The race for the Metropolitan Division's three automatic playoff berths feasibly involves seven of the group's eight clubs with the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots also up for grabs.
The schedule isn't doing any favors for the New York Islanders or New Jersey Devils, though.
New Jersey begins a stretch of facing the top three Metropolitan teams when the Islanders visit Friday night looking to start their seven-game trip by avoiding a third defeat in four tries.
The Devils (29-22-7) sit in fifth place in the division and one point back of the last wild-card position after having their three-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday's 6-3 loss to Philadelphia. They went 1 for 7 on the power play after converting 12 of 28 chances over their previous 10.
New Jersey, though, can tie the Islanders (30-19-7) for third in the division with a regulation victory before it visits NHL-leading Washington on Saturday and hosts the second-place New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Coach John Hynes said the Devils will play at least the next two games without forward Mike Cammalleri because of an upper-body injury that has kept him out the last eight. Stephen Gionta played only 11 seconds against the Flyers before leaving with an upper-body issue, and he's questionable against the Islanders.
“Every game right now kind of has those implications on it,” Hynes said. “Because we're in a playoff race, they're very competitive games and that's good for our group. We need to continue to get better because we're going to be in that situation.”
New Jersey won the first meeting in a shootout Oct. 31 to snap a six-game losing streak against the Islanders, but New York has won the last two. Former Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky scored twice and John Tavares added a goal in a 4-0 victory in the last matchup Dec. 13.
Devils center Adam Henrique, whose 19 goals are second on the club to Kyle Palmieri's 21, has one assist in his last five against the Islanders.
“There's a little extra on the line every single night,” said Henrique, who doesn't have a point in the last two after having three goals and two assists during a four-game point streak. “It's a challenge we have to embrace and look forward to as a team and it's certainly a big matchup (Friday).”
The Islanders have two games in hand on the Devils and picked up a point Thursday when they fell 3-2 to the visiting Capitals in overtime. Tavares scored in the first period to give him seven goals and nine assists over his last 11, and Frans Nielsen's goal with 1:44 left in regulation tied it.
“In the six years I've been here, I've never seen the standings this tight,” said defenseman Travis Hamonic, who assisted on Nielsen's goal. “It shows how important these points really are. We clawed to get one, but it would have been nice to get both.”
New York has been outscored 27-15 while going 2-5-0 on the road in 2016, though, and will play 12 of its next 14 away from home. It won't have back-to-back home games until March 21 and 23.
Jaroslav Halak could be in net for this one after Thomas Greiss stopped 32 shots Thursday. Halak has a 4.26 goals-against average while dropping four of his last five starts, but he's 5-0-1 with a 1.29 GAA in his last six against the Devils.
Cory Schneider has a 1.98 GAA in seven career starts against the Islanders and will be in net again. He allowed five goals against Philadelphia after posting a 1.56 GAA over his previous seven.