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Race for the playoffs: Rangers try to distance themselves, Habs hope to avoid slide

Apr 7, 2011, 5:20 PM EDT

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New York Rangers v Atlanta Thrashers Getty Images

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.”

Eastern Conference playoff race

y-1. Washington – 107 pts (1 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 101 pts (2 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts (2 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
9. Carolina – 89 pts (2 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Atlanta @ NY Rangers – 7:00 pm ET

If the Rangers earn three points in their last two games, they could boot the Hurricanes out of the playoffs regardless of how well Carolina plays. Both teams are locked in at 34 non-shootout wins, so earning a regulation or overtime victory against the Thrashers would go a long way toward giving the Rangers enough breathing room to make the postseason.

Interestingly enough, Atlanta is in an unusual spoiler role being that they will play a home game against those same Hurricanes on Friday night. This isn’t the way the team wanted to be relevant late in the season, but they will make an (indirect) impact on the playoffs nonetheless.

Montreal @ Ottawa – 7:00 pm ET

While the Canadiens already clinched a playoff spot and won’t have a chance to win the Northeast Division, this game is still relevant to Montreal. They have 93 points and two games left with some tiebreaker advantages, but both the Buffalo Sabers and Rangers could pass them by if the Habs lose both of their games. (Although Montreal would need to lose one of those contests in regulation for New York to bump them down to eighth place.)

So, yes, they’ll make the playoffs … but they could also slip all the way down to the eighth seed. The Habs won’t enjoy a stroll in the park, either, because the Senators have been a handful late this season.

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