It's never too early to take a look at the NHL playoff picture ... so long as it's being done sometime in February.
For our local teams, only the Rangers have a realistic shot at the playoffs. With the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders still warming the basement of the eastern conference, it's unlikely that either team can dig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in during the first half of the season.
For the Rangers, it's a different story. The playoff picture looks like this:
1. Philadelphia- 52 games played, 72 points
2. Tampa Bay- 53 games played, 69 points
3. Boston Bruins- 52 games played, 67 points
4. Pittsburgh- 53 games played, 72 points
5. Washington- 53 games played, 66 points
6. Montreal- 52 games played, 63 points
7. New York- 54 games played, 62 points
8. Atlanta- 54 games played, 57 points
9. Carolina- 52 games played, 56 points
The 10th and 11th spots are held by Florida and Buffalo who have 52 and 51 points respectfully. For this week's picture we can keep them out of contention. Neither of them are down and out for the count, but they are both on life support for sure.
The main bullet point here? All the teams surrounding the Rangers have at least one game in hand.
Now that will change soon enough, but for the playoff picture it makes an immense difference. If the Rangers hope to gain any ground on Washington and Montreal they need to do two things. They need to win as much as possible (obviously) and they need to beat teams like Montreal, Washington and Pittsburgh when they play each other (obiously).
Easier said than done.
Still, the Rangers are six points clear of the dividing line, and are only three points away from taking over fifth. All they have to do is keep winning (obviously).