Updated Feb. 4
In the wake of the New York Giants' stunning Super Bowl victory, it's worth remembering that surprising things can happen to teams that manage to squeeze into the playoffs.
|With Alexander Ovechkin the Caps have a shot in the division. (Getty Images)|
That would be the division winner, which automatically claims the third seed. And it would be a gift of sorts because the teams sharing the lead now -– the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers -– are barely in eight place overall in the East.
Well, the Lightning, not so much. They're dead last in the Eastern Conference and nine points off the division lead. They have been miserable on the road and just a little better at home. Then again, no one has looked dominant within the Southeast -– the teams are all at or just above .500 in division games -– and all five have allowed at least a dozen more goals than they have scored.
But there are also some of the league's brightest young stars in the East, with Alex Ovechkin in Washington, Eric Staal in Carolina, Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta and Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay. Florida's best player is a little older, but Olli Jokinen is among the league's top centers.
One of their teams is going to finish first, get home-ice advantage to start the playoffs and give them a chance to shine.
"You never know what's going to happen if you get to the playoffs," said Staal. "Right now we have a really tough road to go through, but if you get there you could be in pretty shape."
Here are this week's rankings: