Well, things just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting in the Eastern Conference playoff race following last night’s action, and hockey fans are in for a white knuckle ride over the final month of the NHL season.

The Montreal Canadiens, fresh off of doing absolutely nothing at the NHL trade deadline, lost their second game in a row to the lowly Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers, currently sitting 14th in the conference with a mere 54 points, stifled the Montreal attack, and held on for a 2-0 win over an increasingly desperate Habs team.

Meanwhile, while the Habs were blowing a golden opportunity those in the rearview mirror were taking advantage. The Carolina Hurricanes brought their A game and shocked visiting Calgary, snuffing out the Flames with a 6-1 drubbing. Up north the Buffalo Sabres were doing likewise to the young Phoenix Coyotes, piling on the offense while Patrick Lalime continued to impress with his strong play in net, stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced to help his team cruise to a 5-1 victory.

The Habs loss, coupled with the victories of Carolina and Buffalo make things very interesting heading into the final month of the NHL schedule. Montreal currently sits 5th with 75 points. However, they could tumble a long way in a hurry, as the 10th place Carolina Hurricanes only trail them by two points. 5 teams currently trail the Habs by two points or less, including the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins, and the New York Rangers, who have looked strong ever since John Tortorella took over the head coaching duties.

Yes, it is an exciting time to be a hockey fan, and this final month of the NHL regular season might produce hockey as, or even more, exciting than what we’ll see in the playoffs. NHL team owners, desperate for playoff gate revenue in this depressed economy will be cracking the whip like never before, and you can bet that GMs, coaches and players alike will all be feeling the heat. Grab some beer and some popcorn and prepare to put a dent in your favorite easy chair over the next 30 days or so. The show is just getting good.