Don't expect New Jersey to lay down the sticks and let Pittsburgh run all over them. As previous meetings this season have shown, that is not a viable possibility (nor is catching them in the standings). At the least, however, the Devils can hold back a team or two looking to squeak into eighth place.
And by that I mean the Panthers.
Florida opened up a six point lead over Pittsburgh last night in a 4-0 shutout win over the Devils. The win puts the Panthers at 66 points and simulatenously places them in a four-way tie with the Canadiens, Sabres and Rangers. Carolina holds at 61 points in ninth, with Pitt right behind at 60.
Gene Collier of the Post-Gazette brought up an interesting point in today's paper. Don't rule out the collapse of others.
Take New York (Rangers) for instance. As one of the four teams tied for fifth place in the East, they're lucky to have jumped off to such a successful start back in October/November. Otherwise they'd be in the same position as Pitt right now.
New York's bumbling Blueshirts are so bad right now that if I'd been forced to pick an NHL coach in his last day of employment Sunday, I'd have easily taken Tom Renney over Michel Therrien.
Bumbling is a gentle word. The Rangers are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and show very little sign of turning things around. Unlike the Penguins, the Rangers are on a steady decline. The Pens, for all intents and purpose, may likely be on a bumpy road in the same direction but at the least appear to be putting up a fight.
And if I have to read one more story about Sean Avery posing as the savior in New York... *shakes fist*
The Panthers and Rangers will play each other next week, which will apparently not bode well for the Penguins regardless of who wins. In fact an overtime game, regardless of the winner, is probably the worst possible scenario. However, Pitt can at least keep the balancing act going strong and perhaps come out on top given the three remaining games against Florida and one against the Rangers.
Anything is possible in the remaining 24 games. 15-8-1 may seem like a distant and dismal thought, but as Collier mentions, don't rule out the collapse of others.