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Atlantic Division Watch (February 9)

Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils

XXX XXXXX #00 of the Carolina Hurricanes is checked by XXXX XXXX #00 of the New Jersey Devils during the first period of an NHL hockey game at the Prudential Center on February 8, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.

Paul Bereswill

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (February 9-15)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (35-13-5 for 75 pts; 53 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Carolina (Thursday), home vs. Los Angeles (Saturday), @ Tampa Bay (Tuesday).

Thoughts: The Flyers have a three point lead on the Penguins and two games in hand. Is it too early to wonder if they have the Atlantic in the bag already?

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-17-4 for 72 pts; 55 GP)

Current streak: Two straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. Los Angeles (Thurs), @ Islanders (Fri), @ Rangers (Sun).

Thoughts: Sure, it’s only two losses, but the Penguins looked pretty punch-less in their defeats to the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets. This week might determine when/if Ray Shero needs to make a move.

3. New York Rangers (29-23-4 for 62 pts; 56 GP)

Current streak: Five losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Fri), home vs. Pittsburgh (Sun)

Thoughts: For a while it seemed like the Rangers were in a comfortable middle-of-the-playoff-pack position, but now they’re all the way down to seventh place. They need to get their acts together to avoid falling into a race for the last two playoff spots with the Thrashers and Hurricanes.

4. New Jersey Devils (20-30-4 for 44 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Toronto (Thurs), home vs. San Jose (Fri)

Thoughts: Could the Devils actually fight for a playoff spot? They’ll need to maintain their 2011 pace for the rest of the season to even have a prayer of doing so.

5. New York Islanders (17-29-7 for 41 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Montreal (Thurs), home vs. Pittsburgh (Fri), @ Buffalo (Sun), @ Ottawa (Tues).

Thoughts: Well, at least they should be able to get a lottery pick.