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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Playoff picture starting to solidify

The Carolina Hurricanes earned a clutch win to have a four-point cushion at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 104 Points (48-18-8)

The Carolina Hurricanes have been very up and down over the last few weeks, so it was great to see them get a win over the New York Rangers who have been challenging them for the Metro Division. The Canes had four players return to MSG for the first time since leaving the Rangers: Brendan Smith, Tony DeAngelo, Jesper Fast, and Derek Stepan. It’s nice to see all four get a win in their first homecoming.

While Jesperi Kotkaniemi has yet to return to the lineup, Rod Brind’Amour expects him to return to the lineup this week. Since his injury against the Washington Capitals on March 28, the Canes have a 4-3-1 record. While this has seen the Canes division lead erode to four points with no games in hand, the Canes have also been able to show their depth. In previous seasons, the Canes have struggled to fill in for NHL regulars. Now they have been able to rotate multiple centers in the fourth line including Derek Stepan, Jordan Martinook, and Max Domi.

The Canes are also seeing the offensive resurgence of their captain, Jordan Staal, at the perfect time. On Sunday Staal set the record for the longest time between scoring hat-tricks. The last time he had a hat-trick before Sunday…Seth Jarvis was just 6-years-old. Staal didn’t stop there, he had a goal last night, which means he has six goals in his last four games.

2. New York Rangers: 100 Points (47-21-6)

New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider scored his 50th goal of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes last night. Kreider is only the eighth player in Rangers history to surpass the half-century mark in a single season. Despite the individual achievements, the Rangers are now four points behind the Canes for the Metro lead at 100 points. Despite being four points behind the Canes, the Rangers are the second Metro team to secure a playoff position this season.

Four points with no games in hand could be a tough number to overcome with just a couple of weeks left in the season. The good news for the Rangers, they could avoid a strong Tampa Bay Lightning team or the Boston Bruins in the first round. Second place in the Metro likely means a first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals if things get weird. The Rangers have a 3-1-0 record against the Pens this season.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 95 Points (42-22-11)

Evgeni Malkin had a hearing for cross-checking Mark Borowiecki of the Nashville Predators which earned him a four-game suspension/. At the end of the second period, the Russian forward cross-checked Borowiecki in the face after the play was over. Malkin has only been suspended one other time in his almost 1,000 game career. The NHL came down against Toronto Maple Leafs forward, Auston Matthews, when he did the same against defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Player safety has been controversial this year but it has been great seeing them crackdown on unnecessary cross-checks to the head.

This comes at a time when the Pens are trying to compete with the Washington Capitals for a wild card position. Just a couple of weeks ago the Penguins were looking at the top of the division. With a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games, they are now just three points ahead of the Caps in the standings with the Caps holding two games in hand. Now without Malkin, the Pens have a 53% chance to play either the Florida Panthers or the Carolina Hurricanes.

4. Washington Capitals: 92 Points (41-22-10)

A three-game win streak against playoff competition. Come from behind game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. An empty-net goal by Alexander Ovechkin was the 775th goal of his career. Ovi lost no time yesterday in scoring his 776th goal. With just a couple of weeks left in the season, the Caps certainly seem like a team that you would want to avoid in the playoffs. They won last night’s game by a score of 9-2 and have a 13-4-1 record since the start of March.

Despite their strong play, they still have a 56% chance to play the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. They also have a 30% chance to play the New York Rangers and a 12% chance to play the Carolina Hurricanes according to The Athletic.

5. New York Islanders: 77 Points (34-29-9)

New York Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, attracted eyeballs from across the league on Saturday. When trying to call a timeout against the St. Louis Blues late in the third period, he threw a stick on the ice to try to get the attention of the officials who were not looking to acknowledge his request. The penalty sums up the Islander's season well. They have faced so many situations out of their control and have tried to overcome them, but will come up just short.

The Islanders are now playing the spoilers and certainly seem to be enjoying the role. Their win against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night kept them from securing a playoff berth. Of their 10 games remaining, nine come against teams that are in playoff position. This veteran team combined with the style of head coach Barry Trotz will maintain their record of a hard out. That combined with their veteran roster with little turnover means they will continue to be one of the toughest outs of the late season.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 74 Points (34-33-6)

Forward Jack Roslovic scored his second career hat trick against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Roslovic was one of the key pieces in the Pierre Luc-Duois trade with the Winnipeg Jets. Roslovic has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career but has struggled to bring consistency which has really hurt the Blue Jackets. His 15 goals and 36 assists are career bests for the Ohio native, but he has struggled to take the next step that Columbus hoped he would do to solidify as a top-two center.

The 25-year-old is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights. The Blue Jackets hoped he would have already taken the next step. While he is due a raise, the next contract could be a bridge deal that could help both player and team. The team can get a top-six forward at a reasonable rate, and if Rosolivic breaks out, he can renegotiate for a better salary in a couple of seasons.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 57 Points (23-39-11)

The Philadelphia Flyers have completely turned their focus to the future. The Flyers signed forward Bobby Brink to a three-year entry-level contract. Brink was the 34th overall pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft by the Flyers and just won an NCAA National Championship with the University of Denver. Brink was also a Hobey Baker finalist as the most outstanding player in the NCAA with 14 goals and 43 assists in 41 games played.

While the Flyers can’t be happy with a 9-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, they can be happy that Brink was able to earn his first NHL point in his first NHL game with an assist on a James van Riemsdyk goal. Brink was one of the best players in the NCAA this season and could very well be a mainstay in the Flyers lineup to come. His late addition to a struggling lineup reminds me of Justin Faulk with the Canes back in 2011. While they are different positions, the players both address a need the current team is trying to address. Brink could very well accelerate his development if he keeps up his production in the last month of the season.

8. New Jersey Devils: 56 Points (25-41-6)

Now that forward Jack Hughes is out for the season, the New Jersey Devils are in full tank mode. The only thing they can truly hope for now is a better draft pick in the upcoming draft. What makes the Devils so compelling, they had one of the best offseasons of any team in the NHL but have not had any real positive impacts in their on-ice game. Sure, Hughes has been injured for a good portion of the season, but the goaltending and depth of the team have let them down.

The next question for the Devils is if they are going to be happy with the direction that head coach Lindy Ruff has the team going. Normally, it’s an irrational move to fire a coach after one season, but with his inability to get anything going with a more skilled team than Jersey has had in seasons, it’s likely the right move. The other thing they will have to do is secure a better goaltender. They proved they could attract top-end talent last off-season, it will be interesting to see if they can do it again.