Playoff Pulse: Jets, Sabres face crucial tests Friday
One day after the battle for the final spots in the Western Conference were in the spotlight, the focus shifts east Friday. The three teams chasing Washington for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference are all in action away from home, and one of them could do all three a favor by defeating the Capitals.
The Philadelphia Flyers are the only team that can clinch a playoff berth Friday night. Philadelphia is idle, but the Flyers officially earn a spot in the postseason if Buffalo and Winnipeg lose in regulation.
Winnipeg Jets at Washington Capitals: It is close to now-or-never time for the Jets away from MTS Centre. They have lost all three road games this month and yielded 16 goals in the process. They've been suspect away from home all season (11-20-4). The Jets trail the Capitals by five points with only nine games to play -- and six of them are on the road. Even with a game in hand, a loss Friday severely damages Winnipeg's hopes of making the playoffs.
The Capitals are only three points back of Ottawa for seventh place in the East, but fending off the teams chasing them is the priority. They can go a long way to doing so by beating the Jets on Friday and then Buffalo at Verizon Center on Tuesday.
Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers: The Sabres are only one point behind the Capitals, but Washington is going to own the tiebreaker so in effect they are really two points back. They also have a tougher schedule to finish the season than Washington, which will make the game Tuesday against the Capitals pretty close to a must-win. The Sabres would move into eighth place for at least a day with a victory against the Rangers and a loss by the Capitals.
The Rangers are trying to hold off the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the East. They have a one-point lead, and including this contest against the Sabres, have five straight games against teams not currently in a playoff position before closing the season with four contests against teams that are (including a trip to Pittsburgh).
Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets: The Hurricanes languished at the bottom of the East for a significant part of this season, but have heated up and squeezed into the fringes of the playoff race. Carolina is six points behind the Capitals with eight games to play, and even going 7-1 or 8-0 might not be enough for the Hurricanes. They'll need help, but a 7-1 finish would be good enough for eighth if the Capitals were to go 3-5 and the Sabres finished 4-4. In the immediate future, Carolina can move into 10th place in the East with a win and a regulation loss by Winnipeg.
Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers: The Panthers have a four-point lead on Washington and a game in hand. They are also just two points behind the Boston Bruins for the No. 2 seed in the East. A win would bring Florida level with Boston at 87 points, though the Bruins will have a game in hand. This is the first of five straight games for the Panthers against the bottom-six teams in the NHL.
Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens: Ottawa still has some work to do to be a playoff team nobody predicted at the start of the season. The Senators are three points ahead of Washington and four clear of Buffalo. They could also still catch Boston, but the Bruins are three points up with a game in hand.
Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils: Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference, it looks like New Jersey is the team most likely to stay put in its current position. The Devils are five points back of fifth-place Philadelphia and five points clear of seventh-place Ottawa.