With the regular season coming to a close in the next week or so, the playoff races in the Eastern Conference are hotter than they've been all season. There's a giant cluster of teams now fighting for the 4th seed and home ice advantage, but even more desperate are the teams fighting for the right to even play past next weekend.
The Montreal Canadiens have been playing much better hockey of late. Carey Price, who looked shaky over the last month or so, has begun to play better. Alexei Kovalev is playing like he actually wants to earn his paycheck. And because of it, the Habs have put a little bit of distance between themselves and that eighth spot.
They sit just one point ahead of the New York Rangers for the eighth seed in the East, but with a game in hand, they control their own destiny. The real fight for the eighth seed will come down to the Rangers and the Florida Panthers. The Rangers, through 78 games, have 89 points and the current hold on the eight spot. Florida, through 77 games, has 87 points. Who wants it more, guys?
The unseen story here is the Flyers role in all of this. Sure, they've yet to clinch a playoff spot themselves, but barring a ridiculous collapse, they've just about sealed up a spot at least higher than seventh. Mirtle's very accurate playoff push rankings say the Flyers need to go 0-5-1 the rest of the way to clinch. I think they can manage.
But when you look at the Flyers schedule, there are three games that stand out: a final weekend home-and-home with the Rangers, and a visit from the Panthers to South Philly on Tuesday. With the standings as close as they are, these three games could go a long way to determining who wins that eighth seed.