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7 days, 7 playoff berths left

Monday, 04.06.2009 / 1:05 AM / NHL Insider

By NHL.com Staff

With seven days remaining in the regular season, nearly half of this year's 16 playoff berths have yet to be determined.

Nine teams -- San Jose, Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver and now Chicago in the West; Boston, Washington, New Jersey and Carolina in the East -- are assured that they'll still be playing when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way. Only Boston knows exactly where it will finish within the conference standings.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up:

Eastern Conference:


Boston (Northeast) has long since wrapped up its division title and clinched first in the East by blanking the Rangers 1-0 on Saturday. Washington (Southeast) has clinched its division and moved into sole possession of the No. 2 seed with a 6-4 win against Atlanta on Sunday. New Jersey, which sits third in the conference, was idle on Sunday.

Four spots in the East still remain up for grabs. Carolina joined the playoff party with a 3-2 overtime win against Pittsburgh on Sunday, and the Pens failed to clinch a spot on Sunday due to a 4-2 loss at Florida.

Philadelphia was off on Sunday but will have a chance to clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday night against Florida at the Wachovia Center. With 95 points, the Flyers remain in fourth place in the East ahead of Carolina since they have a game in hand. The Hurricanes have two more victories.

The Flyers will visit the Rangers on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday before finishing against the Rangers at home on Sunday.

Carolina has won eight in a row and 11 straight at the RBC Center, which is the longest streak in the NHL. Goalie Cam Ward was the NHL's Player of the Month for March after going 10-1-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and has been the biggest factor in his team's surge.

The Hurricanes were off on Sunday. They'll host the Islanders on Tuesday and Buffalo on Thursday before ending their season at New Jersey on Saturday.

Pittsburgh (93 points) looked nearly unbeatable since changing coaches in mid-February, but came up short in Florida on Sunday. The loss was just their third in regulation since Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien behind the bench (15-3-4).

The Pens visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday before the Islanders come to Mellon Arena on Thursday. Pittsburgh finishes at Montreal on Saturday.

Montreal (92 points) is 5-0-1 in its last six games after a 1-3-2 beginning under Bob Gainey. Currently the seventh seed, the Canadiens were off on Sunday but will return to the ice on Monday night against Ottawa at the Bell Centre.

It is the first of a stretch that will feature four games in six days for the Habs. They'll visit the Rangers on Tuesday and Bruins on Thursday before the Penguins come to the Montreal on Saturday.

The New York Rangers
(89 points) got some company in the standings on Sunday thanks to Florida's win against Pittsburgh. While the Blueshirts have more wins, one has to think the Panthers have the edge in scheduling.

New York, which was idle on Sunday, hosts Montreal on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Thursday before visiting the Flyers on Sunday.

Florida (89 points), which is desperately trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, took a huge step with its win against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Tomas Vokoun earned his first win since March 19 with a 41-save effort, helping the Panthers bounce back after losing against Atlanta on Friday night.

The Panthers play at Philadelphia on Tuesday and Atlanta on Thursday before finishing at home against Washington on Saturday.

Buffalo (85 points) is on life support. The Sabres came up short on Saturday in a 3-2 loss to New Jersey and host Detroit on Monday. They'll then visit Toronto on Wednesday and Carolina on Thursday before finishing at home against Boston on Saturday.

Western Conference:

San Jose (Pacific) and Detroit (Central) have long since wrapped up their divisions. The Sharks maintained their six-point lead over the Wings for first in the conference with Sunday's 3-2 win at Anaheim, which came just hours after Detroit earned a 3-2 win against Minnesota at Joe Louis Arena. Calgary and Vancouver both clinched playoff berths and each has 94 points, but Calgary maintained its Northwest Division lead thanks to Vancouver's 4-1 loss to Colorado on Sunday. Calgary still has two more victories than the Canucks. They meet at G.M. Place on Tuesday night, with the Canucks now desperately needing a win if they hope to finish third.

The loser will battle Chicago (97 points) for fourth place and the last home-ice berth in the opening round. The Blackhawks earned a 1-0 overtime win at Columbus on Sunday on a goal by Kris Versteeg.

While Columbus (90 points) lost on Sunday, it did inch closer to its first playoff berth since entering the NHL in 2000 by getting the game to overtime. Rookie goaltender Steve Mason was solid again in a 24-save effort.

The Jackets have three games remaining. They'll visit Chicago on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday before returning home to face Minnesota on Saturday.

Anaheim (88 points) hit a bump in the road on Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the Honda Center. A victory would have allowed them to move into sixth place in the West, as the Ducks have one more win than Columbus.

Anaheim now has four days off before hosting Dallas on Friday and visiting Phoenix on Saturday. It will certainly be a tense time for Randy Carlyle's club, which can do nothing more than scoreboard watch.

Nashville (86 points) moved into eighth place with a 5-4 shootout win against Columbus on Saturday. The Preds don't have a lot of talent, but they do a lot with what they have. In another season, rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne would be the talk of the NHL; this season, he's been overshadowed by Columbus' Steve Mason, who was on the losing end on Saturday. Jason Arnott returned from a concussion and scored twice and added an assist. David Legwand will be back soon after losing one of their best forwards, Martin Erat, to a broken leg in Sunday's win at Detroit. Nashville and St. Louis are tied in point, but the Predators have one more victory.

Nashville hosts Chicago on Tuesday before ending the season with visits to Detroit and Minnesota.

St. Louis (86 points) fell into ninth place on Saturday due to a 5-4 overtime loss at Dallas. The Blues have battled their way from last in the West near midseason into contention for a playoff berth despite a M*A*S*H unit's worth of injuries. The biggest reason for the surge has been the play of Chris Mason, who's led them to a 14-5-3 record in their last 22 games.

The Blues have two of their last three on the road. They visit non-playoff teams Phoenix on Tuesday and Colorado on Sunday, sandwiched around a home game against Columbus on Saturday.

Minnesota (83 points) greatly hindered its chances with a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Sunday afternoon and is officially on life support. The Wild came within 55 seconds of earning at least a point, but Marian Hossa broke a 2-2 tie in the final minute of regulation.

The Wild will host Dallas on Tuesday and Nashville on Friday before finishing at Columbus on Saturday.

Edmonton (83 points) kept its slim hopes alive with a 5-3 win against Vancouver at Rexall Place on Saturday. Much like the Wild, the Oilers will likely have to win out to have any hope of making the top eight.

The Oilers don't leave Alberta for the rest of the season. They host Los Angeles on Tuesday and Calgary on Friday, then visit the Flames on Saturday in the back end of a home-and-home.




Quote of the Day

When I first became captain here, Monsieur Beliveau came to me and said, 'You're going to be fine. You don't have to change, you got selected because of who you are.'

— Saku Koivu on Thursday, recalling what he was told by the late Jean Beliveau when he was named Canadiens captain in 1999
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