The NHL 2007-'08 Playoffs are exactly five weeks away, and it is still possible for anything to happen—many upsets can occur, and the underdogs still can make their moves. Below are my predictions for the Eastern Conference Playoff standings and the reasons of why:
1. New Jersey Devils (Currently in fourth)
- Martin Brodeur will be a typical end-of-season Brodeur, likely to pull off a few more shutouts before seasons' end. With 15 games remaining, and eight of them on the road, one can only expect them to go on a winning tear. The majority of their remaining games are against opponents who aren't their biggest competition, so they're essentially going to be winning for themselves. The two most important of the upcoming matchups will be those against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be hot on the heels of the Devils until their very last game.
2. Montreal Canadiens (Currently in second)
- Two words: Carey Price. He may be a rookie, and he may have no playoff experience. But considering the situation, there is no goalie in the league who is close to being as calm as the youngster. In a recent interview, he clearly stated that he will take the remaining games one game at a time and worry about the playoffs once they get there. No panic with this kid. There is no doubt the Canadiens will be blessed by their power-play skills through their remaining 15 matchups. Each game may be critical, especially seeing as the majority of their games are played at home, three of which are against the Ottawa Senators. Nobody has a tougher crowd than at the Bell Centre, but give them a moment of confidence and those die-hard fans can give the Habs a major boost to get the win. They have already proven this year that nothing is impossible - who could ever forget "The Comeback"??
3. Washington Capitals (Currently in 11th)
- The way the Southwest division stands right now, winning a game could mean falling to 11th in the standings or jumping into third, as is the case between Washington and Carolina. The Capitals made one of the smartest moves of the trade deadline by acquiring Cristobal Huet. Huet has already recorded one shutout since joining his new team. Of their 15 games left on the schedule once again, almost all of them are versus teams who are barely in the playoff hunt. Their biggest hope, of course, will be for the Hurricanes to fall in a slump.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (Currently in first)
- The return of Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury will give the Pens the push they need. Evgeni Malkin has done a keen job of filling Crosby's skates during his absence, and the two should make Pittsburgh unstoppable. But there will be immense pressure now as both Crosby and Fleury will be expected to continue where they left off before their ankle sprains. The toughest part for Pittsburgh is the fact they play against most of the playoff potentials in the East, which happen to be inter-division - Washington, Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, and currently their biggest competition, the New Jersey Devils. Being the young and inexperienced team they are, there's a chance they can crack under this pressure during the last few games of their remaining 14.
5. Boston Bruins (Currently in sixth)
- The Bruins have a game on hand for everyone in the playoff positions, which 16 remaining, giving them the ultimate advantage when it comes to deciding their position and whether they make the playoffs. Their winning percentage is about even whether on the road or at home, so should not play a factor. Their biggest challenge by far is that nine of their final 10 games are against their Northeast Division rivals. Boston's goaltending may be shaky but they definitely still have the potential to do damage and hold onto their mid-playoff standing position.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (Currently in third)
- The situation is the same for Carolina as it is for Washington—the way it stands now, one is going to miss the playoffs, one is going to make them, and one point may be the deciding factor. It may seem a long shot estimating the Hurricanes in sixth position, but of their remaining 14 games are played at home. They may be slumping on the road, but this gives them the potential to earn at least eight points they need to move them ahead in the standings and into the playoffs. Also, they play a mere two games against teams ahead of them in the standings.
7. Ottawa Senators (Currently in fifth)
- The Senators have 15 games left on their schedule. There is no doubt that these defending Stanley Cup Finalists have more pressure than any other team in the East, or, possibly, in the league. The Sens have a few critical games ahead of them, including three against both Montreal and Boston. Their fear of missing the postseason is evident with the firing on their head coach and continually making an issue out of Ray Emery. Both Emery and Gerber are shaky in net. If something was to happen to Alfredsson and Heatley again, we already know what would happen—they would completely fall apart.
8. Philadelphia Flyers (Currently in eighth)
- Philadelphia has 15 games left on their schedule. Only eight points separate their eighth place position from fourth. Unfortunately, for the Flyers, they play at home for seven of the 15 games, and they will be against those not in the playoff hunt. Their home record is barely above .500, which leaves their fate questionable. Ultimately, their position depends on the outcomes of their Atlantic Division rivals like the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. Therefore, I expect that, if they do squeeze into the playoffs, it will not be any higher than eighth and will mainly be because of one of the other teams faltering.