NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers skates during the first period against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2012 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
There are just seven games left in the 2011-2012 NHL regular season. That means there are a total of 14 points on the table for the New York Rangers as they continue their quest for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It's the same story in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are just one point behind the Rangers with the same number of games played.
Simply put, it's going to be a race to the finish line.
The benefits of earning the conference's top seed are obvious: Home ice advantage up to the Stanley Cup finals and playing the conference's lowest seeded teams along the way.
But will the Rangers be able to hold off the Penguins' furious push to steal the No. 1 seed? Join me after the jump to find out.
Here is the Rangers' schedule to finish out the season: On the road against the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets, home against the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, away against the Flyers and the Penguins before finishing out the year at home against the Washington Capitals.
Of those teams: Two (the Jets and Capitals) are fighting for their playoff lives. Two (the Canadiens and Wild) have no shot at the playoffs. One (the Bruins) are fighting to win their division. And finally, two (the Flyers and Penguins) are fighting with the Rangers for seeding within the conference.
That's a hell of a finish to the year, despite the two matchups against the Canadiens and Wild. The game against the Penguins could, depending on how the next few games go, might just dictate who takes that coveted seed.
The focus for New York, however, should be on Tuesday's game against the Wild. The Rangers don't have much breathing room right now, and the two points on the table tomorrow simply have to be taken. If the Rangers believe they are the best team in the East (and there is no reason to assume they shouldn't feel that way) then they should have no problems beating the Wild. (UPDATE: I thought this game was tonight. I corrected the error, the Rangers play the Wild on Tuesday.)
The win, much like the race to the top of the conference, is much easier said than done though.