The Road To The Playoffs

 
There are only three games left in the regular season and the playoff picture is anything but certain.
The top five teams are all in, but the order that they'll finish is unknown.  There's a four point difference between first and fifth.
The bottom of the conference is anyone's guess as well, as the Leafs and Hurricanes are still lurking near the top eight and only two points separate sixth and eighth.
 
So where will the Pens finish?
 
The Pens' remaining schedule:
 
One home game and zero games against teams currently in the playoffs.
The Penguins are 3-2 this season against the Devils, 3-2 against the Islanders and 3-0 against the Thrashers.
 
Tampa's schedule:
 
The Lightning are 2-1 against the Sabres this season, 1-4 against Florida and 3-2 against Carolina.
The Panthers have given the Lightning trouble this season.
 
Looking ahead, the Flyers' schedule:
 
Philadelphia is 2-1 against Ottawa, 2-1 against Buffalo and 5-0 against the Islanders.
 
The Capitals' schedule:
 
The Caps lead the season series with the Leafs 2-1 and their series with the Panthers is tied 2-2.
 
And, to round out the top five, Boston's remaining games:
 
The Bruins are 2-1 against the Islanders, 5-1 against the Senators and 3-0 against New Jersey.
 
 
Pittsburgh's record against remaining teams: 9-4
Tampa Bay's record against remaining teams: 6-7
Philadelphia's record against remaining teams: 9-2
Washington's record against remaining teams: 4-3
Boston's record against remaining teams: 10-2
 
 
None of the top five teams have a very demanding schedule to close the season.  Out of all the teams they'll play, only the Sabres are currently in the playoffs while the Leafs and Hurricanes are on the bubble.  
 
Philly and Boston have the best records against their future opponents, while Washington's sample size is quite small.  The Penguins have fared pretty well against the teams in their near future as well, while Tampa Bay is the only team with a losing record against the next three teams they will face.
 
This should bode well for the Penguins as they'll strive to finish ahead of the Lightning and earn home ice advantage in the first round.  A fourth place finish looks likely here, but slipping to fifth is entirely possible.  However, depending on how Philadelphia, Washington and Boston fare, the Atlantic and Southeast Division titles could be up for grabs.  It's not expected, but the Pens and Lightning could end up in the top three with some luck.  
 
While Tampa Bay is Pittsburgh's likely first round opponent, if the Pens somehow take the Atlantic lead they could end up facing Montreal, Buffalo or the Rangers instead.  Even Carolina and Toronto remain possibilities in that scenario.  If the Lightning manage to beat out the Capitals for the Southeast title and the Flyers win the Atlantic, the Pens would face the Caps in round one either with or without home-ice advantage.
 
Another note is that the Pens have fewer regulation/overtime wins than any other team in the top five, which puts them at a disadvantage.
 
It's going to be an exciting end to the season.  The next three games are crucial for all of these teams.
 
Go Pens.

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