NHL analyst Ross Benjamin looks at 3 Eastern Conference teams that are on the proverbial playoff bubble, and 4 more whose chances are hanging by a thread. Go inside to read his interesting assessment on each of their chances.
Toronto Maple Leafs: As of this writing (3/14), Toronto holds down the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot. However, they only have a slim 1-point lead over both the New York Islanders and surging Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs do have 1 game in hand on each of those clubs. I have some doubt in regards to Toronto's chances solely due to how young they are. How such a youthful roster handles the pressures of a playoff race in March and April remains to be seen. Then again, as the old sports adage goes, “they're too young to know any better”.
New York Islanders: Between 1/16 and 3/9 the Islanders went on a 16-9 run to catapult themselves right into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Nevertheless, they've lost 5 of their last 8 games and allowed an alarming 34 goals in those outings. That kind of ineptness in goal, and shoddy defensive play, certainly doesn't bode well for their chances. Besides, the Islanders will play 4 of its last 5 regular season games on the enemy ice. If you're looking at an Islanders game for one of your NHL picks, they've gone under the total in just 4 of their previous 15 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning: General Manager Steve Yzerman was a seller at the trade deadline, and it appeared his team's pursuit of 3 consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals was through. As Lee Corso of ESPN has stated so eloquently on numerous occasions, not so fast my friend. Tampa Bay is 11-5 over its last 16 games, and that includes a current 3-game win streak. The Lightning remains very much alive for a potential playoff berth. It's worth noting, after today's (3/14) game at Ottawa, Tampa Bay will play 6 of its next 8 at home. Tampa may have rid themselves of high salary players 2 weeks ago, but their remaining core group is an extremely talented group, and they possess a plethora of big game experience obtained over the past 2 seasons.
On Life Support
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are all over the map in terms of consistency, and have the 3rd worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference. I don't see the playoffs occurring this spring in the “City of Brotherly Love”.
Florida Panthers: There's a lot of talent young and old in Florida to be sitting 7 points behind Toronto with 15 games left to play. Then again, if you lose 8 of 9 games like Florida presently has, do you really deserve to be a playoff team? They'll have an opportunity to close the gap today at home against Toronto.
Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo is 8 points behind Toronto, and has played 1 more game than the team they're chasing. Buffalo needs a torrid winning run down the final stretch to even have a pulse. By the way, they've yet to win more than 3 in a row all season. Book your tee times in April, and then see you at training camp in September.
Carolina Hurricanes: Carolina is still mathematically in the hunt. Nonetheless, the Canes have a pathetic road record of 9-25, and with their least 4 regular season games on the road, their NHL betting odds are highly improbable to leap frog 6 teams ahead of them.