The Boston Bruins are back in the chase after huge weekend wins over Montreal and New Jersey. "We're battling back," star Boston centre Marc Savard said Monday. "We've put ourselves in a good position now," he added in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We've got a lot of games in hand on the teams that are ahead of us.
"That's exciting, too. Carolina has 14 games left and we have 17. So it's in our hands."
The Bruins are four points back of the eighth and final playoff spot held by Carolina, with Montreal, Toronto, the New York Rangers and even Florida also in the mix.
"It is going to be interesting," Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward told CP. "There's a lot of teams involved in the race, but the main thing for us is to just focus on ourselves and what we need to do as a team and not get caught up in what other teams are doing."
Here's a closer look at the battle for eighth in the East (the Rangers played Monday night):
8. Carolina Hurricanes, 73 points, 14 games remaining. They next play Friday at Washington and Sunday at New York against the Rangers.
Sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup last June 19 seems like a distant memory now as the Hurricanes struggle to even make the post-season this year.
"Everybody has turned the page from last year, that's all in the past now," said Ward. "But we got a taste of doing it once and we'd like to do it all over again.
"We know that it's very important that we make the playoffs, and what it means to the organization and to our fans. We're doing the best that we can to make that happen."
Should Carolina not make it, and with Edmonton almost certainly out in the West, the Hurricanes and Oilers would be the first finalists in NHL history to both miss the playoffs the next season. It's not the kind of history the Hurricanes are looking to make.
"No, it's not," said Ward. "And I don't think anybody is going to be thinking like that right now.
"We're just dealing with the next game and we'll deal with whatever happens in the end."
9. Montreal Canadiens, 72 points, 14 games remaining. The Habs play Thursday at Atlanta and Saturday at St. Louis.
The Canadiens have lost three straight since their emotional win over Toronto last Monday night.
"Are we concerned? Of course," Canadiens defenceman Mathieu Dandenault said Monday in Montreal. "We have the team to make it, but we've got to get back on the winning track and when we get a chance to keep a team down, we've got to do it.
"We're still right there. We still have an opportunity. As a hockey club, that's what you want."
10. Toronto Maple Leafs, 71 points, 16 games remaining. The Leafs host Washington on Tuesday before playing a home-and-home with Ottawa on Thursday and Saturday.
"We looked at this from Day 1 of training camp - that it would be a dogfight all the way," Leafs winger Darcy Tucker said after his team's outdoor practice in Toronto on Monday.
"I look at this as an opportunity and a fun time of the year."
Captain Mats Sundin said it would only get harder.
"We have to make sure we stay right there," he said. "We have to stay close so we still have a chance going into our last games of the schedule."
11. Boston Bruins, 69 points, 17 games remaining. The Bruins host Colorado on Tuesday, Minnesota on Thursday, play at Philadelphia on Saturday and at Detroit on Sunday.
The Bruins got a key 3-1 win at home over Montreal on Saturday and followed it up with a 4-1 win at New Jersey on Sunday.
"The game against Montreal the other night, the building was full, it was an electric atmosphere," Bruins head coach Dave Lewis said Monday. "Talking to some of the past players that were around, they said, 'This is what it used to be like.'
"There's quite a group of our players that had never been a big game in that environment. I said to the other coaches before the game, 'We're going to learn a lot about some of our players in this game.' So we're learning about our team right now."
12. New York Rangers, 69 points, after Monday's game against the Islanders down to 16 games left. The Rangers play the Islanders again Thursday on Long Island, then Saturday at Pittsburgh and Sunday at home to Carolina.
The Rangers were 2-0-1 in their last three games before Monday.
"I think we do have a certain level of confidence now," Rangers coach Tom Renney told New York reporters during the weekend.
13. Florida Panthers, 67 points, 16 games remaining. They play Tuesday at Atlanta, Thursday at Philadelphia, Saturday at home to Atlanta.
The Panthers didn't give up even though they were sellers at the trade deadline. A four-game win streak has them believing. They're also 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.
"We just gotta keep climbing," captain Olli Jokinen told the Palm Beach Post after practice Monday. "We're still not in the playoff picture.
"Probably nobody even knows we're six points out with two games in hand because there's so many teams between us, but sooner or later they'll find out.
"We don't worry about anybody else, we worry about how we play, that we're gaining ground and getting points. We've got 16 games left and 32 points are still available. I'm pretty confident we can do it."
with files from CP sportswriters Bill Beacon in Montreal and Neil Stevens in Toronto