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Eastern Wild Card Race: Breaking down the schedule

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The Leafs are in pole position, the Bruins are vulnerable, and the Isles and Lightning hope for help.

Upper Deck NHL Rookie Debut
Awwww, look how young they were. (2009.)
Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Ahead of the New York Islanders’ final meeting with their cross-town rivals Wednesday night, four teams are primarily in the hunt for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers in the Metropolitan Division hold the first wild card spot, but their position is virtually unthreatened.

It’s the Islanders and the Atlantic Division’s Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning who are fighting each other for (in the latter three’s case) the Atlantic’s third playoff spot as well as the second wild card spot.

Standings Thus Far

Entering Wednesday’s action, here’s where they stand:

  • Bruins: 82 pts., 9 games remaining
  • Leafs: 81 pts., 11 games remaining
  • Isles: 78 pts., 11 games remaining
  • Lightning: 77 pts., 10 games remaining

Schedule Outlook

Here’s how each team’s remaining schedule looks (if you’re viewing this on Apple or AMP, the table may not appear. Check it here or visit the schedules at nhl.com):

Eastern Conference Wild Card Race

Date Bruins Leafs Isles Bolts
Date Bruins Leafs Isles Bolts
3/22 none @ CBJ @ NYR none
3/23 vs TB vs NJ none @ Bos
3/24 none none @ Pit @ Det
3/25 @ NYI @ Buf vs Bos none
3/26 none none none none
3/27 none none vs Nas vs Chi
3/28 vs Nas vs Fla none none
3/29 none none none none
3/30 vs Dal @ Nas @ Phi vs Det
3/31 none none vs NJ none
4/1 vs Fla @ Det none vs Mon
4/2 @ Chi none @ Buf vs Dal
4/3 none @ Buf none none
4/4 vs TB vs Was @Nas @ Bos
4/5 none none none none
4/6 vs Ott vs TB @ Car @ Tor
4/7 none none none @ Mon
4/8 vs Was vs Pit @ NJ none
4/9 none vs CBJ vs Ott vs Buf
Eastern Conference Wild Card Race Lighthouse Hockey

What Do We See?

Destiny Control: The Islanders only have one game against any of these teams, the Bruins on Saturday. The Bruins have two games (both against the Lightning) and the Lightning have three (the two against the Bruins, plus one in Toronto on April 6).

On one hand, not a lot of chances for the Isles to directly affect their “destiny.” (We’ll leave comments about Ryan Pulock and goaltending in Bridgeport out of that.) On the other hand, if those teams can wound each other in regulation...that theoretically helps.

Highlight Nights: All four teams are in action on April 4 and April 6. A lot of if/then scenarios are bound to be in play on some action-packed nights the first week of April.

Road Testing: The Isles, as you might expect, have the road-heaviest schedule of these four teams with seven of their remaining 11 games away from Barclays Center. Their farthest trips are to Nashville on April 4 and Raleigh on April 6, part of a four-game trip that begins in Buffalo and concludes at “home” in Newark.

Back-to-Backs: The Leafs, Isles and Lightning each have three sets of back-to-backs left. Boston has only one, at home to Florida on April 1 before traveling to Chicago for a game the next night.

Tough Metro: The Leafs have two games against the Blue Jackets, plus one each against the Capitals and Penguins — including a season-ending back-to-back home set against the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

The Isles have this week’s game against the Rangers and Penguins (plus a late one against the Hurricanes, who always give them fits).

The Lightning have no games left against the Metro.

The Bruins finish their season on April 8 at home against the Capitals.

It’s possible the top of the division and seeds will be determined by then, with top teams resting players. It’s also possible everything is still up in the air as these four wild card contestants combine for six games on the final two days of the season.

But you know, bottom line is win your games.

Alas, it’s four teams chasing two spots...except the Isles can only access one of those spots. (Guess that’s why they call it the “wild” card.) But if the Isles attain enough points to match whoever holds that third Atlantic spot, they’ll have enough to give the Metro a sweep the wild card spots.