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Pairings set in East; one spot left West

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 1:43 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Pairings set in East; one spot left West
And then there was one.

The New York Rangers snapped up the last available playoff berth in the Eastern Conference in stunning fashion on Saturday. The Rangers did what they needed to do by beating New Jersey 5-2 -- but even the most devout Blueshirts backer had to be flabbergasted to see Tampa Bay go into Carolina, race out to a 3-0 lead after one period and end the Hurricanes' playoff hopes with a 6-2 win.

That leaves one remaining playoff berth -- and the Chicago Blackhawks can wrap it up by getting a point in Sunday's home game against Detroit (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN). They can move higher than eighth by winning in regulation -- in fact, a regulation win will jump Chicago all the way to fifth place.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up entering the season's final day:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Washington (107 points) lost its season finale 1-0 at Florida in a game that meant nothing in the standings. The Caps rested veteran center Jason Arnott and didn't use All-Star defenseman Mike Green, who has missed most of the last two months of the season with a head injury but had been expected to suit up. They'll have a few days to recuperate before the Caps begin the playoffs against the New York Rangers.

Philadelphia (106 points) clinched the Atlantic Division title by outgunning the New York Islanders 7-4. The bad news was that coach Peter Laviolette again had to pull rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky after he allowed three first-period goals. The Flyers will play Buffalo in the first round.

Boston (103 points) is locked into third despite Saturday's 3-1 home win against Ottawa. Tim Thomas made 31 saves to finish with an NHL-record .938 save percentage. Tuukka Rask will play Sunday at new Jersey before the B's renew playoff hostilities with Montreal.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (104 points) was eliminated from the race for first in the Atlantic Division when the Flyers beat the Islanders. The Penguins end the season Sunday in Atlanta, then host Tampa Bay to start the playoffs.

Tampa Bay (103 points) had nothing to play for at Carolina -- the Lightning were locked into fifth place -- but sent the 'Canes home for the summer with a stunning 6-2 victory. Mike Smith made 42 saves and nearly scored an empty-net goal. The Bolts begin their first playoff series since 2007 in Pittsburgh.

Montreal (96 points) locked up sixth place by winning its season finale 4-1 at Toronto, setting up a series with the archrival Boston Bruins.

Buffalo (96 points) won 5-4 at Columbus to cap a surge that saw the Sabres go 28-11-6 since Jan. 1 to earn the most points in the East during that span and propel them into a playoff berth. Starting goaltender Ryan Miller allowed one goal while playing the first half of the game and should be ready when the Sabres face the Flyers.

New York Rangers (93 points) did what they had to do -- they beat New Jersey 5-2 on Saturday afternoon before getting some help from Tampa Bay. The Lightning's stunning 6-2 victory at Carolina gave the Rangers the last playoff berth in the East just 48 hours after it looked like they might have blown it by losing to Atlanta on Thursday. The Rangers open against Washington, which beat them in the first round two years ago.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (117 points) capped the greatest regular season in franchise history by rallying from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 overtime victory at Calgary. The Canucks locked up the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed and Daniel Sedin clinched the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's scoring leader. Vancouver will have to wait until Sunday to see who it will play in the opening round of the playoffs.

San Jose (105 points) locked up the second seed by beating Phoenix 3-1. It's the first time in three years the Sharks aren't the top seed in the West.

Detroit (102 points) ends its season Sunday in Chicago (12:30 p.m., NBC, TSN). San Jose's win on Saturday locked the Wings into third place. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall will miss the game with injuries, though the Wings hope they'll be ready for the playoffs.

The next five:

Anaheim (99 points) jumped from seventh all the way to fourth by beating the Kings 3-1 in Los Angeles to sweep their home-and-home series. The Ducks got a 43-save performance by Dan Ellis to leapfrog three teams and get home ice in the opening round.

Nashville (99 points)
missed a chance to assure itself of home ice in the opening round by losing 2-0 at St. Louis on Saturday -- the third time this season that Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak has blanked the Predators. The Predds will finish fifth unless Chicago wins in regulation, in which case they will drop to seventh

Phoenix (99 points) also missed a chance to grab home ice when it lost 3-1 at San Jose. The Coyotes will finish sixth and play Detroit in a rematch of last year's opening round or seventh and play San Jose again.

Los Angeles (98 points) can finish no better than seventh after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Anaheim. The Kings are looking at a rematch of last year's meeting with Vancouver or a first-ever playoff battle with San Jose.

Chicago (97 points) has its fate in its own hands -- a point in Sunday's game against Detroit will lock up the final available playoff berth. A regulation victory could move the Hawks all the way to fifth.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (95 points) will spend the first part of Sunday afternoon rooting for the Detroit Red Wings to win in regulation at Chicago. If that happens, the Stars can grab the last playoff berth in the West by winning the final game of the regular season in regulation at Minnesota (6 p.m. ET, NHL Network). If they get in, the Stars will play Vancouver.
Quote of the Day

I just think about how much it hurts. The feelings aren't going to go away, probably never. It's just something that sticks with you for a long time.

— San Jose forward Logan Couture to The Canadian Press on the Sharks' first-round loss to the Kings after taking a 3-0 series lead