Endings can come so suddenly. This is indeed the very last weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot for the 2013-14 season. The astute will point out that this week's headline calls out eight days, not seven. Technically, it's a weekly-plus-one-day-for-this-post Metropolitan Division snapshot. Nevertheless, this is how the division looks right before the end of the season. It seemed like yesterday the Olympics just ended and the playoff hopes were present for everyone except for the New York Islanders. As of today, only the Isles and Carolina Hurricanes are out of it - though some are real long shots.
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.|
|Atl for W.C.||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.|
Source: NHL.com - Links go to SBN Blogs
Before jumping to that playoff picture, let's focus on some other teams. First, the Isles and Canes have definitely got a handle on that concept of playing for pride. The Isles didn't lose in regulation in this past week. Their one slip-up was a shootout loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday. The Carolina Hurricanes were in a similar spot up until Saturday, when they lost to the New Jersey Devils for their first regulation loss in nearly two weeks. They continue to show others that there are no easy games in the National Hockey League, even against opponents out of the picture.
Second, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They finally clinched the Metropolitan Division. There was never any doubt as they were far ahead of everyone else in the division for nearly the whole season. It should be no surprise they clinched. I'm a little surprised it happened just this past week. Since Boston sealed up the Eastern Conference, that first wild card spot will get to play the Pens. As of the moment, that team will be the Detroit Red Wings. Is that a good match up for the Pens? I don't know, but given they're the only Metropolitan Division team with over 100 points - and will be short of a stunning rule change - I think they can figure it out.
Now, let's get to the playoff race. The New York Rangers are set. They didn't clinch a spot yet, but they're not going to crash out at this point. They went 2-1-1 in this past week to continue to be ahead of the rest of the pack. Their goal is to maintain their current second place spot for a home ice advantage for at least the first round. They have a short week, but a four point lead at this point of the season is pretty large. Mathematically, the Philadelphia Flyers can catch them but I don't see the Rangers dropping all three of their games.
Oh, the Flyers. They appear safe for a playoff spot. But are they going to take the third place spot? The Columbus Blue Jackets are right behind them and it's entirely possible they could catch them. Both teams play five games in this coming week. The Flyers went winless in this past week, but they're through the real tough part of their schedule. Maybe they win a few and challenge the Rangers. Maybe they continue to slump and fall a bit more than we may think. They'll be ones to keep things interesting late in the season.
The drama surrounds the Columbus Blue Jackets the most. They are currently in a wild card spot; the second one that will get the honor of playing the best team in the East in the first round. The Jackets have a game in hand on everyone not named Philadelphia. They may breathe down the Flyers' neck and possibly - though unlikely - catch Detroit for the more favorable first wild card spot. Last week, they went 1-1-1. Which isn't bad, but it kept some hope alive for a few teams behind them. The New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Washington Capitals aren't entirely out of the picture. If the Blue Jackets don't get results and fast, then it's going to be an agonizing end of the season for them.
Ah, the Devils, Leafs, and Capitals. The Leafs finally won some games but they lost a big one against Winnipeg on Saturday. Therefore, they're on the outside looking in. On top of that, they do not have the benefit of games in hands. In fact, the Devils, Capitals, Red Wings, Blue Jackets, and Flyers all have games in hand on them. They'll be watching and hoping a little bit more than the rest. The Caps won their tenth shootout (out of twenty) on saturday to get a win in this past week. They're not out of it but their hopes are dim. The Devils are in a slightly better spot. They won a big back-to-back set against Washington and Carolina after opening up the week with a win over Toronto. As fans may lament that shootout loss to Buffalo, the Devils did pick up 7 out of 8 points. They took care of business. Unfortunately, the Devils, Leafs, and Capitals need the Jackets to drop games while winning their own games. That one or two point deficit isn't that small at this point of the season, not with Columbus having a potential two points in hand. It's a knife's edge for them. At least they're battling until the end. You may not think getting a first round match-up against Boston is a big prize, but playoffs are always better than no playoffs.
For the last time this season, here's the schedule for all eight Metropolitan Division teams plus the two Atlantic Division teams of interest. All inter-division games for the Metropolitan Division are in bold:
|PIT||@ COL||vs. DET||vs. PHI||vs. OTT|
|NYR||vs. CAR||vs. BUF||@ MTL|
|PHI||vs. BUF||@ FLA||@ TBL||@ PIT||vs. CAR|
|CBJ||vs. NYI||vs. PHX||@ DAL||@ TBL||@ FLA|
|WSH||@ STL||@ CAR||vs. CHI||vs. TBL|
|NJD||vs. CGY||@ OTT||vs. NYI||vs. BOS|
|CAR||@ NYR||vs. WSH||@ DET||@ PHI|
|NYI||@ CBJ||vs. OTT||@ MTL||@ NJD||@ BUF|
|Atlantic Watch for W.C.|
|DET||@ BUF||@ PIT||vs. CAR||@ STL|
|TOR*||@ TBL||@ FLA||@ OTT|
Devils, Leafs, and Caps fans are going to be cheering really hard for the Islanders today. They'll also be cheering hard for Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Florida too. Devils fans won't be cheering for them after that since the Devils need to beat them on Friday - along with Calgary and Ottawa (they're out like Carolina). That season-ender against Boston is going to be mighty challenging unless the Bruins don't exactly exert the most effort in the game. Meanwhile, the Caps get a tough road with two of the best teams in the Western Conference with tricky ones with Carolina (Go Canes on Thursday) and Tampa Bay. Toronto has three games, all on the road, and you can be sure Ottawa fans would love to be the team to keep them out.
Elsewhere, the Pennsylvania Rivalry gets one more match-up. Not an easy run for Pittsburgh, but they don't need to win all the way through or anything like that. Philadelphia may need that game more anyway if they want to catch the Rangers or avoid Columbus. Their first two opponents in this week aren't very difficult compared to the rest; but it remains to be seen whether they avoid the proverbial trap games. Speaking of the Rangers, they get a divisional game with Carolina, a home game with Buffalo, and their season finale against Montreal. They should be able to clinch with that set.
It's the last edition of the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot for the 2013-14 season. What did you think of the regular feature? What do you think of what happened in the past week? What do you think will happen in these final eight days? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division, what just happened, what will happen, and what do you want to happen in the comments. Thank you for reading.