MONTREAL - Seven teams and three playoff spots don't exactly add up. The final leg of the 2006-07 regular season will decide who among the Canadiens, Thrashers, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Islanders and Rangers in the crowded Eastern Conference will earn a ticket to the playoffs.
With only seven home games left in their final 16-game stretch, the Canadiens will have their work cut out for them as they look to reach their third-straight postseason for the for the first time since doing so from 1995-96 though 1997-98.
While some teams have the comfort of holding games in hand, who those games will come against will go a long way in deciding the teams left standing when the regular season wraps up on April 8.
With 10 of their remaining 16 games coming against the teams they are busy jockeying with for playoff position, the Canadiens will have every opportunity to decide their own destiny.
Here's a look at the road the rest of the playoff hopefuls in the East are facing.
ATLANTA: As if snagging Keith Tkachuk wasn't good enough news for the Thrashers, they will be playing at home for a dozen of their remaining 17 games. Atlanta also has six combined games against lottery-bound Philadelphia, Florida and Washington.
BOSTON: As far as the Bruins are concerned, their dim playoff hopes may hinge on how they fare against the Habs, with the longtime rivals scheduled to clash four more times before the season is done.
CAROLINA: In their quest to avoid the dubious distinction of missing the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup, the Hurricanes can feel good about having six of their remaining 16 games against teams with no shot of reaching the postseason. Their reduced-calorie schedule includes three dates with the now-neutered Florida Panthers.
NY ISLANDERS: The retooled Islanders have to like the look of their lineup with the deadline addition of Ryan Smyth, not to mention the number of games they have in hand over most of their conference rivals.
NY RANGERS: With 19 games to go, it's too early to write off the Rangers who can determine their destiny as well as that of the crosstown rival Islanders. The New York clubs are after all slated to face off four more times.
TORONTO: The Maple Leafs are facing an uphill climb with only two of their 18 remaining games coming against non-playoff teams. Toronto's three dates with the top-ranked Sabres and pair of showdowns with the Devils surely won't boost any optimism in Hogtown.
Whoever put together the league schedule certainly has a flair for the dramatic. The Canadiens will close out the regular season against the Leafs on April 7 in Toronto in a much-anticipated game that could decide who will still be on the ice when the NHL's second season begins on April 11.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com