By next Monday morning, the Canadiens will finally have a real sense of where they stand for the first time since the fall. At that point every team fighting the Habs for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs will have 10 games left on the schedule except for the Boston Bruins, who will have 11.
Basically, the imbalance in the schedule we've seen practically all season will be corrected in a span of seven days, with three of these teams playing four games in six days to catch up. And when you look at what lies ahead this week for the teams still hoping for a playoff spot, you’ll see that having games in hand is not necessarily always a good thing.
Ottawa: Three games – home to Toronto Tuesday, at Atlanta Thursday, at Dallas Saturday.
A pretty light and relatively easy week for the Sens, though with the way they’ve played since the break (1-4-1) I don’t think anything can be taken for granted.
Philadelphia: Four games – at Nashville Tuesday, at Dallas Thursday, at Atlanta Saturday, home to Atlanta Sunday.
Counting Sunday’s 3-1 loss against the Rangers, that makes five games in eight days for the Flyers, with four of them on the road. Three of the four games involve teams still playing for something, though that may not be the case for Atlanta by Saturday.
Montreal: Two games – at New York Rangers Tuesday, at Toronto Saturday.
A win Tuesday should more or less guarantee the Habs a playoff spot, even though I realize the superstitious ones among you must be cringing as you read that. A loss, on the other hand, and everything remains up in the air. As brutal as the Leafs are, Montreal-Toronto on Saturday night is never a gimme for either side.
Boston: Four games – at New Jersey Monday, at Carolina Tuesday, home to Pittsburgh Thursday, home to New York Rangers Sunday.
That’s a very difficult stretch, especially considering the possibility of a nasty situation against the Penguins on Thursday.
New York Rangers: Three games – home to Montreal Tuesday, home to St. Louis Thursday, at Boston Sunday.
A light week of work in terms of the number of games, but the Rangers face the two teams directly above them in the standings. We’ll see if Sunday’s win over Philly sparks something in these guys.
Tampa Bay: Four games - home to Phoenix Tuesday, home to Buffalo Thursday, home to Washington Saturday, at Florida Sunday.
How's that for a week of work? Four games in six days, three against pretty elite competition. Even though those three games are at home, I will venture to say the Lightning may very well be out of the picture by next Monday morning.
Atlanta: Four games - home to Buffalo Monday, home to Ottawa Wednesday, home to Philadelphia Saturday, at Philadelphia Sunday.
At the risk of repeating myself, there's very little chance the Thrashers survive this week from hell. Four games against playoff teams while you're riding a six-game losing streak? Not a good combination.