The Playoff Picture Part I: THE EAST

Will you be seeing your team in the playoffs in just under a month when the NHL concludes its regular season April 10th?

(Sorry Ottawa Fans...)

This is part one of out two part series looking at the playoff picture.  Part I features the Eastern Conference and Part II will look at the Western Conference. 

As of now there are 8 teams slated to make playoffs with 4 teams on the outside looking in.  

(Click to enlarge)
-The Flyers, Capitals, Bruins, Penguins, Lightning, and Canadiens appear to be a lock for the playoffs barring a monumental collapse.  

-Philadelphia most likely has won the Atlantic due to the amount of injuries the Penguins have suffered, but they are still staying strong and pushing for a top seed.

-It is going to come down to the last few games before we see a winner in the Northeast.  Only 2 points separate Boston and Montreal.

-Washington, who has won 8 in a row, has opened up with a 5 point lead on Tampa Bay.  They will most likely win the Southeast.

-The Rangers and Sabres are in right now, but the Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Thrashers, and Devils are threatening to take the 7th and 8th seed.  
(New York Rangers)
-Currently 7th in the Eastern Conference (76 points).
-Key Player: Marian Gaborik.  Gaborik health is always an issue.  He needs to stay healthy if they Rangers want to make any kind of playoff run. 
-Prediction: The Rangers will make the playoffs. They're 4 points up on Carolina who is 9th, and they're just too talented of a team to not make it.  Plus they have Hendrik Lundqvist. 

(Buffalo Sabres)
-Currently 8th in the Eastern Conference (74 points).
-Key Player: Ryan Miller. Miller is having an off year but is still putting up solid numbers.  He's been getting all the starts and will need to stay strong to keep Buffalo in the playoff picture.
-Prediction: The Sabres will not make the playoffs. They're solid but with teams like Atlanta, Toronto and New Jersey gunning for the last spot, they'll crack under pressure. 

(Carolina Hurricanes)
-Currently 9th in the Eastern Conference (72 points).
-Key Player(s): Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen. They're getting scoring from Eric Staal and they're getting solid goaltending from Cam Ward.  Now its time for the secondary scoring to step it up.
-Prediction: The Hurricanes will not make the playoffs.  Cam Ward and Eric Staal won't be enough for Carolina.

(Toronto Maple Leafs)
-Currently 10th (tied) in the Eastern Conference (70 points).
-Key Player: Dion Phaneuf.  Toronto's captain needs to step it up if he want his team to make playoffs.  They also need scoring from players like Kessel, Grabovski, and Lupul. 
-Prediction: The Maple Leafs will not make the playoffs.  They just don't have a big impact player. They need to find a player that will step it up and lead the team offensively and they just don't have that. 

(Atlanta Thrashers)
-Currently 10th (tied) in the Eastern Conference (70 points).
-Key Player: Dustin Byfuglien.  After putting up Norris caliber numbers in the first half, Byfuglien has cooled off a bit.  He'll need to step it up in the final month and show the leadership he displayed early on. 
-Prediction: The Thrashers will not make the playoffs.  Pavalec has had a fantastic season but has been on a bad streak as of late.  If he doesn't turn it around Atlanta won't have a chance. 

(New Jersey Devils)
-Currently 12th in the Eastern Conference (68 points).
-Key Player: Ilya Kovalchuk.  After getting off to a horrendous start, Kovalchuk has turned it on.  He's the only Devil with over 15 goals, and he has a huge contract to live up to.
-Prediction: THE DEVILS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS.  This team is playing unbelievable hockey right now.  They're firing on all cylinders and their stellar play is fueling an almost impossible comeback. At the all-star break they were the worst team in the league with 35 points. They've almost doubled that number and are threatening to make the playoffs.  Just two months ago no one would've expected this.