The thrilling battle for the two byes for the teams drafted into the Eastern Conference is far from over and the current standings could change by April 14. Even if he is eliminated, the Montreal Canadiens have the possibility of modifying the portrait of the playoffs.
With three games to go for each of the main protagonists in the race, the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders find themselves in the top 8 with 89 points to their credit, one more than the Pittsburgh Penguins, threatened with a first exclusion since 2005-2006. Also, the Habs’ visit to the Islanders next Wednesday could influence the outcome, especially if head coach Martin St-Louis’ men continue to make their Long Island rivals sweat.
So far, the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge have given them two close games, losing 2 to 1 on enemy soil on January 14 and winning 4 to 3 in overtime on February 11 at the Bell Centre. The upcoming duel will be the last of the campaign for the Islanders, who may well be feeling the pressure on their shoulders. Previously, they will host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and travel to Washington for a meeting with the Capitals on Monday.
A favorite team and a pet peeve
For their part, the Penguins still regret having escaped their three games of the season against the Canadian; they amassed two points on overtime losses and if they had done the job ahead of the 27th overall team, they would be in better shape. However, they will now have to accumulate the points at the expense of three eliminated clubs, the Detroit Red Wings (Saturday), the Chicago Blackhawks (Tuesday) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (Thursday), to hope for qualification. And they will need a little help.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will have it harder on paper, happy to have swept the honors in their annual four-game series against the Habs. They will arrive in Washington on Saturday before playing two games at home on Monday and Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes, respectively. However, it is possible that the pilots of these formations, especially Sheldon Keefe at the Leafs, decide to rest key elements in anticipation of the playoffs.
For their part, the Buffalo Sabers are still alive, but they need a miracle. They have five games left, except that they claim only 83 points. This is another club that would have liked to do better against CH, which defeated them twice in three outings.