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Sizing up Isles' NHL playoff race-mates
A look at the five teams in the NHL's Eastern Conference in a fight for the final two playoff spots:
7TH PLACE -- DEVILS, 15-12-9, 39 points
12 games remaining: 4/4 at Boston, 4/6 vs. Toronto, 4/7 at Buffalo, 4/10 vs. Boston, 4/12 vs. Ottawa, 4/15 at Toronto, 4/18 at Philadelphia, 4/20 vs. Florida, 4/21 at Rangers, 4/23 vs. Montreal, 4/25 vs. Pittsburgh, 4/27 at Rangers.
Outlook: Not so great. Ilya Kovalchuk (shoulder) won’t be back soon and, of the teams fighting for the last two playoff spots, no one has a tougher schedule left than the Devils -- seven of their last 12 are against sure-fire playoff teams, and two in the Garden in the final six days could be real big ones.
8TH PLACE - RANGERS, 17-15-3, 37 points
13 games remaining: 4/3 vs. Pittsburgh, 4/5 at Pittsburgh, 4/6 at Carolina, 4/8 at Toronto, 4/10 vs. Toronto, 4/13 at Islanders, 4/16 at Philadelphia, 4/18 vs. Florida, 4/19 at Buffalo, 4/21 vs. New Jersey, 4/23 at Florida, 4/25 at Carolina, 4/27 vs. New Jersey.
Outlook: Wouldn’t be bad, except for the part where they’ve been underachieving all season long. The upcoming back-to-back with the red-hot Penguins will determine a lot. After that, the Rangers have seven of their final 11 against teams currently below them. A real opportunity to sew up a spot.
9TH PLACE -- ISLANDERS, 17-16-3, 37 points
12 games remaining: 4/2 vs. Winnipeg, 4/4 at Washington, 4/6 vs. Tampa, 4/9 vs. Philadelphia, 4/11 at Boston, 4/13 vs. Rangers, 4/16 vs. Florida, 4/18 at Toronto, 4/20 at Winnipeg, 4/23 at Carolina, 4/25 at Philadelphia, 4/26 at Buffalo.
Outlook: Fairly good, on paper. Only two games remaining against true playoff-bound teams, half a dozen left against the weak Southeast Division and two against the underwhelming Flyers. If things stay tight into next weekend, imagine how great the atmosphere will be on April 13 for a Rangers visit to the Coliseum.
10TH PLACE -- HURRICANES, 16-16-2, 34 points
14 games remaining: 4/2 vs. Washington, 4/4 vs. Tampa, 4/6 vs. Rangers, 4/8 at Boston, 4/9 vs. Pittsburgh, 4/11 at Washington, 4/13 vs. Boston, 4/16 at Ottawa, 4/18 at Winnipeg, 4/20 vs. Philadelphia, 4/21 at Tampa, 4/23 vs. Islanders, 4/25 vs. Rangers, 4/27 at Pittsburgh.
Outlook: Could be bright, given the Jets lead them by only four points right now and the Canes have three games in hand. Two games left with the Caps and Rangers and one with the Isles means Carolina, despite having goaltending injury woes, could make itself a playoff team by beating those around the Hurricanes in the standings.
11TH PLACE -- CAPITALS, 16-17-2, 34 points
13 games remaining: 4/2 at Carolina, 4/4 vs. NY Islanders, 4/6 at Florida, 4/7 vs. Tampa, 4/9 at Montreal, 4/11 vs. Carolina, 4/13 vs. Tampa, 4/16 vs. Toronto, 4/18 at Ottawa, 4/20 at Montreal, 4/23 vs. Winnipeg, 4/25 vs. Ottawa, 4/27 vs. Boston.
Outlook: Murky. On the plus side, the Caps have eight of 13 left at home; on the minus side, the Caps have been so-so at home, only 8-8-0. And there are two trips left to Montreal, with only one game against division-leading Winnipeg. Need some wins and some help to leap-frog the competition, but the Caps have pulled off late-season playoff heroics before.