The 2012-13 NHL season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Sunday, April 28. Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are clearly in sight, the qualification picture is far less clear. To help make sense of the numerous permutations that exist, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.
Teams that clinched Friday: None.
Teams that can clinch Saturday: The Pittsburgh Penguins have already clinched a playoff berth and the Atlantic Division title. Saturday afternoon, Pittsburgh can clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference by taking one point from the game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs can clinch a playoff berth if they defeat Ottawa in regulation or overtime and the New York Islanders defeat Winnipeg in any fashion. The Maple Leafs can also clinch if they defeat Ottawa in a shootout and the Islanders defeat the Jets in regulation.
In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks can clinch a playoff berth if they take at least one point from their game against the Detroit Red Wings. The Los Angeles Kings, who are idle, will clinch a playoff berth if Vancouver beats Detroit in any fashion.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 11 Teams in contention: 17
Days remaining in regular-season: 9
Total games remaining in regular season: 64
Pittsburgh at Boston: This game was moved back from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to the hunt for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to TD Garden with the chance to lock up first place in the Eastern Conference with a victory. The Penguins have won five in a row and 20 of 22 since the start of March. The Bruins start a season-closing stretch of five games in nine days needing a victory as they battle the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division -- they start the day two points back but with two games in hand.
New York Islanders at Winnipeg: Two of the NHL's hottest teams get together at MTS Centre in a game that could determine one of the final Stanley Cup Playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders improved to 10-1-2 in their past 13 games with a 5-3 road victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. That kept the Islanders in seventh place, three points in front of the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who won their fifth in a row by topping the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime. The Jets are two points behind the New York Rangers for eighth place in the East -- but they're also just two in back of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division.
Washington at Montreal: The Washington Capitals finish the road portion of their schedule with a stop at Bell Centre for a battle between teams trying to hang onto first place in their divisions. The Capitals' 3-1 road loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night cut their Southeast Division lead on the Winnipeg Jets to two points. The Montreal Canadiens got a last-minute goal Thursday to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2, ending a three-game slide and moving them two points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division.
Toronto at Ottawa: There's never a lack of intensity in the Battle of Ontario, but the stakes are higher than usual this time. The Toronto Maple Leafs have dropped two in a row and have seen their quest to end a nine-year playoff drought stall at 53 points. The Ottawa Senators have 52 after beating the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Thursday night, so a regulation victory would move Ottawa into fifth place. A victory and a loss by the Winnipeg Jets would assure the Maple Leafs of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004.
Phoenix at Chicago: With the Central Division and Western Conference titles already in hand, the Chicago Blackhawks are working on finishing first in the overall standings and winning the Presidents' Trophy. They moved two points closer by beating the Nashville Predators 5-4 in overtime Friday night. Chicago brings a seven-game winning streak to United Center for a meeting with the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that eliminated the Blackhawks from the playoffs last spring. With 44 points, the Coyotes would have to run the table in their final five games to have any hope of qualifying for the postseason.
Detroit at Vancouver: The rigors of the road appeared to catch up with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, when they allowed four third-period goals in a 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars that prevented them from clinching a playoff berth. After going 2-2-1 on a five-game trip, they can assure themselves of a trip to the playoffs by beating the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Arena. The Red Wings, who enter the day ninth in the Western Conference, desperately need a victory after a 3-2 road loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday dropped them out of the top eight.
Teams on the rise:
New York Rangers: Fans of the New York Rangers must be wondering where this team has been hiding all season. The Rangers, who've been offensively challenged for most of the season, scored eight times in an four-goal victory at Buffalo on Friday -- one night after scoring six times in a victory against Florida. The Rangers now have eighth place all to themselves; they are two points ahead of the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets and just one behind the seventh-place New York Islanders. None of their four remaining games are against teams higher than 10th in the Eastern Conference.
St. Louis Blues: The St. Louis Blues don't score very much; they just make sure their opponents score even less. The Blues won for the third time in four nights by beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 at home on Friday night. All three of St. Louis' victories this week have been 2-1 decisions -- the other two came in shootouts. The Blues are sixth in the Western Conference with 54 points, one behind the fourth-place Los Angeles Kings and fifth-place San Jose Sharks. St. Louis' next three games are a home-and-home with the Colorado Avalanche and a visit from the Calgary Flames -- the bottom two teams in the West.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Chicago Blackhawks are closing in on the final item on their to-do list for the regular season. The Blackhawks won their seventh in a row by beating the Nashville Predators 5-4 in overtime on a power-play goal by Marian Hossa, moving them two points closer to the Presidents' Trophy. Chicago needs five points in its final five games to make sure it finishes ahead of the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the overall standings. It would be the Blackhawks' first regular-season title since 1990-91.
Teams on the decline:
Dallas Stars: The Dallas Stars' unlikely quest for a playoff berth hit a major pothole Friday night when they lost 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues. The loss dropped Dallas into 10th place in the Western Conference -- the Stars and Detroit Red Wings each have 47 points, two behind Columbus, though the Blue Jackets have only three games remaining. Dallas faces a quick two-game trip to California before ending its season with visits from the Blue Jackets and Red Wings.
Anaheim Ducks: After looking like they could challenge the Chicago Blackhawks for first in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks are now struggling just to finish first in the Pacific Division. The Ducks started a four-game swing through Western Canada with a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. Anaheim still leads the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks by five points; all three teams have four games remaining. The Ducks continue their trip with back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers Sunday and Monday.
Buffalo Sabres: Any hopes the Buffalo Sabres had of making the playoffs disappeared in a stretch of 2:58 spanning the second and third periods when they surrendered five unanswered goals to the New York Rangers on the way to an 8-4 loss. Both the Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoff race with that loss.
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