The 2012-13 season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, a mere 15 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.
Teams that clinched Thursday night: Montreal
Teams that can clinch Friday night: In the Western Conference, the idle Anaheim Ducks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Nashville Predators defeat the Dallas Stars in any fashion or if the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Detroit Red Wings in any fashion. The Blackhawks can clinch the Central Division title if they defeat the Red Wings in any fashion and the Columbus Blue Jackets defeat the St. Louis Blues in any fashion, or if the Blackhawks earn a point against the Red Wings and the Blue Jackets defeat the Blues in regulation.
Playoff Positions to be claimed: 13
Days remaining in regular-season: 16
Total games remaining in regular season: 117
Ottawa at New Jersey: The Senators ended a five-game slide with a 3-1 road victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, keeping them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They travel to Newark to face the reeling New Jersey Devils, who've dropped their last eight games (0-4-4) and may have to run the table to have any hope of squeaking into a playoff spot.
St. Louis at Columbus: The St. Louis Blues are proving that the easiest way to win is to prevent the opponent from putting the puck in your net. The Blues did just that for the third consecutive game when they blanked the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Thursday. St. Louis has won six in a row, the last three despite scoring only four goals in road victories against the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and the Wild. The Columbus Blue Jackets, three points out of eighth place in the West, desperately need a victory to have any hopes of staying in the playoff race.
Dallas at Nashville: The Dallas Stars looked like they were throwing in the towel on this season when they dealt away three veterans before the NHL Trade Deadline. Instead, they've gotten back into the playoff race with three consecutive victories, including a 5-1 home win against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. Dallas begins the night three points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference. The Nashville Predators' playoff hopes are almost gone, largely due to a lack of offense -- their 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday marked the League-high eighth time the Predators have been shut out.
Detroit at Chicago: The Detroit Red Wings got one point on Thursday night, but they really needed two. The Red Wings lost 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks in a shootout at Joe Louis Arena, and face the task of playing the second half of a back-to-back against the NHL's best team. The Chicago Blackhawks are well-rested, having had a couple of days off after a 1-0 road victory against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, and could clinch the Central Division title.
Phoenix at Calgary: The return of goaltender Mike Smith after a six-game absence due to a lower-body injury has revitalized the Phoenix Coyotes, who complete a three-game swing though Western Canada with a stop at Scotiabank Saddledome. Phoenix got a 29-save effort by Smith on Wednesday night in a 3-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers. The Calgary Flames are 14th in the Western Conference and coming off a 4-1 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
Teams on the rise
New York Islanders: Beating teams below you in the standings is one thing; a road win against a team that entered the night on top of its division is something else. The New York Islanders continued their recent surge with an impressive 2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins, giving them an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. Josh Bailey scored twice and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 30 shots for New York, which is seventh in the East.
Montreal Canadiens: Twelve months after finishing last in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens are headed back to the playoffs -- and they may get there as a division champion. The Canadiens routed the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Thursday night, with five different players scoring goals and the defense allowing just 14 shots. The Canadiens are the third team to lock up a playoff berth, and they enter the weekend one point ahead of Boston in the race for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
St. Louis Blues: Six consecutive victories have the St. Louis Blues climbing fast in the Western Conference race. The Blues missed out on becoming the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive 1-0 games on the road -- but only because Andy McDonald added a third-period insurance goal for a 2-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild. Even better for the Blues: After Friday's road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, seven of their eight remaining games are at home.
Teams on the decline
Minnesota Wild: When center Matt Cullen was knocked out of the lineup with an injury on April 1, he took the Minnesota Wild's offense with him. The Wild have allowed just three goals in two games this week -- but are 0-2-0 after losing 1-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday and 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. The Wild have dropped to seventh in the Western Conference and have to be concerned about being passed by some of the teams outside the top eight.
Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in six years, it looks like there will be no postseason play in the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Flyers managed only one goal for the second time in three nights and lost 3-1 at home to the Ottawa Senators, who had dropped five in a row before Thursday. The Flyers are seven points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference and have just eight games remaining.
Detroit Red Wings: Maybe playing their next four games away from Joe Louis Arena is what the Detroit Red Wings need. Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks earned the Red Wings a point but left them with a 1-3-2 record in their past six home games. Detroit is eighth in the West with 44 points, two ahead of ninth-place Phoenix, but faces a tough task Friday when it begins a four-game trip against the Chicago Blackhawks.
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