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 can clinch Sunday: The Anaheim Ducks can clinch the Pacific Division title if they beat the Edmonton Oilers in any fashion, the Dallas Stars defeat the Los Angeles Kings in regulation and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the San Jose Sharks in any fashion.
The Sharks can clinch a playoff spot if they earn at least one point against the Blue Jackets.
The St. Louis Blues can clinch a playoff spot if they earn at least one point against the Colorado Avalanche. They also can clinch a spot if the San Jose Sharks defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in any fashion and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Dallas Stars in regulation.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 8
Teams in contention: 13
Days remaining in regular-season: 8
Total games remaining in regular season: 56
Florida at Boston: The Bruins played the first of six games in an eight-day stretch Saturday, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden. A victory would have allowed Boston to leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens atop the Northeast Division standings, as the Habs came up short at Washington on Saturday. The Bruins, who have two games in hand on the Canadiens, will get another opportunity to move into second place in the Eastern Conference on Sunday as they host the Panthers.
New Jersey at N.Y. Rangers: This heated rivalry resumes at Madison Square Garden with the Devils even more desperate for points than the eighth-place Rangers. New Jersey enters Sunday with 44 points, six fewer than the Rangers. New York will be seeking its third-straight win.
Calgary at Minnesota: With the Detroit Red Wings extending their game Saturday at Vancouver to overtime, three points separate the seventh-place Wild from ninth-place Detroit. Clearly, the Wild will have to put forth a better effort than the one witnessed Thursday, when they suffered a 6-1 loss at San Jose. Sunday marks the beginning of a three-game homestand for Minnesota.
St. Louis at Colorado: The Blues are playing solidly in their end again and also are benefiting from some terrific goaltending by Brian Elliott. He has allowed a total of one goal in his past three games, helping St. Louis move into sixth place in the West, one point behind Los Angeles and San Jose. The Blues will be seeking their fourth-straight win Sunday.
Columbus at San Jose: A huge game for both teams. The eighth-place Blue Jackets have three games remaining on their schedule, while the teams chasing them (Detroit, Dallas) have a game in hand. Columbus desperately needs these two points against the Sharks. San Jose also needs the points as it tries to secure home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. San Jose has won three in a row.
Anaheim at Edmonton: While the Ducks likely still will win the Pacific Division, they're making it too close for comfort. Anaheim will look to end a four-game skid Sunday; the Ducks have scored one goal in three of those losses and two in the other. This is the first of back-to-back games in Edmonton, which is all but out of the race but remains a dangerous offensive squad.
Dallas at Los Angeles: The Kings were idle Saturday, but they clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth when Vancouver defeated Detroit in a shootout at Rogers Arena. Now the defending champs will look to get home-ice advantage in the first round -- whether it is as the No. 4 seed, or less likely, if they can catch Anaheim for the Pacific crown. Sunday marks the second of a three-game road trip for the Stars, which dropped a 2-1 decision at St. Louis on Friday. Dallas is two points behind Columbus for eighth place in the West.
Teams on the rise:
New York Islanders: A team few expected to qualify for the postseason finds itself in sole possession of sixth place in the East with three games to go. The Islanders improved to 2-0 on their season-ending five-game road trip with a gritty 5-4 shootout victory against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. The Isles moved into sixth with the win and remained there thanks to the Ottawa Senators' 4-1 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders return to action Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Teams on the decline:
Ottawa Senators: The effort certainly was there -- the Sens fired 50 shots on goal Saturday -- but it wasn't enough to prevent them from falling into seventh place in the East after a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa began the day in sixth, but the Islanders moved ahead of them when they beat the host Winnipeg Jets in a shootout. The Senators -- who have four games left -- are two points ahead of the eighth-place Rangers and three ahead of the Jets.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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