With about 10 to 12 games left in the regular season for most teams, the races for the 2011 NHL playoffs are really beginning to kick into high gear. Of course, the NHL playoff picture has been crazy out West since what seems like October, but the Eastern Conference is slowly getting closer and more exciting as well.
For now, that's where we focus.
Nobody in the East has officially clinched a playoff spot yet.
No. 1 Philadelphia needs two wins to officially clinch a playoff spot, no matter what anybody else in the Conference does. No. 2 Washington is in the same boat.
No. 4 Pittsburgh needs three wins in their last 11 games to clinch a playoff spot, while No. 3 Boston and No. 5 Tampa Bay need five wins to clinch. Obviously, as teams on the outside lose, those numbers go down.
The only likely conclusion we can make about the top of the East is that all five of these teams will finish somewhere in those top five spots. It's unlikely that Philadelphia falls to third place, so that spot is likely to stay in Boston's hands or fall to the Capitals -- but there's still a lot of hockey to be played.
Pittsburgh will likely stay in fourth, but it's possible that they could overtake Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. That seems unlikely at this point, though.
ON THE BUBBLE
No. 6 Montreal seems pretty set at this point, but there is certainly still at least a bit of doubt there. They sit nine points ahead of ninth place at current, but should the teams on the outside win all of their remaining games, the Habs would need to win seven of their last 12 games to officially clinch.
Things are less certain for No. 7 New York and No. 8 Buffalo. Sure, they're in now, but NYR only holds a four point lead over No. 9 Carolina. Buffalo is in even tougher shape, just two points up on Carolina. They do hold a game in hand, though.
Toronto is still in the mix, especially thanks to their win over Carolina on Wednesday night. The win bumped them within two points of the Canes for that ninth spot, as well as just four points behind Buffalo.
New Jersey is still making things interesting as well. With one game in hand over Buffalo and two games in hand over Toronto, Carolina and New York, the Devils could find themselves just two points out or even in eighth place by the time those games in hand are played. Truly remarkable.
If we say New Jersey is in, though, we have to throw Atlanta in the mix as well. They've played an extra game over the Devils, but both teams sit with 70 points.
BOOKIN' TEE TIMES
If the playoffs began today, here's how things would look in the East:
No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Buffalo Sabres
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 7 New York Rangers
No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Much of the data used comes via PlayoffStatus.com.