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Breaking down the race for the East’s final playoff spots

Jan 27, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

Earlier this week, the NBC Sports Network gang took a look at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, as you can see in the video below:

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Want a more detailed playoff picture? NBC’s standings page provides some extra meat, from games played to full records.

source:  (click to enlarge)

The Southleast

First things first, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers look to be in a two-horse race to win the once-again-woeful Southeast Division. Both teams reached 55 points in 48 games, but Washington has four more wins (26 to 22). On the other hand, the Panthers have 18 home games and 16 road games left while the Caps will play 18 more road games and 16 home games, so this one could be awfully close.

As undeserving as they might seem, one of these squads will win one of the top three seeds. Let’s face it, it’s most likely to be No. 3. Whoever loses will be in a dogfight – likely for the seventh and eighth seed.

The battles for seventh and eighth

The second place team in the Southeast, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs will likely have the inside track for the top two spots at 55 points right now. The Devils have 18 home games and 16 road contests left while the Maple Leafs have 15 home games and 18 away matches remaining.

The Winnipeg Jets are probably the closest team to a “wild card” with 50 points. The Jets have 16 home games and 16 road games left, so they’re definitely facing an uphill battle to get back into the real mix.

Long shots

The Montreal Canadiens (47 points), Tampa Bay Lightning (46), New York Islanders (45), Buffalo Sabres (45) and Carolina Hurricanes (45) are all on their last legs.

Carolina might be the easiest to count out overall since they only have 31 games left this season and only 14 of those games are at home. Conversely, the one team that might have a sneaky chance to turn things around is Tampa Bay. Beyond the obvious talent on their roster, the Bolts play 20 of their final 34 games at home, so that might give them a chance to put together a run or two.

***

After reading this rundown, which bubble teams strike you as the most likely to take the Eastern Conference’s final spots? Do you expect the Panthers to surprisingly take the Southeast or will the Capitals find a way to make it happen once again? Let us know in the comments.

  1. gallyhatch - Jan 27, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    Huh, looks like nobody wants to comment on the playoff race, it’s more fun to hate on the champions for non-hockey related bs!

    I think Tampa gets that last spot with the talent they have on that team. I can’t see Montreal, Buffalo, NYI or the ‘Canes beating them out considering the disarray most of those teams are in.

    Of course I’ve been wrong before & probably will be again.

  2. dcfan4life - Jan 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Washington will put together a late season run with so many key players returning from injury. When Mike Green, Backstrohm and Ovechkin all return to the lineup together, this team will be dangerous again. Its there division and im not counting out a second or first seed either. They have done it twice before.

    • djamesbart - Jan 27, 2012 at 12:30 PM

      What have they done twice before: flame out spectacularly in the playoffs?
      Better check your math. It’s much more than 2 times.

  3. tonyseesred - Jan 27, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I really dont see the Capitals winning the title this year. When they were healthy not long ago they were playing terrible hockey. As much as them getting healthier down the stretch SHOULD help them, i really dont predict it will. Regardless, they will find themselves in the playoffs. But probably wont stick around for long. Cats win the southeast this year, they have found a way to get points and compete with every team they play against just about night in and night out. They have shocked and surprised everyone thus far, I assume it’d be wise to expect more of the same. Its going to be a real exiting next few months, as if it hasnt been already. haha

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