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But since the Capitals haven’t been as good as prognosticators expected, there is plenty time for the other Southeast teams to make a run.

Even though the Hurricanes are long shots to make the playoffs, a hot second half isn’t out of the question.

“Combining it all and working together, we’re having a lot of fun and we work hard,” coach Kirk Muller said recently. “I knew before I took the job it would be a lot of work. But the guys, I love their enthusiasm. I love the way they’re trying. I see a lot of good signs that I think will keep us going in the right direction.”

Not far up in the standings, the Lightning think they’re going in the right direction, too. And last year’s four-game sweep of the Caps en route to Game 7 of the conference finals serves as inspiration.

“We have a big mountain to climb to climb into the playoff spot,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “… It’s a big challenge, but those are the challenges that you rise within, and that’s what this team is all about.”