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Sunday Standings: March of the Penguins

Pittsburgh looking to put it in gear as the calendar flips to March...But are the Hurricanes too far gone for Pittsburgh to catch?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Karl DeBlaker/NHLI via Getty Images

As the calendar gets into March and the NHL schedule ramps up with divisional games, here is the current look of the standings as of this morning in the Metropolitan Division.

The week that was for the top teams:

Carolina (2-1-1): The Hurricanes got what was turning into a badly needed bounce-back with the 3-2 OT win over Pittsburgh on Friday night. After losing 4-0 in Washington on Thursday, Carolina had won just six of their previous 12 games (though with extra time losses, they carried a 6-3-3 record in that stretch). The schedule remains daunting in the near future, the Canes have six high-end games ahead out of their next eight (Colorado, @Pittsburgh, @Toronto, Washington, NY Rangers, Tampa). Getting the win against the Pens ensured a winning week in Carolina, who have a decent-sized four point division lead at the moment, with two games in hand as they remain tracking for the top spot.

Pittsburgh (2-0-1): If the Pens held onto their third period lead against the Hurricanes on Friday, they would have been one point behind Carolina today. Instead, they gave up the next two goals and are four points back. Such is the wild swings of divisional game, but that also goes to show the level of pressure the Canes have built on Pittsburgh - the Pens pretty much have to win every game to make up ground on retaining their division title. After going 0-1-1 vs CAR so far this season (with the Hurricanes gaining all four points in the two games), the uphill climb is as big as ever. The Pens also face a very challenging five games in a row coming up (FLA, VGK, CAR, @NSH, @STL).

New York Rangers (2-1-0): A surprising 5-2 home loss to Vancouver last Sunday dealt the Rangers a blow in their efforts to gain positioning on the two teams ahead of them in the standings. Unlike the other top teams, NYR sees a slate of Western teams coming up with a four game road swing that will take them through Winnipeg, Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas in the next week.

Washington (2-1-0): The Capitals dropped a third straight game on Monday, falling 5-3 to Toronto. That moved their points % under .600 temporarily, before Washington won two in a row including over Seattle last night to get back on track. Washington has a couple of things working in their favor: first, in the big picture they are lucky that the Islanders are way in the rear view mirror (if this was the NYI of previous years, the Caps could be under a lot more pressure). The second is a turn in health, with TJ Oshie and Anthony Mantha both making recent returns to a lineup that is virtually fully healthy for the first time this season. Third, goalie Vitek Vanecek has begun to establish himself as the missing goalie piece of the puzzle as of late, which has been a crucial development. The question, as ever, is if he can step up in consistency.

Standings outlook

The impending Rangers/Penguins first round we talked about last week is coming even further into focus with every passing game. The probability is up to 79% as of now for a PIT/NYR first round, according to Sports Club Stats.

It’s also worth noticing from the above tweet that the playoff cut line in the East is tracking at 90.1 points. Pittsburgh currently has 77, they’re practically a stone’s throw away from already likely clinching a spot.

It’s really early to establish a playoff magic number, but it’s not too far off now. The maximum points from the also-rans are: Detroit (108), NY Islanders (110) and Columbus (112). That means, officially and combination of 35 points earned by the Pens or lost by Columbus will clinch a playoff berth for Pittsburgh.

It probably won’t happen this month, but at the same time, it will not be that far away either before the Pens officially punch a ticket to their 16th straight post-season. Barring a wild swing, their opponent in the first round continues to strengthen in focus of being the Rangers with every passing week.