James Mirtle has been tracking the progress of each team's point total on his site From The Rink. According to his standings, last night's win over the Panthers officially puts the Pens in the zone of .500 hockey for the remainder of the season.
For visual purposes that's 7-7 over the next 14 games for a season total of 92 points. Just enough to, statistically at least, land a spot in the playoffs.
What a time to heat up, huh? Teams like the Bruins, losers in four of their last five, are undoubtedly making the playoffs. But this is the time of year when you don't want to lose your way, or as they say in the sporting world, "back into" the playoffs.
Perhaps this is setting the Penguins up for a nice first round spoiler. This depends of course on where they seed and who they draw as a first round opponent. At least for the first time in three seasons it won't be the Ottawa Senators.
If the playoffs were to start tomorrow that first round opponent would be the Washington Capitals. Talk about an intense first round match-up. That's the sort of series that would play out like the Eastern Conference Finals, likely leaving the survivor battered and bruised for round two.
Yet the race in the East is still extremely close. Had the Capitals not entered into such rough times recently there's a good chance they would be sitting atop the conference as we speak. Or is it as I type and as you read? Or something...
You can't rule out the Devils either, who have put together a nice 5-1 run since Marty Brodeur returned in late February. If the Bruins stay on the decline and NJ keeps playing with this pizazz, then there's a good chance we'll see the Devils take down the conference.
The difference between fifth place (Canadiens) and ninth place (Rangers) is three points. However it's not so much the points you have to look at as it is the number of games remaining. Overall points are (obviously) the key component here, but the Flyers (currently fourth) have played two to three less games than all the teams below them and practically every team above them, with the Devils as the only exception.
Things are getting interesting, no question. Every game counts a little more. Keep an eye out for other teams in the conference too, because the outcome of a single game can move you up or down a few spots in the standings on any given night.