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Southeast Division Watch (January 31)

Jan 31, 2011, 3:48 PM EST

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With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Southeast Division outlook

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5 for 67 pts; 51 Games Played)

Current streak: five wins in a row

Week ahead: three home games – Philadelphia (Tuesday), Washington (Friday) and St. Louis (Sunday).

Thoughts: The Lightning started off their epic 12-game homestand with two wins. This week won’t be easy with a game against the top team in the East and their biggest divisional threat, but at least they get plenty of time to rest.

2. Washington Capitals (27-15-9 for 63 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: two straight losses

Week ahead: home vs. Montreal (Tues), away vs. Tampa Bay (Fri) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Sun).

Thoughts: Their schedule is similar to Tampa Bay’s week, at least in the way the games are tough but spread out in a friendly way. Friday’s game is the biggest, but they should be mad at themselves if they don’t win at least two of these games considering the fact that the Penguins are banged up.

3. Atlanta Thrashers (24-19-9 for 57 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Islanders (Tues), home vs. Calgary (Thurs) and road vs. Carolina (Sat).

Thoughts: The Thrashers stumbled into the break before winning their last game, but this week presents an opportunity for them to strengthen their playoff foothold. Winnable home games against the Islanders and Flames give way to an important game against the hard-charging Hurricanes, their biggest playoff threat.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (26-19-6 for 56 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Tues), road vs. Toronto (Thurs) and home vs. Atlanta on Saturday.

Thoughts: The Bruins are going to be a tough out, but perhaps the Hurricanes will be pumped up after hosting a successful All-Star weekend? Carolina needs to take Toronto seriously to give themselves a great chance at earning at least two wins this week. If they could beat Atlanta in regulation, they might find themselves in the top eight by Saturday night.

5. Florida Panthers (22-22-5 for 49 pts; 49 GP)

Current streak: Lost their last game.

Week ahead: Three road games – Toronto (Tues), Montreal (Wed) and New Jersey (Fri).

Thoughts: The Panthers’ optimism can be gauged by how they look at this week. There is the half-empty: three road games and a back-to-back to start things off. Then there’s the half-full: they play against two cellar dwelling teams in the Maple Leafs and Devils, so the games are winnable. If they flop this week, they might want to begin eye-balling a lottery pick.

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