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Southeast Division Watch (February 7)

Feb 7, 2011, 5:43 PM EDT

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Chris Thorburn, Tim Gleason

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.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Southeast Division outlook (February 7-13)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (33-16-5 for 71 pts; 54 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Two home games: vs. Buffalo (Tuesday), vs. Carolina (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Lightning lost to Washington, but other than that hiccup, they’ve been perfect during their ridiculous 12-game homestand so far.

2. Washington Capitals (29-15-10 for 68 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Los Angeles (Sat).

Thoughts: There’s an instinct to say the Capitals are “back to their old selves,” but that’s dead wrong. Instead they’ve turned over a new, defensive-minded leaf. It makes them less fun on some level, but a more dangerous playoff threat on another.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-6 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four road games: vs. New Jersey (Tues), vs. Philadelphia (Thurs), vs. Tampa Bay (Sat) and Atlanta (Sun).

Thoughts: The Hurricanes are going into this week with some serious momentum, but the upcoming five-game road swing will be a serious test for the ‘Canes. It’s not outrageous to say they can lose every single one of these games; the Flyers and Lightning are division leaders, the Thrashers are fighting for the Hurricanes’ playoff territory and the Devils are suddenly looking like their old pesky selves. We’ll see what they’re made of.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (24-21-10 for 58 pts; 55 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Toronto (Mon), home vs. NY Rangers (Fri), home vs. Carolina (Sun).

Thoughts: With just two wins in their last 12 games, the Thrashers are clearly in disarray. Sunday’s game against what could be a beleaguered Hurricanes team could be a pretty gigantic one for Dustin Byfuglien’s bunch.

5. Florida Panthers (23-23-6 for 52 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games: one against St. Louis (Tues), vs. Buffalo (Thurs) and against San Jose (Sun).

Thoughts: Once again, the Panthers seem like they are a day late and a dollar short for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The next few weeks are crucial for the team to decide if they should go into sell mode during the trade deadline (they should).

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