The 2012-13 season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, a mere 16 days away. Although the finish line is clearly in sight, the Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification picture is far less clear. To help make sense of the numerous 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.
Thursday, April 11
Teams that clinched Wednesday night: None
Teams that can clinch Thursday night: In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins will clinch a playoff berth if they earn at least a point from their game against the New York Islanders, or if the Florida Panthers defeat the Winnipeg Jets in any fashion. The Montreal Canadiens will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Buffalo Sabres in any fashion, or if they earn one point and the Panthers defeat the Jets in any fashion. In the Western Conference, the idle Anaheim Ducks will clinch a playoff if the San Jose Sharks defeat the Detroit Red Wings in regulation.
Playoff Positions to be claimed: 14
Days remaining in regular-season: 17
Total games remaining in regular season: 126
New York Islanders at Boston -- The Boston Bruins will take the ice at TD Garden in first place in the Northeast Division after beating the New Jersey Devils 5-4 on Wednesday. The New York Islanders are 7-1-1 in their past nine games, but have lost twice to the Bruins this season. Tuukka Rask figures to be back in goal for Boston after Anton Khudobin played against the Devils; one player who might be out of Boston's lineup is leading scorer Brad Marchand, who didn't return after taking an elbow to the head in the second period.
Ottawa at Philadelphia -- Five straight losses have turned the Ottawa Senators from playoff locks to a team scrambling to hold onto a top-eight spot -- they are sixth in the Eastern Conference but lead the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets by two points. Ottawa has lost the first three games of a seven-game trip, but they'll be facing a Philadelphia Flyers team that saw its playoff hopes take a huge hit Tuesday night after a 4-1 loss to the Islanders.
Montreal at Buffalo -- The Montreal Canadiens' 3-2 home loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday gave the Bruins the chance to move ahead of them into first place in the Northeast Division by winning Wednesday night, which they did. They need to rebound against a Buffalo Sabres team that's scrambling to stay in the playoff race, but has won the last three of this season's four meetings with Montreal.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have already locked up the Atlantic Division title, but they're still chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- which would assure them of the home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning beat Ottawa 3-2 on Tuesday night, but are still eight points out of a playoff berth.
Carolina at Washington -- A month ago, the Carolina Hurricanes were solidly in first place in the Southeast Division after beating the Washington Capitals 4-0 in the front end of a home-and-home. But the Capitals won the back end and have risen to the top of the division, while the Hurricanes are all but out of the playoff race after a 1-12-1 slide that includes six losses in as many games this month.
Florida at Winnipeg -- The Winnipeg Jets have only seven games remaining, fewer than any of the playoff hopefuls in the Eastern Conference -- so they can't afford to lose at home to the last-place Florida Panthers. But Florida is coming off a 2-1 victory against Ottawa and is 6-4-0 in its past 10 games, so the Jets can't take them lightly.
San Jose at Detroit -- The Detroit Red Wings are in the unaccustomed circumstance of actually having to sweat out making the playoffs. The Red Wings are eighth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes and two in front of the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets. The San Jose Sharks are fifth in the West, but they are coming off a 4-0 loss at Columbus and are not nearly as good on the road as they are in San Jose.
St. Louis at Minnesota -- Don't expect a lot of offense at Xcel Energy Center. Both the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild are coming off 1-0 games on Tuesday -- the Wild lost at home to the Chicago Blackhawks, while the Blues beat the Nashville Predators. The Blues have won five in a row and are starting to look like the team that won the Central Division last season. The Wild's offensive struggles have dropped them to seventh in the Western Conference.
Colorado at Los Angeles -- On paper, a matchup between the defending Stanley Cup champs and the last-place team in the overall standings should be a mismatch. But the Colorado Avalanche have split two games against the Los Angeles Kings this season, have won six of the past seven meetings, and are coming off a 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The Kings are 0-1-1 in their past two games.
Teams on the rise
Boston Bruins -- The Bruins have spent much of the season chasing the Canadiens for the top spot in the Northeast Division -- and they've finally caught the Habs. Boston's 5-4 win at New Jersey on Wednesday gives the Bruins 56 points, one more than Montreal, with both teams in action on Thursday. The Bruins have moved into the top spot by winning four of their five games this month.
Phoenix Coyotes -- Thanks to the heroics of goaltender Mike Smith, the Phoenix Coyotes won't go away. Smith made 29 saves Wednesday night as the Coyotes won a big game on the road, beating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1. The victory moved Phoenix into ninth place in the West, one point behind eighth-place Detroit. It was just the fifth road win of the season for the Coyotes, who are two games into a stretch that will see them play six of seven away from Arizona.
New York Rangers -- They had to go to a shootout, but the Rangers helped themselves immensely by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal in the tiebreaker and Henrik Lundqvist stopped all three Toronto shooters. The Rangers improved to 44 points, moving them two ahead of the ninth-place Jets and even with the sixth-place Senators and seventh-place Islanders.
Teams on the decline
New Jersey Devils -- New Jersey limited the Bruins to 18 shots Wednesday night, but five of those shots beat Martin Brodeur in a 5-4 Boston victory that put another nail in the Devils' playoff hopes. The Devils spent the night playing catch-up after falling behind 3-0 in the first 8:12. They climbed within 4-3 before allowing Tyler Seguin's third-period goal, then made it close again when Matt D'Agostini scored in the final minute. But they still went home empty-handed, leaving them four points behind the eighth-place Rangers and winless in their past eight games (0-4-4).
Edmonton Oilers -- Any hopes the Edmonton Oilers may have had of ending a playoff drought that stretches to 2006 may have ended with a 3-1 home loss to the Coyotes. The Oilers managed only 15 shots through two periods, then matched that total in the third but managed to get only one of them past Mike Smith. Devan Dubnyk allowed one goal that was scored from the left corner near the goal line and another that followed his own giveaway -- not the kind of mistakes the Oilers can afford.
Anaheim Ducks -- There was a playoff spot available for the clinching on Wednesday night, but the Anaheim Ducks couldn't grab it. A 4-1 loss to last-place Colorado left the Ducks one point short of becoming the third team to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks were playing their 26th game in 46 days, and they looked like a tired team. Anaheim also lost defenseman Cam Fowler with an upper-body injury during the loss.
Contact John Kreiser at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @jkreiser77nhl
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