RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Isles got some help to stay in sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race on Monday night when the Penguins beat the Senators, but received no help toward clinching a playoff berth with Winnipeg winning in Buffalo.
But the Islanders can still clinch a spot Tuesday night with a loss by the Jets in Washington and a win here against the Hurricanes, who sit 13th in the East.
The Isles’ last loss to a team outside the top eight in the East, by the way, was Feb. 24 to these same Hurricanes -- Carolina is the only team the Isles have not defeated this season.
So with all those motivating factors, this doesn’t seem like a game the Isles will have trouble revving up for.
Here’s the latest on the standings and who’s where:
3rd place -- Washington Capitals, 52 points (22 regulation/OT wins).
Big showdown with the Jets tonight will decide a lot of fates -- or make things an absolute mess. If Washington, in the No. 3 spot with less points because it's the Southeast Division leader, wins in regulation or OT and they sew up third. But if they give the extra point or both points to Winnipeg, the heat is on.
Games remaining: Tonight vs. Winnipeg, Thursday vs. Ottawa, Saturday vs. Boston.
5th -- Toronto Maple Leafs, 55 points (25 ROW).
Toronto has clinched a spot, but the Isles are only two points back; the Leafs have been hanging in Tampa for a couple days before a Florida swing, so we’ll see if they’ve eased off the pedal.
Games remaining: Wednesday at Tampa, Thursday at Florida, Saturday vs. Montreal.
6th -- New York Islanders, 53 points (20 ROW).
Tonight is the first of the final three against teams that have been eliminated. The Isles have played spoiler since just about every one of their core players came into the league. Can they keep focus now as the better squad?
Games remaining: Tonight at Carolina, Thursday at Philadelphia, Friday at Buffalo.
7th -- New York Rangers, 52 points (20 ROW)
Like the Isles, the Rangers have three games left against teams that are playing out the string. Also like the Isles, the Rangers have found their killer instinct in this final month of the season. And, in one last similarity, the Rangers could also clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win against the Panthers and a Jets regulation loss.
Games remaining: Tonight at Florida, Thursday at Carolina, Saturday vs. New Jersey.
8th -- Ottawa Senators, 52 points (19 ROW)
The plucky Sens have been a nice story all season, overcoming major injuries to keep pace in the race. They’re faltering at just the wrong time, though, and three tough games in the final four days of the season, including the postponed game in Boston on Sunday after everyone else has finished, could be a tough way to wrap up.
Games remaining: Thursday at Washington, Saturday vs. Philadelphia, Sunday at Boston.
9th -- Winnipeg Jets, 51 points (22 ROW)
Now 6-0-1 in their last seven, they could make a lot of teams sweat with a win tonight in D.C. The fact remains, though, that the Jets haven’t beaten a playoff-bound team in over a month, so they have a lot to prove against the Caps.
Games remaining: Tonight at Washington, Thursday vs. Montreal.
(Note: The Montreal Canadiens are in fourth place in the East with 59 points.)
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