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Blog Entry

Pregame Skate: More big ones in Southeast, West

Posted on: March 4, 2012 10:42 am
Edited on: March 4, 2012 2:03 pm
 
Florida hasn't had much if any luck with Ottawa of late. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

6 ET, Ottawa at Florida

A pretty amazing thing has happened in the Southeast (that is until you remember it's the Southeast we're talking about here) and that is that it has become a four-team race. Through it all, the Panthers have held onto the lead atop the division but that's not really by their own doing.

Coming off a 3-1 loss to the Predators at home on Saturday, they make a quick turnaround and face the Ottawa Senators in Florida this evening. The problem? Florida can't beat Ottawa. The Sens have taken nine consecutive games in the series and five straight at BankAtlantic Center. That's not exactly inspiring when the Tampa Bay Lightning are suddenly breathing down their necks.

The odds still favor the Panthers to make the postseason with a greater than 70 percent chance at this point. Not quite as comforting as the 90 percent odds earlier this week. Realistically, though, the odds are sure starting to feel a lot lower than that.

It's about time they started to win on home ice if they want to return to the playoffs. In the last six home games they have played, they are a very disappointing 1-4-1, including a 6-2 shellacking by these same Senators. That's not going to cut it.

At this point, with the way the Sabres have come charging back to life as well, they might need to consider it Southeast Division or bust. And with it being a four-team race, it would be a good idea for them to start picking up points again.

7 ET, Philadelphia at Washington (NBC Sports Network)

One of those four teams in that Southeast Division race, the Washington Capitals, need some points just as bad if not worse than the Panthers do right now. That's because their target is as much the eighth seed as it is the Southeast lead. In that race they are still one point behind Winnipeg (with two fewer games played) but are just one point up on the Lightning and Sabres.

My, how interesting the East has become. It seemed just a few days ago like it was a nine-team race.

Just when things were starting to feel a little better in the nation's capital after three straight wins, the New Jersey Devils came into town and smacked them down to the tune of a 5-0 beating. They need to be able to rebound from that in a hurry with the Flyers coming to Verizon Center for the Sunday nightcap.

That shouldn't be an easy task. Philadelphia has been one of the league's best teams away from home this season. They are 20-11-2 away from Wells Fargo Center. Somewhat ironically, that's the same exact record as the Devils away from home. That would seem to be a bit ominous for the Caps in holding home ice today.

6 ET, Dallas at Calgary

Turning our eyes back to the race that has been this crazy all along, the West has another pivotal matchup when looking at that playoff push where it seems just about every team is in the hunt.

Somewhat lost across the league of late has been the play of the Stars, who have not only stormed into playoff position but can actually overtake the San Jose Sharks today in the West. Granted, games in hand and all of that, but it still speaks to how far Dallas has come in recent weeks (and how much San Jose has fallen).

The Flames meanwhile are one of those chasers of Dallas. That's why this is such a critical game. It's like any old division battle where it's described as a four-point game. Well, Dallas has the potential to build a somewhat formidable six-point advantage by the end of the night on Calgary or have it cut down to just two points on the Flames (never mind the Kings and Avalanche part of the equation).

What's interesting is that this is the first of three games between these two in the month of March. They will have a home-and-home near the end of the month as well. There is still plenty of chances for each of these teams to take their destiny into their own hands.

Others worth watching

12:30 ET, Boston at Rangers (NBC): Keep in mind, we highlight the games with meaningful impacts on the playoff race, not necessarily the best games of the day. If you want the latter, here you go, a classic matchup among two of the East's best. This comes as highly recommended viewing.

4 ET, Chicago at Detroit (NHL Network): See the above statement on the Rangers and Bruins and here you go. The Blackhawks have been able to regain a little footing and are slightly clear of the pack at the bottom of the West again but not many go into Detroit and pick up points.

7 ET, Colorado at Minnesota: Not to neglect the Avs here (and Wild to a small extent) as they are still in the playoff hunt here too. If they can get a win and the Flames keep the Stars pointless, Colorado will be just one point back. Minnesota comes in seven points back with three teams in between.

Your promised miscellany

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