Aside from the Vancouver Canucks – a Western Conference team that has just about everything covered for themselves – Friday’s five games are all about the East’s playoff races.
To keep it simple, here is a quick summary of the potential impact for each of the five games, with their start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).
New Jersey @ Pittsburgh
Notes: The Penguins could clinch a playoff spot two different ways. The first way would be if they won and the Hurricanes came away with a point or less; the other is if they earn at least one point and Carolina loses in regulation. Pittsburgh could also move themselves within two points of the Philadelphia Flyers, although Philly would still have two games in hand plus that lead. Meanwhile the Devils have nine games to close a nine-point gap between themselves and the eighth-place Hurricanes.
Florida @ Buffalo
Notes: The Panthers are in tank mode while the Sabres could creep past the New York Rangers for seventh place in the East. Buffalo has four less points than the Rangers, but two games in hand. Their biggest concerns revolve around holding off Carolina so they can keep the eighth seed, though.
Washington @ Ottawa
Notes: A win could push Washington in a first place tie with the Flyers in the East, although it’s important to note that Philly will have two games in hand.
Vancouver @ Atlanta
Notes: The Thrashers basically have a slightly rosier version of the Devils’ desperate situation. They need to make up a seven point difference between themselves and the Sabres for the eighth spot with only nine games left.
Carolina @ Tampa Bay
Notes: For complete details of Carolina’s tough end of the season, click here. Ultimately, the Hurricanes have nine games to erase Buffalo’s three-point lead for a playoff spot. That’s far more likely than the Devils and Thrashers overcoming their deficits, but again, Carolina has a tough end of the season schedule. Tampa Bay can increase their chances of a fourth seed and their slim hopes of winning the Southeast with a win tonight. They trail fourth-ranked Pittsburgh by five and division leading Washington by seven at the moment.
Finally, for those of you who are visual learners, here’s a look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture, via NBC’s standings page. (“x” denotes a team that already clinched a postseason berth, please note that the bottom three teams aren’t mentioned because they are not contenders at this time.)
So, there you go. Tonight’s games might kill some dreams, clinch a playoff berth and have an impact on seeding. We’ll let you know how it shakes out.