Friday, March 14, 2008


Ahh yes, you can feel it in the air. We are creeping up on playoff hockey time. A time when the upper echelons are fine-tuning their machines for the stretch run and division/conference titles while the bottom feeders are playing for pride, future paychecks and playing the spoiler role. But if you are a team in the middle, a bubble team, well, then this is a time where it comes down to do or die. For these teams the playoffs have already started. All of those close games that got away earlier in the season now come back to haunt you. It is time to put the pedal to the floor, leave everything on the ice from here on out only to be rewarded with a low playoff seed and have to face the tops in the conference. But that’s why you play the game. To earn a ticket to the dance where anything can happen and with any luck you can find yourself dancing with the prettiest girl.

For this installment of the Notebook, I will be looking at these bubble teams to try and determine which teams are poised to make it and which ones are running out of gas. From the looks of things, right now, there are 7 teams battling for 3 spots. With little to no chance of winning the division, each of these teams are solely focused on capturing one of those 3 spots. As of now, the Rangers, Bruins and Flyers are occupying the last three spots with the Sabres, Caps, Panthers and the Leafs on the outside looking in.

So, who’s Hot and who’s Not?

HOT : The Rangers are trying to take a foothold and claim the #6 spot. Going 8 – 0 – 2 in the last ten, they are a team clearly focused on making the playoffs. That #6 spot looks suitable for the Blueshirts as an opening round match up with the Canes would be a fine battle, but the way they have been playing lately could have them climbing up a few spots before it’s over.

NOT : The Bruins are currently taking up spot #7. This is a team that is fragile right now. Injuries have played a factor all year for this team and with little offence they have hung in there so far. But at this time of year hanging in there just isn’t good enough. When it should be time to surge, the B’s are stalling. Going 4 – 4 – 2 over the last ten games is putting them in a precarious position. They have dropped games against teams below them in the standings and if that wasn’t bad enough some of them were blowouts. Looking at the remaining schedule it won’t get any easier for the B’s and if they are not careful could very well be playing themselves out of the playoff picture.

HOT : The Flyers are residing in the 8th and final spot, picking up points in 7 of their last ten games and a chance to leap-frog the Bruins this weekend with a win. They are starting to turn it on at the right time and are playing hard-edged playoff style hockey. If you are going to beat this club you are going to have to pay the price because they refuse to give an inch. Look for them to claim one of the last 3 spots.

NOT : The Sabres are just on the other side of the line. So close, but yet so far away. Here we have a team within a sniff of making the playoffs and they go 2 –5 –3 in their last ten games. Worse yet, they gave points away to the Flyers and Rangers in that stretch. The Sabres, like the Bruins, are stalling at the wrong time. They sure could use Briere, Drury and Campbell now. This team looks like it is about to crash and burn because inconsistency won’t get the job done.

NOT : Speaking of inconsistency, the Caps are a tough team to figure out. Just when you think they are going to go on a roll, they let up on the gas. Just when you think they are done they turn it on. They are in a nice position right now and need to find that extra gear to push their way into the playoffs, but in order to do it they will have to battle for 60 minutes each game, something that has plagued them all year. Time however, is running short and there are a couple of teams breathing down their necks ready to climb over them if they continue to give away points. Look for Ovechkin to carry the load the rest of the way. He’s hungry, but is the rest of the team equally as hungry?

HOT: The Panthers have a bit of a new look since the trade deadline and collecting points in 8 of the last 10 shows that they still have hopes of making the dance. It won’t be easy by any means for the Panthers but the hope still lives and if they can continue the pace they just might climb over a few stumbling teams in front of them. They have had an up and down season, obviously the last 10 games have been an up, the trick is to avoid another down. Despite the current up swing; look for Jokinen to miss the playoffs again, but this time only by a fraction.

HOT : The Maple Leafs have been a team in turmoil all season, but just won’t go away. With all of the distractions and rumors and media pressures pounding them every step of the way, this team refuses to die. They are finding their playoff hopes still alive, but much like the Panthers have to find a way to sustain the current push. Going 7 – 2 – 1 over the last 10, the Leafs are coming together at the right time. The question remains if they have enough left in the tank to keep it going. With both the Bruins and Sabres starting to fold under the pressure there is a backdoor open, only I’m not sure they will go through it.

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