We are rapidly approaching the 2012 NHL playoffs, where the true battle starts for the playoff seeds.
The New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins will fight till the end for the top of the division and Eastern Conference.
Unlike the Western Conference, where most of the playoffs seeds appear to be set in stone, there are only a few teams that are neck-and-neck as they approach the finish line of the season.
Here are the predictions for the 2012 Eastern Conference playoff seeds.
Lately, the Ottawa Senators have been playing mediocre on the ice, at best.
Good news for the team is that their best goaltender Craig Anderson will make his return possibly this weekend. He may be what the Senators need to hold their place for the playoffs.
Ottawa can't afford to slack off, especially with the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals on their heels.
It's likely that the Washington Capitals will not win their division this year, yet they will make the playoffs. They'll be in a battle for the last two spots against the Sabres and Senators, and it'll be a close one.
However, Captain Mike Knuble—who has five points in the last four games—along with Alex Ovechkin will keep their team in check in the remaining games of the season.
With eight games left, they have a slim margin for error.
It's clear that once again the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference still dominates.
Martin Brodeur is still carrying on as a great goaltender for the Devils. While they may not be the same team, the Devils are eager to play in the playoffs in April. That type of motivation will keep the momentum going in the team's remaining games.
With the Devils being five points ahead of the Senators, sixth place is nearly locked up for New Jersey.
The Flyers may have struggled early in their games this season, but lately they have been on a hot streak.
While they've been lighting up the ice, it doesn't appear Philadelphia will be able to catch up to the hot Penguins and Rangers.
Fifth place is a surefire spot for the Flyers and perhaps it's a good thing. They are still within reaching distance of being first in the conference.
With a team that has 12 rookies, Philadelphia making it this far is quite an achievement.
The Pittsburgh Penguins went nearly two years without the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both playing together and still managed to win.
Now, with the whole team healthy, the results are not even surprising in fact one could say the results are kind of frightening. Since Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup, the Penguins have scored 20 goals in four games. Yep. You read that right. While the man hasn't been scoring goals himself, he's been putting up the assists. He recorded nine assists in the last four games. (As a Red Wings fan, I say: Damn him for sparking that hot streak.)
While their offensive talents are creating great results, their defensive work may just be their downfall.
Even if the Penguins finish fourth, there is no doubt they will create a frightening disturbance in the playoffs.
Many of players on the Florida Panthers have made it clear that they are all eager to play and that while the playoffs are in sight, they are only focusing on the next game. Staying focus on finishing the season effectively will be a great aid in keeping the momentum going strong for the Panthers.
They are on a five-game winning streak, and though Washington shows signs of catching up—Florida looks as if they won't waver for a second.
When the Boston Bruins won two games in a row earlier this month, they went on to lose four straight. Which was bad enough because it allowed the Senators and the Panthers to slowly creep up, ready to take over the number two spot.
Now, the Boston Bruins have just recently won two straight games at home and have to pray they don't repeat what they did earlier. However, the team is prepared and ready to take on their remaining games. They are comfortable where they are at now and they don't want to lose it.
That motivation will be enough for them to lock up a spot at number two.
The New York Rangers have said that the playoffs wasn't their goal. They want the home-ice advantage. They want the top of the Atlantic Division. They want the number one spot of the Eastern Conference.
And they are fired up to get it. They are ready to finish their season strong. By golly, they will. They showed how much they wanted it in Monday's game against the Devils. In the first three seconds—during faceoff—Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust engaged in fights among the Devils' lineup.
Their grit allowed them to clinch a playoff spot, and soon they'll be clinching the number one seed.