The 2012-13 NHL season is almost at the finish line with less than 48 hours remaining before the final regular-season game is played on Sunday. Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are clearly in sight, the qualification picture is not yet completely clear. To help make sense of the remaining permutations for the three teams left battling for two spots, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at what was settled Friday and what is at stake during a very busy final weekend.
The Red Wings clinch a playoff berth as long as they earn at least one point against the Dallas Stars. They can also get in without picking up any points as long as the Wild lose in regulation or the Blue Jackets lose in any fashion.
The Wild clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Colorado Avalanche in any fashion. They also get in as long as the Blue Jackets don't pick up more points than they do.
The Blue Jackets clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Nashville Predators in any fashion and either the Red Wings lose in regulation or the Wild lose in any fashion. The Blue Jackets also get in if they earn a point against the Predators and the Wild lose in regulation.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 2
Teams in contention: 3
Days remaining in regular season: 2
Total games remaining in regular season: 14
New Jersey at New York Rangers: The New York Rangers can finish as high as sixth or as low as eighth in the Eastern Conference, depending on the outcome of their season finale against the New Jersey Devils. A regulation loss will leave them in eighth place; a single point guarantees them no worse than seventh and a victory could leave them in sixth.
Montreal at Toronto: It's not impossible that this could be a preview of one of the eight first-round series when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start in three days. Toronto needs one point to lock up fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens enter the day with 61 points, the same as the Boston Bruins -- who have one game in hand -- as the teams battle for the top spot in the Northeast Division. A Montreal victory would mean the Bruins would need three points in their final two games to capture the division.
Philadelphia at Ottawa: The Ottawa Senators have the inside track on sixth place in the Eastern Conference; they're even with the New York Rangers and one point behind the New York Islanders, but have two games remaining. One point this weekend will assure them of finishing above eighth place; three will guarantee sixth place, no matter what else happens -- and four could get them as high as fifth. The Senators will have Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in the lineup at home for the first time since he suffered a 70-percent tear of his left Achilles tendon in mid-February.
Boston at Washington: The Washington Capitals enter their regular-season finale with nothing to play for but pride. They're locked into the third seed in the East as the Southeast Division champions. But the Bruins have plenty on the line. They're even with the Montreal Canadiens at 61 points in the race for the Northeast Division title. The Bruins have two games remaining to Montreal's one, but they have to finish ahead of the Canadiens, who own the tiebreaker, to win the division.
Nashville at Columbus: The fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets have a chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs at all is a testament to their resilience and the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The man his teammates call "Bob" led them to a 5-1-0 record on a just-completed six-game trip. The Blue Jackets lose tiebreakers with the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings, so a regulation loss will end their season -- and even a victory is no guarantee of a playoff berth.
Detroit at Dallas: Three home wins in a four-day span this week have the Detroit Red Wings close to a 22nd consecutive playoff appearance. One point will guarantee a playoff berth; a win of any kind will assure the Red Wings of seventh place in the Western Conference. The Stars were hoping this would be a playoff showdown, but a loss to the Blue Jackets on Thursday knocked them out of the race.
Minnesota at Colorado: The Minnesota Wild had an opportunity to make life easy on themselves by clinching on Friday while the Blue Jackets and Red Wings were idle, but instead gave up six goals over the first 40 minutes to the Edmonton Oilers and were routed, 6-1. Now they risk not making the playoffs at all if they can't beat a Colorado Avalanche club that despite being last in the Western Conference is 12-8-3 at Pepsi Center.
Chicago at St. Louis: The St. Louis Blues have been among the NHL's hottest teams this month; goaltender Brian Elliott has allowed 15 goals while going 10-2-0, driving the Blues into fourth place in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks come to Scottrade Center with nothing at stake -- they've already won everything they can win in the regular season and are ending their regular season by playing the second half of a back-to-back. A victory assures the Blues of fourth place and the home-ice edge in the first round.
San Jose at Los Angeles: The result of the Blackhawks-Blues game should be posted just about the time the puck drops at Staples Center, so the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings both will know what's at stake. The winner finishes ahead of the loser -- and if the Blues lose, the winner gets fourth place. If the Blues finish fourth, they'll face the winner of this game, while the loser faces Vancouver.
Teams on the rise:
Columbus Blue Jackets: Coach Todd Richards and his Blue Jackets got a second avenue to qualify for the playoffs when the Minnesota Wild lost to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night. A Wild victory would have reduced the available playoff berths to one. Instead, the Blue Jackets have a chance to overtake either the Wild or the Detroit Red Wings by beating the Nashville Predators in front of what's sure to be a raucous crowd at Nationwide Arena. A regulation loss ends their playoff hopes; a single point will get them in if Minnesota loses in regulation to the Colorado Avalanche.
Teams on the decline:
Minnesota Wild: The Minnesota Wild kicked away a chance to lock up a playoff berth when they were routed 6-1 at home by the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night. They'll still qualify with a win in Denver on Saturday, and they own the tiebreakers against Detroit and Columbus, but any kind of a loss could result in a fifth consecutive non-playoff season in the Twin Cities.
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