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Bounty of playoff implications on Thursday slate

Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:35 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Bounty of playoff implications on Thursday slate
With the season winding out, Thursday night's games will play a major role in who winds up in the top eight in two weeks.
A critical contest between teams vying for one of the final spots in the Western Conference and two intriguing Interconference matchups highlight an important evening of games in the NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks can clinch playoff berths, while seven of the eight contests on the docket have postseason implications.

Colorado Avalanche at Phoenix Coyotes: The Avalanche are in seventh place in the West, but all three teams immediately below them in the standings can pass them just by winning their games in hand. Well, here's a chance for Colorado to not only collect much-needed points, but also remove the Coyotes from that previously mentioned group. Colorado has one more point than Phoenix, but the Coyotes have a game in hand. If the Avalanche win in regulation, the Coyotes will need help at a later date to pass them.

Phoenix can not only move into the top eight with a win, the Coyotes could be atop the Pacific Division and in third place in the West with the right combination of results.

2011-2012 Standings

Western Conference
GP
P
ROW
1
74
100
42
2
73
95
36
3
73
85
33
4
74
93
37
5
73
92
38
6
75
92
37
7
75
85
31
8
73
84
31
9
74
84
30
10
73
82
29
11
74
82
31
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted. For full standings tiebreakers, click here.
03/22/12 1:38PM
Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins: There is enough going on in this game to make it a spectacle -- Alexander Radulov's return for Nashville, Sidney Crosby's first home game of his most recent comeback -- without the serious playoff implications. The Penguins can clinch a playoff berth with at least one point against the Predators or if Washington loses to Philadelphia in regulation. Pittsburgh can also move within a point of the New York Rangers for the top spot in the East.

The Predators' position in the No. 4-No. 5 matchup is no longer safe because of the charging Chicago Blackhawks. Nashville would be fourth in the West with one or two points, but right now the Predators are level on 92 points with sixth-place Chicago.

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks: The Bruins have stabilized with two straight victories, and a Northeast Division title again looks like a strong possibility. Boston needs to hold off Florida for the No. 2 seed in the East, though, and the Panthers have closed to within two points. While the Bruins have a game in hand, the Panthers have a very forgiving closing schedule. San Jose is currently in 10th place in the West, but the Sharks have a game in hand on ninth-place Phoenix and two on seventh-place Colorado. The Sharks are two points behind eighth-place Los Angeles and three behind the Avalanche.

Vancouver Canucks at Dallas Stars: The Canucks will be without star Daniel Sedin, but they can clinch not only a postseason berth but also the Northwest Division and a top-three seed with a win against the Stars and regulation losses by Colorado and Calgary. Vancouver would also move closer to securing at least the No. 2 seed by knocking off the current Pacific Division leaders.

The Stars are trying to hold onto that lead, and have three challengers -- Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose -- within three points. Dallas could be in third place in the division and outside the top eight with a regulation loss and wins by the Kings and Coyotes.

Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers:
The Capitals are 2-2 during this stretch of five games away from Verizon Center, and considering their poor road form this season winning three of five would be a huge success. Washington can move within two points of Ottawa for seventh place in the East with a win, but would only retain eighth place because of the tiebreaker over Buffalo with a regulation loss.

Philadelphia is only four points behind Pittsburgh in the battle for fourth place in the East and home-ice advantage in the first round, but the Penguins have a game in hand.

St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings: The Blues can inch closer to securing a Central Division title and the No. 1 seed in the West with a win, while Vancouver could be just three points back with a game in hand by the end of the night. Los Angeles can claim the Pacific Division lead with a win and a regulation loss by Dallas. The Kings could move up to seventh with a regulation win and a loss by Colorado, or a win and a regulation loss by the Avalanche. Los Angeles could also be stuck back in ninth place with a regulation loss and win by the Coyotes.

Calgary Flames at Minnesota Wild: This is pretty close to a must-win game for the Flames, who only have one other game against a team currently below them in the standings. Calgary can climb as high as ninth with a win and a regulation loss by Phoenix. Flames fans will definitely be rooting for Boston, Vancouver, St. Louis and for someone to win the Colorado-Phoenix game in regulation.

Quote of the Day

With this being the last year [at the Coliseum], we'd love to try to get back to the dance like we did against Pittsburgh and prove ourselves and go even further. It's an important year.

— New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano