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NHL Playoff News: Penguins On Track To Face Tampa Bay Lightning In First Round

Here's a look at how the first round of the NHL Playoffs is likely to look for Eastern Conference teams.

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As leaders of their divisions, the Flyers, Capitals and Bruins hold the top three seeds, and it's likely those three teams will win their divisions and remain in the top three; the only question is what order they're going to go in. The Flyers' recent losses to Atlanta and New Jersey and their shootout loss to the New York Rangers haven't really helped them, and they have three games remaining against Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders. The Caps are tied with the Flyers with 103 points, and have one remaining matchup against Toronto and two against Florida. The Bruins look likely to claim the third seed, and have already clinched their division.

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The fourth and fifth seeds will almost certainly be claimed by the Penguins and Lightning, which means they'll play each other in the first round of the playoffs. The Pens have games remaining against the Devils, Islanders and Thrashers, and they're currently one point ahead of the Lightning, so they'll need to keep the pedal to the metal to maintain home-field advantage.

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Rounding out the Eastern Conference playoff field, for now, are the Canadiens, Sabres and Rangers, with the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs still having an outside shot (although Toronto's is very remote). The Hurricanes are two points behind the Rangers and have games remaining against Detroit, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

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On Monday, the only game with Eastern Conference playoff implications is between the Bruins and Rangers at 7:30. On Tuesday, several potential playoff teams play (Penguins vs. Devils, Lightning vs. Sabres, Capitals vs. Maple Leafs, Canadiens vs. Blackhawks, Flyers vs. Senators), and we should have a clearer picture of what the first round will look like.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.