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Southeast Division Watch (March 7)

Mar 7, 2011, 5:45 PM EDT

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Semyon Varlamov, Steven Stamkos 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.

Southeast Division outlook (March 7 -March 13th)

1. Washington Capitals (36-20-10 for 82 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: Four wins in a row.

Week ahead: Away vs. Tampa Bay (Monday) and two home games – vs. Edmonton (Wednesday) and Carolina (Friday).

Thoughts: In all the times we’ve published Southeast Division Watch posts, this is the first time that the Capitals are atop the division. Of course, that could change in tonight’s huge game in Tampa Bay. That’s not to say today is the only important one, as they face playoff desperate teams in Carolina and then Chicago next week.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-21-7 for 81 pts; 65 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Washington (Mon), Chicago (Wed) and Ottawa (Fri) plus a road game against Florida (Sat).

Thoughts: Again, the biggest game for both the Lightning and Capitals is tonight, but the match against the Blackhawks is big too. Tampa Bay still has an excellent chance to win the Southeast, but they need to turn around their recent slump.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (31-26-9 for 71 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Atlanta (Wed), @ Washington (Fri) and home vs. Columbus (Sat).

Thoughts: The Canes earned a big overtime win against Buffalo last week, but that only gave them an extra point against the hard charging Sabres. They’re now one point behind Buffalo, with one less game remaining. To keep this a two-horse race for the eighth place spot, they need to win against the Thrashers on Wednesday.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (27-28-11 for 65 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Carolina (Wed), home vs. New Jersey (Fri) and @ Philadelphia (Sat).

Thoughts: It might already be too late, but if not, this will be a big week for the Thrashers to prove themselves as still viable. In the next two weeks, they play against Carolina and Buffalo once plus the Devils and Flyers on two occasions. The way things are going, it probably won’t work out, but they can make an impact on their situation in the next 14 days or so.

5. Florida Panthers (26-31-9 for 61 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Five straight losses.

Week ahead: Three home games – Chicago (Tues), Ottawa (Thurs) and Tampa Bay (Sat).

Thoughts: If you’re questioning the decision to put the Panthers in italics, try this on for size: they haven’t earned a regulation win in their last 12 games. The Panthers play their next six games in Sunrise, so maybe they can move them back into the convoluted Eastern Conference playoff bubble again after two weeks. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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