The 2014-15 National Hockey League regular season is almost over. There are two full weeks left. The Metropolitan Division's playoff teams have been set for months. We will soon know who will be playing who at the top. The New York Rangers have come from behind to take first place. They were lurking for a couple of months with the benefit of games in hand. Now, those games will be played and they can very well cement the Rangers in first place. Already, they get one of the most glorious letters in standings: 'X.' In a standings chart, an 'X' designates that the team has clinched a playoff spot. The Rangers have mathematically clinched a playoff spot in this past week. Now, they're in a spot to get an even better letter soon, one for clinching the division, 'Y.'
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.||Weeks Won||Playoff||% McD|
|NYR||74||47||20||7||43||101||2-2-0||8||17||X - M1||-|
Source: NHL.com - Links go to SBN Blogs - X: Clinched Playoff Spot
The Rangers got that spot not necessarily because they crushed their past week's set of games. They split them, but due to the way other teams performed, they got the benefit of math to get that 'X.' Below them, the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders just swapped spots instead of trying to make one last ditch effort for first place. The Pens split their week, the Islanders didn't win a game, and so they remain well below the Rangers. Because the Penguins won a game, they move ahead based on tie-breakers. By having played one fewer game, the Pens have the inside track on having home ice against the Islanders. For the Isles' sake, they better get to winning ways soon. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals split their two games last week. They could have pulled within a point of either the Isles and Pens. Alas, they're three points back. Again, they're safe for making the playoffs. As of right now, they'll be visiting Montreal to start that playoff series. They're three points ahead of the other wild card team, Boston, and so the other goal for the Caps is to keep pace to stay ahead of them.
Down in the lower half, the team to know is in Ohio. The Columbus Blue Jackets have become the hottest team in hockey. They won three out of three in this past week. Over the last two weeks, they won six out of six. They jumped past the New Jersey Devils and now they're breathing down the necks of the Philadelphia Flyers, who are ahead by a point but played one extra game. It won't last forever, but it has to feel good after a season crushed by injuries and other factors. The Flyers weren't just hanging around, they took three out of four points last week. The Devils, on the other hand, earned one out of six as their losing streak was extended by the last place team in the division. The Carolina Hurricanes had a positive week, spoiling Pittsburgh and beating New Jersey to add some pride as their nightmarish season moves to a close.
As mentioned earlier, there are two full weeks left in the season. Everything is going to be wrapped up and according to this week's schedule, that includes many games within the division. There are rivalries, there can be more movement within the Metropolitan, and there will be reasons to watch hockey no matter who you support. Here's the schedule, those games within the division are in bold.
|NYR||vs. WSH||@ WPG||@ MIN||vs. NJD|
|PIT||vs. SJS||vs. PHI||@ CBJ|
|NYI||vs. DET||@ CBJ||vs. BUF|
|WSH||@ NYR||vs. CAR||@ MTL||@ OTT|
|PHI||@ PIT||@ CAR|
|CBJ||vs. NJD||vs. NYI||vs. PIT|
|NJD||vs. ANA||@ CBJ||vs. MTL||@ NYR|
|CAR||vs. BOS||@ WSH||@ FLA||vs. PHI|
On nearly every day of the week there's a game in the division, there's a game within the division. The other games aren't that bad either. Let's run it down from the bottom up.
Carolina are one of four teams with a four-game week. They will get to play spoiler in three of them. They can pull Boston down on Sunday to the delight of Ottawa, Florida, and Washington fans. They can pull Washington down on Tuesday to the delight of Boston, Ottawa, and Florida fans. They can pull down Florida on Thursday to the delight of Washington, Boston, and Ottawa fans. They'll get Philadelphia on Saturday, too.
The New Jersey Devils will host Anaheim after they got beaten soundly by Carolina, which could be quite difficult. The Tuesday game at Columbus could make the difference between who does and does not finish seventh in the Metropolitan. It could be New Jersey's best chance of ending their losing streak on paper, too. They have a nasty back-to-back set at the end of the week by hosting Montreal and then visiting Madison Square Garden.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will try to keep their hot streak burning within the division. As mentioned, they'll play New Jersey first in a matchup that could really give Columbus control of sixth place. They'll get a chance to pull down the Islanders and Penguins a peg as their seasons wind down. I doubt Columbus will make it nine in a row, but I'm not going to complain too loudly if they do. Since the Flyers have a really short week - get a nationally televised game against their cross-state rivals, Pittsburgh, on Wednesday; a trip to Carolina on Saturday - it's very much possible the Blue Jackets take fifth place by next week. Light the cannon, or whatever the Blue Jackets fans say that isn't the standard template of "Let's Go (Team Name)."
In the upper half, the Washington Capitals will go to Madison Square Garden today in the hopes of further securing their wild card playoff spot and perhaps taking a step to move up in the division. After the Rangers, they'll host Carolina, take a tough trip up to the Atlantic Division leaders in Montreal, and then go to Ottawa. That Senators game on Saturday is likely going to be huge for the Sens' chances. The Caps better look out for that one.
Meanwhile, the Penguins and Islanders each have three-game weeks, and it's hard to say who has it easier. Both have to play the really-hot Columbus Blue Jackets. While the Islanders get the abysmal Sabres on Saturday, they have to face a really good Detroit team today. The Penguins have to contend with San Jose, who's still quite talented despite not being playoff-bound, and a rivalry game on Wednesday. Whoever can manage this week the best will have the real inside track for that important home-ice advantage in that second-third place division matchup for the playoffs.
At the top, there are the New York Rangers. They will have four chances to step closer to securing another division banner. They'll get to host the Capitals today before hitting the road for two games. They'll visit Minnesota and Winnipeg. While the Rangers have secured their playoff spot, they can have some effect on the Western Conference's playoff picture. Winnipeg is in a wild card spot, Minnesota just jumped Chicago from a wild card spot, and there could be some further movement among them real soon. How the Rangers do in those games can impact that picture at least a little bit. They will get the Devils on Saturday. One hopes a rivalry game can throw off the Rangers somewhat, but I've seen the Devils play 75 games this season so I'm not holding my breath.
There's going to be only one more division snapshot for the 2014-15 season, that will be for the final full week of games. In the meantime, what do you make of the standings of the Metropolitan Division as it stands now? What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will the Blue Jackets stay hot and even jump Philly? Can the Caps make a move on the floundering Islanders or even the Penguins? Am I going to have to grudgingly place a 'Y' in that playoff box for the Rangers by next weekend? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.