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Red-hot Islanders, Penguins surging at right time, while Caps and Flyers falter


The final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference remain up for grabs with just 10 days remaining on the schedule to determine the postseason picture.

After sitting in playoff spots last week, the struggling Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers have been jumped in the standings and now must make up ground to secure their spots.

Winners of four straight games, the New York Islanders have moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division, while the Detroit Red Wings sit in the final wild-card spot despite a 2-2-1 record in their past five games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who traded star winger Jake Guentzel at the deadline with their playoff hopes in peril, have won four games to sit just one point back of the Red Wings for the wild-card spot and two points back of the Islanders for third in the Metropolitan. 

The Capitals sat in the final wild-card spot for most of last week with games in hand on field. However, the losses have continued to pile up for Washington amid a six-game winless streak, allowing the Red Wings to jump them on Sunday. 

“We just need to play better,” Capitals defenceman John Carlson said after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. “I don't think we're firing on all cylinders like we were there for a little bit. Too many turnovers, too many mistakes that we shouldn't be making and giving teams more life than they deserve or need.”

Washington is tied with Pittsburgh at 83 points with both teams having played 77 games. The Flyers, who also have 83 points with one more game played, are stuck in a seven-game winless skid that has seen them fall out of the playoff picture after a holding a spot the past several months. 

The latest blow to Philadelphia's playoff hopes came Saturday in a 6-2 blowout loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's a loss. It's an ugly one. We can't get discouraged,” Flyers head coach John Tortorella said afterwards. “No one is going to help us out of this, and being discouraged is not going to help it. We've just got to stay positive.”

The Flyers will face Washington in their final game of the season next Tuesday, but before that, the Capitals face a crucial meeting Tuesday with the Red Wings in a matchup which could sway the playoff race. With a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Sunday, Detroit moved back into the playoff picture, having fallen out last month.

“We would have taken this,” Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde told Sunday of his team owning their own destiny. “This would have been a dream scenario for us going into this season, and now we’re here. How are we going to handle it on Tuesday?”

“We’re slowly gobbling some points, keeping ourselves in the fight, and we’ve been getting some help around the league,” Lalonde added. “But it comes to a point (where) we’ve got to take care of ourselves. … I think it’s managing your emotions, staying in the fight, not getting too high, too low. And it’s not easy to do.”

Two wins over their next two games could go a long way for the Red Wings, who also have a visit to Pittsburgh on tap for Thursday. The Penguins open their week Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have already clinched their playoff spot. 

A 6-2-2 run over their past 10 games has vaulted the Penguins back into the playoff race after missing the postseason for the first time since Sidney Crosby's rookie season in 2005-06 last year. 

“I think what we have to do hasn’t changed for a while now," Crosby said after Saturday's 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have clinched. "So, our game has been pretty good, and we’ve just got to continue to go a game at a time here."

While the Red Wings can only reach the playoffs via the remaining wild-card spot, the Penguins are also chasing the Islanders for the third spot in their division. New York may be finding their form under Patrick Roy, who replaced head coach Lane Lambert after 45 games this season. The Islanders are 16-12-4 under Roy after starting the year 19-15-11 with Lambert behind the bench. 

The Islanders picked up a key two points Saturday in a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators thanks in no small part to a 40-save performance from goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

“He was outstanding. He looks so confident out there,” Roy said of his goaltender. “It looked like it was an easy game. I was happy to see him play that way. We needed it. It’s four games in six nights for us. Guys might have been a bit tired, and I think that's the reason why we had a few more turnovers than normal, but our goalie gave us the chance to win this game tonight. He won the game for us tonight.”

The Islanders face their in-city rival New York Rangers on Monday in the first of two games between the teams as the season winds down. Circled on the calendar for next Wednesday is a matchup with the Penguins in the final game of the season for both clubs.