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Southeast Division Watch (February 28)

Feb 28, 2011, 9:45 AM EDT

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Brooks Laich, Martin St. Louis AP

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Pacific Division outlook (February 28 -March 6)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-18-7 for 81 pts; 62 Games Played)

Current streak: Three straight wins.

Week ahead: @ New Jersey (Wednesday), @ Boston (Thursday) and home vs. Montreal (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Lightning have five more points, four more wins and one game in hand against the Capitals for the division lead. Still, they just recently finished the carbo-loading part of their schedule; now it’s time for the final leg of the marathon to the playoffs. Can they outlast Washington?

2. Washington Capitals (33-20-10 for 76 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home against Islanders (Tues), St. Louis (Thurs) and @ Florida (Sun).

Thoughts: This will be a nice opportunity for the Capitals to earn some relatively easy points, which is good, because they have a treacherous six-game road trip coming up in mid-March.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (29-25-9 for 67 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Florida (Tues), home vs. Buffalo (Thurs) and @ Chicago (Fri).

Thoughts: The Canes can push the Panthers’ playoff dreams closer to the grave, then play a huge game at home against the ninth-place Sabres before they visit the red-hot Blackhawks. No cakewalks this week, unless Florida trades all their veterans for picks.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (26-26-11 for 63 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Montreal (Tues), Ottawa (Thurs) and Florida (Sat).

Thoughts: The Thrashers need to have a good week, because their schedule gets awfully rocky to finish the season. After they conclude their five-game homestand against the Panthers, they’ll play three of four and five of seven on the road. There’s also another five-game road trip remaining on their schedule. Overall, they play 10 of 16 away from Atlanta after Saturday’s game against Florida. They might end up a few strides short of being one of the feel-good stories of the 2010-11 season.

5. Florida Panthers (26-29-7 for 59 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. Carolina (Tues), home vs. Montreal (Thurs), @ Atlanta (Sat), home vs. Washington (Sun)

Thoughts: If the Panthers can scrap together enough points to still be playoff-relevant on Sunday, they feature possibly the league’s oddest March schedule. Starting with that game against the Capitals, they will have a seven-game homestand followed by a five-game road trip. They might be the odds-on favorite to be next month’s streakiest team, then.

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