Four Weeks Left
Chris Simon and Ted Saskin may be on the suspended list, but for the rest of the NHL, it's onward and upward.
Out west, why, all eight post-season spots are already spoken for, with the competition remaining solely about deciding which teams get home ice advantage in the first round.
That has some value, of course. But it's not necessarily worth watching.
Out east, six of the eight spots are essentially taken.
Which means a month still to play and 14 of 16 post-season berths already owned by teams.
Not exactly ideal.
That said, the final two spots in the east are still up for grabs, and it looks like its going to be a humdinger of a fight for those berths given that no fewer than seven teams are still in contention.
That's called a bottleneck. Five teams are going to be pretty sour come the evening of April 8th.
Might even cost a few people their jobs.
So here's how this "race" shapes up, with it seeming very likely it could all come down to the final weekend of the season April 7-8:
7. New York Islanders (78 points, 14 games remaining, 6 at home)
Are the hottest team of the group. . .five of the next six are on the road. . .goalie Rick DiPietro playing as well as anybody right now. . .loss of Simon a peripheral one given overall team toughness. . .final two games away at Flyers and and away at Devils.
8. New York Rangers (76 points, 13 games left, 6 at home)
Almost as hot as Islanders, and beat them twice last week. . .very, very tough in shootouts these days, and Jaromir Jagr is even participating. . .Brad Isbister and Sean Avery playing strong late season roles. . .finish home to the Habs, away at Penguins.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (76 points, 12 games left, 7 at home)
Champs can't get on a roll. . .power play punchless again yesterday vs. Rangers. . .0-5 in shootouts, have scored only one goal all season. . .Rod Brind'Amour third among all NHL forwards in ice time. . .finish with home games against Thrashes and Panthers.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (75 points, 13 games left, 7 at home)
Huge win Saturday against Sens. . .Wellwood, Tucker both back. . .determining factor in finish may be if Tomas Kaberle returns before the end of the month. . .Most of top shooters are in long scoring slumps. . .finish with road game on Long Island, home start against Montreal.
11. Montreal Canadiens (74 points, 12 games left, 7 at home)
Goaltending is a complete guessing game. . .Alexei Kovalev finally came through with the winner Saturday vs. Blues. . .host Leafs this Saturday in major tilt. . .tough finish to season with road starts in Manhattan and Toronto.
12. Boston Bruins, (71 points, 13 games left, 6 at home)
Seemed to drop out by losing to Flyers Saturday, back in by beating Red Wings yesterday. . .Zdeno Chara minus-3 very Philly, plus-2 versus Detroit, minus-11 on the season. . .very tough finish to season. . .on the road to Devils, Canadiens, Sabres, at home to Senators.
13. Florida Panthers (71 points, 13 games left, 7 at home)
Improved since departure of Todd Bertuzzi and Gary Roberts. . .Ed Belfour delivering strong goaltending down the stretch. . .play three straight on the road to end the season in Washington, Tampa and Raleigh.
So who's going to make it?
The guess from here? The Islanders and, if Kaberle comes back, the Leafs.