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NHL scores 2016: The gaps are closing in the Metropolitan Division

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It's not just the race for the wild card that you should be paying attention to.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

For the last few weeks, all eyes have been on the Eastern Conference wild card race. With three teams fighting for that last playoff spot, of course we'd be calling that the biggest story heading into the postseason.

It's time, however, to turn our eyes to those at the top, especially the three teams from second to fourth in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins, you may have heard, are starting to look quite dangerous. So dangerous that they've gone 9-1 in their last 10 games and as of Thursday, have taken sole possession of second place in the division over the Rangers.

Metro

Metropolitan Division standings as of 4/1

No one is able to catch the Capitals, but between the Penguins in second and the Flyers all the way down in the last wild card spot, the points spread is seven. Between the Rangers and a wild card spot? Three.

Thanks to the Penguins bowling over the Predators 5-2 and the Islanders withstanding a late Blue Jackets surge on Thursday, the race for those spots just got a lot tighter. Ever since falling out of the top three, the Islanders have picked themselves back up with three consecutive wins. Now, with a 4-3-3 record in their last 10, it's the Rangers turn to face a potential scare as they look down with the wild card below them for a change.

Outside of the Flyers -- who are still in flux but looking pretty good after their shootout win against the Capitals on Wednesday -- it's unlikely any of the middle three in the Metropolitan Division will fall out of the playoff race completely. Even so, a falter down the stretch for any of these teams could mean a date with a better team in the playoffs, and a potential early exit from the postseason.

Scores

Sabres 4, Maple Leafs 1
Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3
Penguins 5, Predators 2
Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3
Canadiens 3, Lightning 0
Panthers 3, Devils 2
Senators 3, Wild 2
Stars 4, Coyotes 1
Kings 3, Flames 0
Canucks 4, Sharks 2

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3 things we learned

1. The Wild's longest win streak of the season ends at six

Minnesota has slowly been building a wild card lead in the West over the Avalanche, who are now five points behind the Wild. The Senators helped out the Avalanche by besting the Wild and halting their best win streak of the year at six games. The Wild will be running into a desperate Red Wings team as the second game of the back-to-back on Friday, so Colorado has the chance to knock their lead down with a handful of games remaining.

2. Panthers should have known better than to trust a rat (giveaway)

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Florida's Rat Trick tradition, the team gave away rubber rats for fans to throw at the end of the game. Great plan, right? Not so much when you have over 10,000 fans packed in one space, fueled by adrenaline and alcohol.

After Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first goal of the evening, some fans threw the rats and the referees issued a warning that the team would be penalized if it happened again. But guess what? No one followed it!

The Panthers were ultimately penalized twice throughout the game, until finally Florida fans could throw their rats at the end of the game.

Now where are the penalties for Detroit's octopus throw?

3. The race to the bottom is still volatile

With the Canucks the only winners of the NHL's basement dwellers on Thursday, there's still no clear winner for the league's worst team. With a three point difference between the Flames in sixth with 70 points and the Oilers and Maple Leafs tied at the bottom with 67, it's anyone's game still for the lottery. But really with Edmonton so close to the bottom, we all know who's winning that thing.

Impact Moment

Phil Kessel shut down the haters after players named him the NHL's most overrated star earlier this week with a pair of goals in the Penguins 5-2 win over the Predators.

Stat of the Night

Not a good sign for the Predators...

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