Throw out the 8-1-2 run the New York Islanders are on, acknowledge that their play has been legitimately better lately, and you're left with one goal, and a path to get there: Six more games to carve out their first playoff spot since 2007, and perhaps something more workable than the eighth seed.
They have a couple of games left against teams who also have legitimate playoff shots, and the rest will be a test of how they can handle teams in a late-season spoiler role.
Here's what's ahead:
With the standard caveat of "any given Sunday" and all that ... there are not a lot of impressive numbers on that table. The Flyers special teams stand out, the Leafs offense stands out ... and that's about it.
For comparison, the Islanders are recording 2.76 GF per game, 2.88 GA, 30.7 shots, 28.4 shots against, and the eighth-ranked powerplay and 16th-ranked penalty kill.
To give you an idea of who the other teams on the playoff bubble are facing, here's an updated schedule matrix -- which now includes Buffalo, but only because they're technically in 10th place on points right now. They're still essentially done:
It has looked for a while like 54, and perhaps even 52 points would get a team in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. With the downward spiral in Newark and the general Milburian quality of the Southeast, it may take even less.
Right now, 53 looks like a pretty safe bet, which would mean the Isles would need six points from their final six games. But of course they should shoot for more (and they might need less).
They can do this. One game at a time, etc., but banking two points against Florida in the final home game Tuesday would create breathing room, and taking that Saturday night visit to Winnipeg would be huge.
Don't know if success would mean John Tavares is a Hart Trophy winner, but he's definitely in the conversation.
Still, while individual hardware is nice ... we want playoffs:
They're due. You're due. Enjoy the ride.