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The Southeast this week: I'm back!

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Do I feel like playing this week?  Let's roll the dice. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Do I feel like playing this week? Let's roll the dice. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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After a two week absence from this article, one of those weeks being covered by Clark, I have returned.

The problem with that? The Tampa Bay Lightning pretty much took those two weeks off as well. The team now sits in last place in the division, just three points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for last place in the Eastern Conference, and has about a one-hundredth of a percent chance of making the playoffs. And that's being generous.

There are some benefits to the situation the Bolts currently find themselves in, though. Captain Vincent Lecavalier can be shutdown for the season if need be and come into camp next season in pristine shape. Younger guys that still have some development and exposure needs like Keith Aulie, Brian Lee, Brendan Mikkelson, and so on down the list can get lower-pressure ice time and make the important mistakes they need to make and learn from.

And then there's this whole draft business. Obviously, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been trying hard for some time now to earn the best chance in the lottery by finishing last in the NHL. And yep, no one is going to displace them for that. But, the remainder of the Lightning's schedule is not easy by any means and they could find themselves in a position to be in the draft lottery. And that's a big deal.

Big in that, obviously, the higher touted talent is going to be within the team's draft reach. Which, logically, if the Bolts do decide to trade some of the multitude of picks they have in order to acquire a goalie, those picks will go a lot further the closer they are to that top position.

It's been a season full of disappointment, but things could be much, much worse.

After the jump: Canes still in it; Jovo back home; Caps almost healthy; and the Jets give up a million goals. The week that was in the Southeast.

Carolina Hurricanes: Don't look now, but the Canes are pretty much unbeatable at the moment. Four straight wins, three of which were against pretty good teams. Given that they play Columbus tonight, there's a decent shot they'll get to five.

Marring that streak a bit is that Jeff Skinner got suspended two games for a nasty - and completely unnecessary kick on Scott Nichol of the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately, that's just a sample of a larger trend for Skinner lately. He's been in the box a lot.

In better news, Joni Pitkanen came back on Wednesday. He had the game winning goal, an assist, and played over 18 minutes in his return. Hard to believe he missed 44 games.

The Canes think they can still make the playoffs. Stranger things have happened. If they keep ripping off four game winning streaks, it could happen.

The Hurricanes are six points out and have to jump the Jets, Buffalo Sabres, and Caps.

Florida Panthers: Speaking of winning streaks, the Cats were on one of their own until the Canes ended it Wednesday. They had won five straight to create some distance between themselves and the Caps.

Here's some awesome news, Steven Stamkos from the Bolts, and the Panthers' Brian Campbell have become advocates for the 'You Can Play' movement. Nothing but applause.

As you can imagine, after a long winning streak, most of the players would be trending upward.

Ed Jovanovski has come full circle in his NHL career, and is enjoying this run to the playoffs with the team that drafted him.

Bill Lindsay makes a case for fighting in the NHL. Call me old-fashioned or ambivalent, but I agree with every argument.

Florida could use another five-gamer, as they are only two points behind the Boston Bruins for the second spot in the East, but also only four points ahead of the Caps for the division lead.

Washington Capitals: After a high-flying win over the Detroit Red Wings that had the Caps looking like a lock for the playoffs on Monday, they mustered only one goal in 65 minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers last night in a shootout loss, they're third loss in their last four games.

Good news Caps fans, it sounds like Alex Ovechkin has finally decided he wants to play hockey. He has been hot lately.

More good news, as Tomas Vokoun, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom all skated today. That helps.

Heading to the game Sunday against the Minnesota Wild? For $40 you can pick yourself up a nice souvenir.

Washington needs points in a hurry. They are only four points behind Florida for the division, but the Sabres are one point behind them, the Jets five, and the Canes six.

Winnipeg Jets: Not a great time for the Airplanes lately. They've given up 12 goals this week. In two games. Yikes.

It's no secret, as it's been mentioned in this section a few times before, that the Jets have some rowdy fans. But do they have an effect?

Does Andrew Ladd really take that many inopportune penalties? Probably.

Rather important gig tonight, eh? Hard to argue.

Winnipeg can close the gap to three points behind the Caps tonight with a regulation win. As you can figure out, that's all they need to worry about at the moment.

Important matchups this weekend: All of them! Unless you're the Lightning.