The Vancouver Canucks were the first team to reserve a spot in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, but a pair of Eastern Conference teams can join them Friday night. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals could clinch a spot in the playoffs with some help.
The Flyers are idle, but will lock up a playoff berth if the New Jersey Devils do not beat the Capitals in regulation (New Jersey claims less than two points) and if the Carolina Hurricanes lose to the New York Islanders in regulation (Carolina gets no points). The Capitals will book their postseason reservations for a fourth straight season with a victory against New Jersey and if the Hurricanes lose to the Islanders in regulation.
Because of the NHL's new tiebreaker rules, officially clinching playoff berths could be tricky -- espcially if those teams in the Western Conference are still so compactly congested in a couple of weeks. The first tiebreaker is now non-shootout wins, so it is possible we won't know who earns the nod in non-shootout wins between teams with a similar number of maximum points until the final game or games of the season.
Here's why Philadelphia and Washington can be safely in the playoffs after tonight's action:
* Philadelphia currently has 94 points and 41 non-shootout wins. If the Hurricanes lose in regulation to the Islanders, they can max out at 94 points and 38 non-shootout wins. If the Devils defeat the Capitals in a shootout, their maximum becomes 94 points and 41 non-shooutout wins. In that scenario the Flyers would earn the spot because they have clinched the next tiebreaker (Philadelphia has seven points against New Jersey to the Devils' four with one game to play in the season series).
* Washington would have 94 points and either 38 or 39 non-shootout wins with a victory. Again, Carolina's maximum after a regulation loss to the Islanders would be 94 points and 38 non-shootout wins. Like Philadelphia with New Jersey, the Capitals have already secured the second tiebreaker (points earned in the season series) by beating Carolina in all five meetings to this point this season, so they clinch a spot either way.