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Race for the Playoffs: Tuesday’s a big night up and down the East

Mar 29, 2011, 4:07 PM EDT

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Jeff Carter, Marc-Andre Fleury, Zbynek Michalek AP

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

This post will detail the East games. Stay tuned for the West version later on.

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia – 100 pts (75 Games Played)
2. Washington – 98 pts (76 GP)
3. Boston – 94 pts (75 GP)
4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts (76 GP)
5. Tampa Bay – 91 pts (75 GP)
6. Montreal – 87 pts (76 GP)
7. NY Rangers – 87 pts (76 GP)
8. Buffalo – 85 pts (75 GP)
—–
9. Carolina – 80 pts (75 GP)
10. Toronto – 78 pts (76 GP)

Here are the biggest games. Please note that we are spotlighting the most playoff-relevant contests rather than every single game tonight.

7:00 pm ET

Carolina @ Washington

For a full preview of this game, click here. The bottom line is that the Hurricanes need to close a five-point gap in seven games to take a playoff spot from the Buffalo Sabres. Meanwhile, Washington can focus on seeding in this game, as they can improve their chances of winning the top spot or at least the Southeast Division title with a win.

Buffalo @ Toronto

I listed the Maple Leafs in this post’s relevant standings, but the bottom line is that their chances are slim at best. Beating Buffalo in regulation would improve those long odds, although accomplishing that feat would probably be a bigger deal for the Hurricanes than the Leafs. The Sabres hope to avoid losing their third straight game against Toronto, so this is far from a sure thing, especially since it is a home game for the Maple Leafs.

Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh

As we discussed on Sunday, the Penguins could move into a virtual tie for the Atlantic Division crown – as well as the Eastern Conference’s top seed – with a regulation win tonight. It wouldn’t be a fully legitimate tie because the Flyers hold a game in hand, but it would certainly be a slim margin for Philly if that happened.

Perhaps the most interesting subplot might be that the Capitals, Flyers and Penguins could all finish tonight’s games with 100 standings points. For that to happen, Philly would need to lose to Pittsburgh in regulation while Washington would need a win.

For more information about the Penguins’ home stretch and their big-picture chances of stealing the division, click here. If you want another look at the game, check this out.

7:30 pm ET

Atlanta @ Montreal; Chicago @ Boston

The Thrashers are probably too far gone for serious consideration, so the focus shifts to the Habs, who may be too far behind the Bruins for the Northeast Division title. Even if the Bruins might lose to a desperate Blackhawks team. The Canadiens must also worry about seeding, as they only own a tie-breaker over the seventh place Rangers and might even need to fight off the eighth place Sabres.

Ottawa @ Tampa Bay

The Lightning can keep their very slim Southeast Division title dreams alive, while also boosting their also-questionable chances of usurping the Penguins for the fourth seed. It won’t be as easy as it might look, though, because the Senators have been a pesky bunch lately.

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