Projecting the East playoff picture

The recently reeling Rangers have now won two in a row and halted their backwards slide down the Eastern Conference standings. For now anyway.

With a little respite before they begin play out West against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, it provides a good opportunity to get an updated look at the playoff picture in the East.

One look at the standings and you’ll see the Rangers perched in seventh place with 74 points, two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, Sunday victors against the Minnesota Wild. The Carolina Hurricanes, with 71 points, lurk just outside the playoff picture. And the never-say-die Devils sit 11th, eight points out of the final postseason spot.

A few times this season we’ve discussed how 90 points looks like the cutoff for the final spot in the East. That still looks like it will be the case if teams continue to play to their points-per-game averages this season.

To get to 90 the Rangers need to pick up 16 points in their final 14 games. That means they’ll need to post a record of no worse than 8-6-0 from here out. Obviously the 90-point watermark is a moving target if both Buffalo and Carolina -- or Toronto for that matter -- goes on a tear and starts playing considerably above their season points percentage. If that happens then the bar gets raised. However, if teams hold true to their current season points-per-game rates then the 7-9 slots project as follows: 7. Buffalo Sabres - 90 points, 8. New York Rangers - 89 points, 9. Carolina Hurricanes – 88 points.

This should be a photo finish in the East and the Devils, shootout winners over the Isles Sunday will make it all the closer if they keep their current hot streak stoked. The Devils need to finish no worse than 13-4-0 to reach the 90 point plateau. That’s a pretty steep figure, but for a team that’s picked up points in 22 of its last 24 games, it’s certainly possible.

If the Devils continue to play at the same smoking hot rate since their 20-2-2 stretch started on Jan. 9, New Jersey would finish with 93 points and likely complete the single most unlikely playoff charge in modern NHL history.