Buffalo, Jersey, Pittsburgh sprinting down the finish


It's a three horse race between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. These three teams, in some combination will almost certainly be your 2-3-4 seeds for the 2010 Eastern Conference. Let's look at who each team has on the schedule until the season ends on April 11th.  Points a team has in parenthesis.

 

NEW JERSEY (94)

BUFFALO (96)

PITTSBURGH (95)

Fri Apr 2

Chicago

-------

---------

Sat Apr 3

at Carolina

at Montreal

Atlanta

Tue Apr 6

at Atlanta

NY Rangers

Washington

Thur Apr 8

at Florida

at Boston

NY Islanders

Sat Apr 10

NY Islanders

at Ottawa

at Atlanta

Sun Apr 11

Buffalo

at NJ Devils

at NY Islanders


--Finally, New Jersey will play that mythical "game in hand" that they've had just about all season; it's always seemed like the Penguins have played more of the season than NJ, hasn't it? But then from here on out, all three teams play on the same day. Who knows if that's by design or not, but that is pretty cool. Luckily for the Pens and Sabres, the "extra" game Devils have is against one of the Western Conference leading teams in the Chicago Blackhawks and not some nubs average team.

--So if NJ can beat Chicago tonight, they're basically in the drivers seat for the Atlantic Division.  If they lose in a OT/shootout it's a dead heat and if it's a regulation loss the Pens are in control.  Not that either team is going to win all five of the remaining games, but I think that's a good way to think of it.

--On paper, Buffalo has the toughest schedule. Every game they play (up until the season finale) is a team in the mad scramble for a playoff spot and will be playing about as desperately as possible. Buffalo also has to play four of their five remaining games on the road and that final burst of three cities in four nights is pretty brutal.

--With 4 of the 5 games against current non-playoff teams, and one more against a #1 seed that doesn't have too much to play for, Pittsburgh seems to have the easiest schedule. But the Penguin players admitted they thought Tampa Bay would be an easy game and we all remember how that one turned out. Plus even though Washington is coasting into the playoffs, having wrapped up their regular season accomplishments a long time ago, something says they'll "get up" for a game in Pittsburgh. Just a hunch.

--Atlanta and the New York Islanders play three games a piece against the Devils and Pens. Don't count out the spoiler factor: it gives them something to play for, and guys are playing for spots somewhere. Like mentioned, Tampa didn't lay down for the Pens like one player said they thought they might...How the Thrashers and Islanders fight back, and how many points they can prevent the contenders from taking will be a big deal.

--The NJ/Buffalo clash on April 11th could change lives. Knowing how down to the wire things tend to run, that one game could likely decide all three team's seeding for the playoffs.

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