It’s not often that fans of the New York Islanders or New York Rangers openly root for the Washington Capitals, but playoff races have a funny way of changing the status quo.
The Capitals host the Winnipeg Jets tonight at Verizon Center and can clinch their fifth Southeast Division title in six years with a regulation or overtime win.
Both the Islanders and Rangers can also punch their tickets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as early as tonight, but both teams require assistance from the Capitals.
The Islanders visit the Carolina Hurricanes tonight and can clinch their first playoff berth in six years with a win in Raleigh, NC, plus a Jets’ loss in Washington.
Similarly, the Rangers visit the Florida Panthers tonight and can clinch a playoff berth of their own with a win in Sunrise, FLA, plus a Jets’ regulation loss in Washington.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK:
The Islanders have been among the NHL’s hottest teams down the stretch with an 11-1-2 record in their last 14 games while the Rangers have inched closer to the playoffs thanks to an 8-2-1 mark in April.
Since the 1994-95 campaign, the Islanders and Rangers have qualified for the post-season in the same year only once (2006-07) and the Islanders last won a playoff series in 1993- the longest active drought in the NHL.
The Islanders are in the middle of a season-ending five-game road trip which has already seen them earn wins in Toronto and Winnipeg. New York ends its season with road contests against three teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention in Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo.
The Rangers also have three games remaining against teams that are playing out the string. After tonight’s game in Florida, the Rangers visit Carolina Thursday and host the New Jersey Devils Saturday.
LAST PLACE PANTHERS:
With a loss tonight against the Rangers, the Panthers will ‘clinch’ last place in the NHL’s overall standings.
The defending Southeast Division champions battled injuries all season- top-six forwards Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg were limited to just 27 games between them, goalie Jose Theodore has been out since March 2 with a groin injury and defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver all missed extended time with various ailments.
The consolation prize for finishing in last place is a 25 percent chance at landing the No.1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. The NHL Draft Lottery takes place next Monday, April 29.
Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has been among the few bright spots for the Panthers this season. Huberdeau leads all NHL rookies this season with 14 goals and 28 points in 45 games.