The 2012-13 season is hurtling toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, just a mere 17 days away. Although the finish line clearly is in sight, the Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification picture is far less in focus. To help make sense of the many permutations that exist for the playoffs, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.
Wednesday, April 10
Teams that clinched Tuesday night: The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched the Atlantic Division.
Playoff Positions to be claimed: 14
Days remaining in regular-season: 18
Total games remaining in regular season: 131
Toronto at NY Rangers -- The Maple Leafs' quest for the franchise's first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in nine years will get a huge boost if Toronto can beat the Rangers and sweep the home-and-home set. With their closest pursuers, the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders, both idle, the Leafs can open a six-point gap on those teams. The Rangers, meanwhile, can leapfrog the Islanders for seventh place with a regulation victory. A loss, though, will leave them with the same number of points as the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets and vulnerable to slipping out of the top eight altogether between Wednesday and their next game, Saturday at the Islanders.
Boston at New Jersey -- The Washington Capitals did the Bruins a favor Tuesday by beating the Montreal Canadiens, and now Boston can jump ahead of the Habs for the Northeast Division lead and second place in the Eastern Conference with a victory. The reeling Devils, winless in their past seven games (0-3-4), desperately need a win to avoid slipping out of the playoff chase. A victory would move them back to ninth, while a loss and a Rangers victory would put them four points out of the final playoff spot with eight games remaining.
Vancouver at Calgary -- The Canucks have won three straight to surge to the top of the Northwest Division by four points on the Minnesota Wild, and now have a healthy Ryan Kesler back in the lineup. However, they start a five-game road trip Wednesday without forward Chris Higgins and defenseman Christopher Tanev, neither of whom is expected back before the postseason. At least for the Canucks, four of their five games on the trip are against teams outside the Western Conference's top eight.
Phoenix at Edmonton -- This one is almost an elimination game for two teams sitting on the fringes of the race for the final spots in the West. The Coyotes are three points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, while the Oilers are four points back. Phoenix has won three of its past four, but has won once in its past nine road games. Meanwhile, the Oilers had two goals in three games, all losses, to close a road trip. They open a three-game stretch at home Wednesday, where they've won three straight.
Colorado at Anaheim -- The Ducks will try to give their home fans something extra to cheer about in the finale of a five-game homestand. Just getting to overtime against the Avalanche will earn Anaheim a spot in the postseason after the Ducks missed the playoffs last season. The Ducks have beaten the Avs in both meetings this season.
Teams on the rise
Washington Capitals -- The Capitals have taken control of the Southeast Division by winning five straight games and taking points in seven in a row. Alex Ovechkin scored again in the win against the Canadiens on Tuesday, giving him six goals in three games and moving him into a tie with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the League lead. Now they've got three straight at Verizon Center, where they've won three of their past four, the next two against the bottom teams in the division, the Lightning and the Hurricanes.
Chicago Blackhawks -- With their playoff spot locked up and the Central Division title soon to follow, they're still pushing hard for a shot at the top spot in the League standings. Their 1-0 win Tuesday in Minnesota was their third straight, and they'll have two full days off before their next game, Friday at the Detroit Red Wings.
St. Louis Blues -- The St. Louis Blues excelled last season because of strong defensive play, and in their past five games they've gotten back to that focus, allowing just five goals. Goalie Brian Elliott looks to have rediscovered his form with back-to-back shutouts. The Blues also play seven of their final 10 games at home, where they've done well. However, the road also has been good to the Blues -- they're 13-7-1 away from Scottrade Center.
Teams on the decline
Philadelphia Flyers -- Just when the Flyers looked to be ready to make a run at a playoff spot, they turned in their second straight dismal performance, scoring first Tuesday at the Islanders and then allowing four straight goals. The backbreaker came with 1:37 left when a sliding Erik Gustafsson knocked the puck into his own net to give the Isles a 3-1 lead. The Flyers remain five points out of eighth place, the same as they were before their loss Tuesday, but now have just nine games left to make up the deficit.
Ottawa Senators -- The Sens saw their losing streak reach six Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to the Lightning. Ottawa won't slip in the standings, as they have the tie-breaker on the Rangers even if New York wins Wednesday, but things could change drastically when the Senators arrive in Philadelphia for a game Thursday, when the Islanders and ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, just two points behind the Senators, all will be in action.
Minnesota Wild -- The Wild's 1-0 loss to the Blackhawks on Tuesday was their fifth in the past six games, and their four-point deficit in the Northwest Division could grow to five or six depending on what the Canucks do Wednesday. The Wild also have to worry now about who's coming behind them -- they're just three points ahead of the eighth-place Red Wings, and five points ahead of the charging Dallas Stars, who have won three in a row to climb to ninth in the conference.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK