against a very good Detroit team that may not mean much for the Devils as it might for the Red Wings. They will close their season against Ottawa and that game's results may also be meaningless for both teams. It'll depend on how the Sens and Devils do going into that one. From a Devils perspective, it would be help a lot for the Isles to get a win over Ottawa on Sunday. As their final spoiler, of course. After the Devils game, the Isles have two play-for-pride games against Winnipeg and Columbus which can go either way because their seasons are done as well.

While the Atlantic is busy, here are the other teams in the East the Devils faithful should keep an eye on.

4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7 GP PTS.
#2 BOS @ NYR vs. PIT @ OTT vs. BUF 78 96
#3 FLA @ DET vs. WPG @ WSH vs. CAR 78 90
#7 OTT @ NYI vs. CAR vs. BOS @ NJD 78 90
#8 WSH @ TBL vs. FLA @ NYR 79 88
#9 BUF vs. TOR @ PHI @ BOS 79 86

With respect to the Devils' potential first round opponent, it appears the Devils will get to avoid Boston in the first round. A six point lead isn't impossible to make up, but it's very hard at this point of the season. Also, the B's have been getting points. They have a tough schedule ahead, but they could lock up the #2 seed soon. I don't see Ottawa catching them Let's hope they do - unless, for some strange reason, you want the Devils to play Boston in the first round.

That #3 seed is actually up in the air. The Devils could face current Southeast Division leaders Florida or Washington. While the Caps are just fending off Buffalo, they're only behind by two points. Florida has a game in hand, so they control their destiny. That game in hand is against Detroit, though. The Florida-Washington game will go a long way in deciding who takes the division. Washington may be more desperate since they still have to actually get into the playoffs. Their shootout win on Saturday combined with Buffalo's loss in regulation gives them a big edge. Still, one slip up by the Caps and a Buffalo win in response could make things interesting fast. We may see ROW come into play by April 7. Incidentally, if the Caps get hot and, say, Ottawa drops points along with their game in hand, we could see Washington jump to the #7 seed.

What do you think will happen in the final week of the season for the Atlantic Division? Who wins the rivalry games? How nasty will the Penguins-Flyers games get? What do you think the Devils will do in their last three games? Who will take the Southeast Division? Who will get the #8 seed in the East? Again, I thank you all for reading the weekly Atlantic Division snapshot all season long as well as this very post.