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Top of the Metropolitan Division as tight as can be

It’s going to be an exciting stretch run

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost the time of year to watch the standings. After last night, where the New York Islanders won in Washington and Columbus lost to Montreal, and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled out an overtime win in Arizona, the top of the Metropolitan Division practically couldn’t be any closer. All the teams in the division have played 47 games as of this morning (which means 35 still to go) and the top four teams are separated by just two points.

As a reminder, the top three teams in the division are guaranteed a playoff berth. The fourth place team is eligible for a Wild Card, which the Penguins are in very good shape for, as Gretz mentioned yesterday.

At this rate with Buffalo four points behind Pittsburgh (while playing one more game), the risk isn’t that the Pens are in danger of missing the playoffs. But it is a bit jarring to see this morning if the playoffs started today Pittsburgh would draw the #1 team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and if they won that series would have to take on the Toronto/Boston series winner. That’s a ridiculously tough path.

But it is a path that fourth place in the Metro may have to take. The surprise of the season is no doubt the Islanders, who were expected unanimously to take a step back after losing John Tavares in free agency. That hasn’t been the case though, as coach Barry Trotz has installed a great attitude and defensive system for the suddenly scrappy Isles - who never seemed to be told they weren’t supposed to be factors this season.

They are factors but a lot can unfold over the last 35 games. The point for Pittsburgh is as well as they’ve generally fared in the last month or so, there’s still a lot more work to do to position themselves where they want to be in the Metropolitan Division side of the playoff bracket. After all, they’re not far from potential home-ice advantage in the first two series if they can hop up a couple of teams and points.

It’s bound to be a wild sprint to the finish with lots of twists and turns. For hockey fans, it’s about to be the best time of the year.