|Steven Stamkos (91) and the Lightning have an outside shot at the Southeast Division title. (US Presswire)|
Right now there are six teams in the Eastern Conference that we can probably say with a great deal of confidence will be in the playoffs: The New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators.
They're all sitting in a good spot as we head into the final full month of the regular season, and have all given themselves a nice cushion over the pack that is currently fighting it out for what amounts to two remaining playoff spots.
And speaking of those two spots, they're going to come down to the jumbled pile of mediocrity that is Washington, Winnipeg, Florida, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Toronto, and maybe, if the planets and stars all align properly and something completely unexpected happens, the New York Islanders.
One of those spots will go to the winner of the Southeast Division, which will be the No. 3 seed. The other will go to the team that finishes in eighth place.
The past couple of weeks have seen two teams rise out of the ashes in Tampa Bay and Buffalo, while the Lightning, led by Steven Stamkos, still have an outside shot at the Southeast Division title (where everybody except Carolina has a shot to take over the No. 3 seed).
Buffalo, on the other hand, enters the week riding a seven-game streak that's seen them win six games, with the only loss coming in a shootout, giving it 13 of a possible 14 points. The biggest reason for their turnaround has been the play of Ryan Miller between the pipes, and after struggling through most of the season (and missing some time due to injury) he's picked up his game since the start of February and been in the net for all of Buffalo's past seven games -- allowing just 10 goals, including back-to-back shutouts on a west coast trip through Anaheim and San Jose.
Somebody has to get those spots, and right now Buffalo seems to have just as good of a shot as anybody else due to the perfect storm of Miller playing his best hockey of the season, and the overall mediocrity that is the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.