There are four teams in serious contention for the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots.
But only the Pittsburgh Penguins truly control their own fate
The Penguins continue their push to the playoffs Tuesday night when they visit the New Jersey Devils in a pivotal clash of longtime Metropolitan Division rivals
Both teams were off Monday after playing Sunday. The Penguins climbed into a wild-card spot by beating the visiting Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, and the Devils' hopes of winning the division took a hit with a 6-1 loss to the host Winnipeg Jets
The win continued an inconsistent stretch for the Penguins (38-29-10, 86 points), who have alternated wins with losses in their last seven games. But it also ensured Pittsburgh -- which moved past idle Florida -- is the only team in the wild-card race that can reach the playoffs by winning the rest of its games
The Penguins, who are one point behind the wild card-leading New York Islanders and one point ahead of the Panthers, have five games left and can finish with a maximum of 96 points
The Islanders, who have just four games remaining, and Panthers (five games) can each max out at 95 points, as can the 10th-place Buffalo Sabres, who have seven games left, the most of any team in the East.
"It's human nature to watch the scoreboard," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Sunday. "We're all well aware of who's winning and who's losing and where we stand. I just think that's human nature. But the most important thing is when we come to the rink to play that we don't get distracted by that stuff.
The Penguins have made the playoffs in 16 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the four major North American pro sports
"We still have control of our own destiny here," Sullivan said. "We've got to make sure we maximize every opportunity."
The Devils (48-21-8, 104 points), who are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, already needed a little help in their quest to win the Metropolitan even before Sunday
But while second place New Jersey suffered its most lopsided loss of the season, the first place Carolina Hurricanes extended their lead to three points by virtue of a 2-1 win over the Islanders.
"I'm not going to stand here and make excuses," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. "(The Jets) were faster, they were better in all areas of the ice. They were just a better team. They won the foot races. They played better than we did.
The Hurricanes have one game in hand on the Devils and finish the season with six games against teams that enter Tuesday outside of the playoff picture. New Jersey has two games left against teams occupying a playoff spot, including Saturday's game at the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins
The defeat Sunday snapped a two-game winning streak for the Devils, who hadn't lost by five goals or more since an 8-1 loss to the Bruins on March 31, 2022
"Forget that game," said Devils center Nico Hischier, who scored with 14 seconds left in the third to spoil the shutout bid by Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. "Look forward to the next one.
--Field Level Media