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Playoff countdown: Nine postseason spots still in play

Tuesday, 04.01.2014 / 9:02 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The conclusion to 2013-14 NHL regular season is fast approaching. During game play Tuesday, the League will pass the mark in which there are less than 100 games remaining. Yet, much remains to be decided in the frantic run to the finish line, including playoff qualification, playoff positioning and numerous individual accomplishments and milestones. To celebrate the 13-day countdown to the end of the season April 13 and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 16, NHL.com will provide a piece of playoff-related content each day.

The "if the playoffs began today" game always is fun to play at this time of the year. It's a conversation starter. It generates opinions. It forces analysis. It's also only a hypothetical.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs obviously don't start Tuesday. If they did, it would be a really rude April Fools' Day joke. A number of teams would be wondering why they played 74, 75 or 76 games instead of 82. They'd have a good argument because for some teams, these last six, seven or eight games of the season will be the difference between a long offseason and a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Seven teams have qualified for the playoffs, leaving nine spots available. Some will be taken up within the next day or so, but the wild-card races in particular might come down to April 13, the last day of the regular season.

So with 13 days still left in the regular season and 16 before the Cup chase begins, let's take a look at where all the playoff contenders are right now:

Note: Teams that remain mathematically alive but have to make up seven points or more are not listed below.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ALREADY IN

Boston Bruins (52-17-6, 110 points)

Standing: 1st in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (7): at Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey

Skinny: The Bruins have clinched the Atlantic Division regular-season title and have a three-point lead on the St. Louis Blues in the Presidents' Trophy race. They went 15-1-1 in March.

Pittsburgh Penguins (48-22-5, 101 points)

Standing: 1st in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Carolina, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Colorado, vs. Detroit, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Ottawa

Skinny: The Penguins can clinch the Metropolitan Division regular-season title as soon as Tuesday, if they beat the Carolina Hurricanes, or if they get one point against the Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers lose to the St. Louis Blues in any fashion. They'll also win the division if the Flyers lose to the Blues in regulation.

THE CONTENDERS

Montreal Canadiens (43-26-7, 93 points)

Standing: 2nd in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (6): at Tampa Bay, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at Chicago, vs. New York Islanders, vs. New York Rangers

Skinny: The Canadiens can clinch a playoff berth Tuesday if they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in any fashion in what could be a preview of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. They have a two-point lead on the Lightning for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Montreal has won five in a row and eight of its past nine games. Thomas Vanek has had three points in two straight games. Max Pacioretty has goals in three straight games.

Tampa Bay Lightning (41-25-9, 91 points)

Standing: 3rd in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Montreal, vs. Calgary, vs. Dallas, vs. Toronto, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Columbus, at Washington

Skinny: The Lightning can clinch a playoff berth Tuesday if they beat Montreal in any fashion and if the Washington Capitals lose to the Dallas Stars in regulation and if the New Jersey

Devils lose to the Buffalo Sabres in any fashion. They have a game-in-hand on the Canadiens and will play their next six games at home. Tampa Bay had an 11-game point streak (7-0-4) snapped Sunday. Valtteri Filppula is riding a 12-game point streak, during which he has five goals and 16 points. Steven Stamkos has nine goals in his past 10 games.

New York Rangers (42-30-4, 88 points)

Standing: 2nd in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (6): at Vancouver, at Colorado, vs. Ottawa, vs. Carolina, vs. Buffalo, at Montreal

Skinny: The Rangers are 6-1-0 in their past seven games. The 12-point burst since March 18 has them in position to have home-ice advantage in the first round after being on the wild-card bubble two weeks ago. They have a two-point lead on Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division, but the Flyers have two games in hand. The Rangers, though, currently own the tiebreaker with 38 regulation/overtime wins to Philadelphia's 36.

Philadelphia Flyers (39-27-8, 86 points)

Standing: 3rd in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (8): at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, at Boston, vs. Buffalo, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Pittsburgh, vs. Carolina

Skinny: The Flyers close the season with eight games in a 13-day span. They play road games against the top two teams in the NHL (St. Louis and Boston) as well as the second-place team in the Eastern Conference (Pittsburgh). Five of their eight opponents currently are in a playoff position. Philadelphia has won one of its past four games (1-2-1) after winning five straight.

Detroit Red Wings (35-26-14, 84 points)

Standing: 1st wild card, 4th in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo, at Montreal, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh, vs. Carolina, at St. Louis

Skinny: The Red Wings are in position to go to the playoffs for a record 23rd straight season. They won back-to-back games this past weekend against Montreal and Tampa Bay to gain a three-point cushion on a playoff berth and a two-point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit plays four of its last five games on the road, but it has been a better road team (19-14-4) than home team (16-12-10) this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets (38-30-6, 82 points)

Standing: 2nd wild card, 4th in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (8): vs. Colorado, at Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, vs. New York Islanders, vs. Phoenix, at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, at Florida

Skinny: The Blue Jackets might have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the playoff contenders. They play eight games in 12 days, including three in a row on the road to close the season. They have three sets of back-to-backs. Columbus would have had seven games in 12 days this month, but its game against Dallas on March 10 was postponed because of the incident involving Stars forward Rich Peverley. It will be played in its entirety April 9, but the Blue Jackets will start with a 1-0 lead, the score at the time the original game was halted.

Washington Capitals (34-28-13, 81 points)

Standing: 5th in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Dallas, at New Jersey, at New York Islanders, at St. Louis, at Carolina, vs. Chicago, vs. Tampa Bay

Skinny: The Capitals will have to gain points on the road to stay in the race. They have a four-game trip starting Friday in New Jersey. Fortunately, three of the four teams they play are below them in the standings. Washington has points in seven of its past eight games (4-1-3), but the Capitals are on a three-game winless streak (0-1-2). Alex Ovechkin has been held without a goal in four of the past five games.

Toronto Maple Leafs (36-32-8, 80 points)

Standing: 5th in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (6): vs. Calgary, vs. Boston, vs. Winnipeg, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Ottawa

Skinny: The Maple Leafs are in freefall. They have lost eight straight games in regulation to drop from second in the Atlantic Division to 10th in the Eastern Conference. In fact, the Maple Leafs led the Lightning and Canadiens by three points after winning March 13; since then Montreal has made up 16 points on Toronto while Tampa Bay has made up 14.

New Jersey Devils (32-28-15, 79 points)

Standing: 6th in Metropolitan Division

Games remaining (7): at Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Carolina, vs. Calgary, at Ottawa, vs. New York Islanders, vs. Boston

Skinny: Travis Zajac had his first NHL hat trick to pace the Devils to a 6-3 win against the Florida Panthers on Monday. They have a favorable schedule until they play Boston on the last day of the regular season. They are a combined 8-5-2 record this season against the Sabres, Capitals, Hurricanes, Flames, Senators and Islanders. If the Devils don't make up enough ground to make the playoffs they will point directly to their shootout record as being the difference. They are 0-10 in the shootout and just 1-for-30 in attempts this season.

Ottawa Senators (32-29-14, 78 points)

Standing: 6th in Atlantic Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Montreal, at New York Rangers, at New York Islanders, vs. New Jersey, vs. Toronto, at Pittsburgh

Skinny: The Senators have had a rocky season and forward Bobby Ryan is out for the remainder of it because of sports hernia surgery, but with seven games left they're four points out. They're a longshot, especially with their next two games against teams that are at least 10 points better than them (Canadiens, Rangers), but they have won three in a row and have points in their past five (4-0-1). It might be too late, but Ottawa remains alive.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ALREADY IN

St. Louis Blues (50-17-7, 107 points)

Standing: 1st in Central Division

Games remaining (8): vs. Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Washington, at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Detroit

Skinny: The Blues have a one-point lead and a game in hand on the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference. They trail the Bruins by three points in the Presidents' Trophy race, but they also have a game in hand on Boston.

Anaheim Ducks (49-18-8, 106 points)

Standing: 1st in Pacific Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Edmonton, vs. Nashville, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Colorado

Skinny: The Ducks came back from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-4 in overtime Monday. They increased their division lead on the San Jose Sharks to three points. Anaheim also has a game in hand on the Sharks. The difference between winning the division and finishing second is a first-round match against a wild-card team or the Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and reached the Western Conference Final last season.

San Jose Sharks (47-20-9, 103 points)

Standing: 2nd in Pacific Division

Games remaining (6): vs. Edmonton, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, at Phoenix

Skinny: The Sharks will play four of their final six games at home, where they are 26-6-5 this season. However, they are in a bit of a funk now, with one win in their past five games (1-2-2). Joe Pavelski is two goals shy of his first 40-goal season.

Colorado Avalanche (47-21-6, 100 points)

Standing: 2nd in Central Division

Games remaining (8): at Columbus, vs. New York Rangers, at St. Louis, vs. Pittsburgh, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, at San Jose, at Anaheim

Skinny: The Avalanche have a one-point lead and two games in hand on the Chicago Blackhawks for home-ice advantage in their anticipated first-round series. However, Colorado likely will have to play any first-round series without star center Matt Duchene, who is expected to miss four weeks with a knee injury. Duchene leads Colorado in points (70), assists (47) and shots on goal (217). He is tied for third in goals with 23.

Chicago Blackhawks (42-19-15, 99 points)

Standing: 3rd in Central Division

Games remaining (6): vs. Minnesota, at Columbus, vs. St. Louis, vs. Montreal, at Washington, at Nashville

Skinny: The Blackhawks might have to play the rest of the regular season without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane already has missed six games with a lower-body injury that is expected to sideline him until the playoffs. Toews left the game Sunday against the Penguins with what looked like a left arm or shoulder injury. The Blackhawks did not provide an update on his status Monday.

THE CONTENDERS

Los Angeles Kings (44-26-6, 94 points)

Standing: 3rd in Pacific Division

Games remaining (6): vs. Phoenix, at San Jose, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Anaheim

Skinny: The Kings had their six-game winning streak snapped by the Minnesota Wild on Monday, but they're pretty much locked into third place in the Pacific Division anyway. The only mystery is their first-round opponent. It will be a California rival, but will the Kings have to fly north to San Jose or drive down the freeway to Anaheim?

Minnesota Wild (39-26-11, 89 points)

Standing: 1st wild card, 4th in Central Division

Games remaining (6): at Chicago, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, vs. Boston, vs. St. Louis, vs. Nashville

Skinny: The Wild lost two forwards Monday (Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund), but they still managed to beat the Kings in L.A. despite trailing 2-1 entering the third period. It was an important two points, which gave Minnesota a bigger cushion for the first wild-card spot. That's two big road wins in a row for the Wild, who also beat the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.

Phoenix Coyotes (36-27-12, 84 points)

Standing: 2nd wild card, 4th in Pacific Division

Games remaining (7): vs. Winnipeg, at Los Angeles, vs. Edmonton, at Columbus, at Nashville, vs. San Jose, vs. Dallas

Skinny: The Coyotes are trying to hold off the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks for the final wild-card spot. They enter play Tuesday with a one-point lead on the Stars, who have a game in hand. Phoenix had a chance to leap the Wild this past weekend but lost to Minnesota. The Coyotes are hopeful goalie Mike Smith will be able to return from his lower-body injury before the end of the season. Thomas Greiss has been solid in Smith's absence with a .927 save percentage in three straight starts.

Dallas Stars (36-27-8, 83 points)

Standing: 5th in Central Division

Games remaining (8): at Washington, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Nashville, vs. Columbus, vs. St. Louis, at Phoenix

Skinny: The Stars opened a five-game road trip with an impressive 4-2 win against the Blues this past Saturday; they are 15-17-4 on the road this season. Dallas is a combined 2-2-0 against the Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers this season but the Stars haven't played Florida or Washington since early October. It's possible their playoff fate comes down to the last day of the season, when they play the Coyotes.

Vancouver Canucks (34-31-11, 79 points)

Standing: 5th in Pacific Division

Games remaining (6): vs. New York Rangers, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary

Skinny: The Canucks are a longshot, especially with Henrik Sedin injured. Their schedule is daunting too, what with the Rangers, Kings, Ducks and Avalanche coming to Rogers Arena. While they are home for those games, the Canucks are a combined 1-7-3 against those four teams this season. They lost 5-1 to Anaheim this past Saturday.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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