If you were to ask me right now, the playoff race in the Eastern Conference is down to 9 teams including our New Jersey Devils. While the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers are each attempting to make a push, I just don't feel they have enough time or ability to sustain their recent success; in the Hurricanes case, there's whispers of them being sellers at the deadline which would result in a drop-off as well. Here's a look at the East standings after last night's results:
While the Devils sit in the first wild card spot, I have to state my concern due to the number of games in hand that teams around the Devils have. I'm worried that we will wind up being the proverbial odd team out once the regular season concludes due to where we are right now. Can the Devils still make the playoffs? I firmly believe they can, but it will take some good hard work.
Number of Games Played
As I alluded to above, the number of games that the Devils have played alarms me in regards to our chances of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning are only 1 point behind us in the standings while having played 2 less games; if they even go to overtime in just 1 of those games, they leap us in the standings; the Pittsburgh Penguins are in a similar standing, but have a third game in hand; if they were to win one of their next three along with the Tampa scenario, we become the team on the outside looking in.
With the Devils having played more games than many of the teams around us at this point, we will be needing all of the help we can get from the out of town scoreboard starting tonight; while we're idle until tomorrow, we could use the Washington Capitals (who are too far ahead to catch) to beat the New York Islanders in regulation. This will eliminate one of New York's games in hand on us when we face them tomorrow. Wins from the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators will also help to take games in hand from either divisional or wild card competitors. Also, let's hope the Penguins or Detroit Red Wings beat the other in regulation; the less "loser points" the better right now.
Our Games Remaining
The Devils will play 11 of their final 24 games against opponents within their division; these "4 point games" will all be crucial to the Devils' chances of reaching the postseason, whether the divisional teams are in contention or not. The team's next 4 will all be against divisional opposition; if the team wants to go on another 4 game winning streak, now would be a great time to rattle off victories against (in order) the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Our Hated Rivals, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Additionally, another 7 of the remaining 24 games are against teams within the conference, with 3 of those games coming against a team we have yet to play this season in the Lightning; Tampa is in a similar spot fighting for a postseason birth, so picking up majority of not all of the points possible from these games will be at a premium if the Devils hope to qualify. New Jersey also has one more game each against the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins, two teams also in postseason contention. While Florida is seemingly firmly entrenched at the top of the Atlantic division, Boston is fighting for their spot as well; two points taken from them could mean all the difference in the world.
What Will it Take?
A miracle? All jokes aside, I think a healthy Michael Cammalleri can give the Devils a shot in the arm and a chance at playing hockey into at least late April. The team will need to remain healthy, or at least the irreplaceable players on the team (top 6 forwards, Lars, Greene, Schneider) need to. In addition, winning the majority of the remaining games against divisional opponents and Tampa Bay will help, as it takes points from direct competition while boosting us up in the standings.
If the team drops anywhere from 3 to all of their next 5, then the playoff hopes really start to look slim, as not only are they not gaining points, but they're surrendering them to teams (excluding the Caps) to teams that are fighting for the same spots. I would like to see Ray Shero attempt to pick up some scoring help before the trade deadline (anyone to get Sergey Kalinin off the second line) as long as it doesn't cost too much and fits in with the team's long-term plans.
Now I'd like to hear your thoughts on the standings; do you think the Devils make the playoffs? If it is a 9 team race, who do you think misses? How will the Devils do with their upcoming schedule? Do you think Shero makes a move prior to the deadline and if so which parts go where? Leave any and all comments below and as always thank you for reading!