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Playoff Pulse: West's bubble teams face tests

Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 12:27 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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Playoff Pulse: West's bubble teams face tests
There are six teams in the Western Conference battling for three spots in the 2012 Stanley  Cup Playoffs, and they are all separated by three points and all are in action Saturday.
There are nine games with serious playoff implications on a busy Saturday in the NHL. Philadelphia can clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a win against Montreal or some help, while Vancouver can lock up another Northwest Division title with at least one point against Colorado of if Calgary does not win against Dallas.

Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars: While a big game for both teams, this Saturday afternoon matinee is crucial for the visiting Flames, who are hanging on at the outer edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.  The Flames are just two points behind Dallas, which currently sits in the No. 8 spot, but Calgary has played one more game and would currently lose the first tie-breaker to the Stars, which is the number of non-shootout wins.

2011-2012 Standings

Western Conference
GP
P
ROW
1
75
101
42
2
74
97
37
3
74
86
31
4
74
93
37
5
74
92
38
6
75
92
37
7
75
86
31
8
74
85
33
9
76
85
31
10
74
84
30
11
75
83
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.
03/24/12 12:29PM
A loss here for Calgary would almost assure that the Flames would have to win their final six games to pass the three teams ahead of them in the race for No. 8. Dallas, meanwhile, can move back up to the No. 3 spot if thinks break right. Los Angeles, the Pacific Division leader, is currently in the No. 3 spot, but sits just one point ahead of the Stars. Dallas could also jump into the No. 7 hole if it wins and Phoenix loses to San Jose in regulation.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators: All of Pittsburgh's hard work in the month of March -- the Penguins have not lost in regulation In 14 games -- can payoff with a victory Saturday at Scotiabank Place. That would push Pittsburgh into the top spot in the East. A win will give Pittsburgh 100 points and provide a one-point lead on the Rangers, who opened the door with a loss Friday night to Buffalo. The Penguins will remain in the No. 4 spot with any type of loss because the Rangers hold the tiebreaker.

For Ottawa, the stakes are much higher as their playoff positioning is far more tenuous than it was a few weeks ago. The Senators are now just two points above the demarcation line and could fall into eighth place with a loss and a win by Buffalo on Saturday night. Ottawa, which has lost three-straight games, has taken just eight standings points in its past 10 games.

Phoenix Coyotes at San Jose Sharks: This is a game both teams know must be had. It's not just about the two points gained in the standings, but also about denying points to another team among the bunch playing for the final two spots in the West. Right now, the Coyotes lead that pack with 86 points and sit in seventh place as a result. But, San Jose, which sits in the No. 10 hole, is just two points back and holds a game in hand on the Coyotes. If the Sharks win here, they could move as high as seventh. Lose and they could be passed by Calgary if the Flames win an afternoon game against Dallas. For Phoenix, a win would move them within four points of Chicago in sixth and a loss could bounce them all the way to No. 11 with just six games remaining in the season.

Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators: How much do the Jets have left in the tank after a season-saving, come-from-behind victory Friday night against Washington? It better be a fair amount because the Jets face another must-win game against one of the West's best teams. The Jets need to make up at least four points -- and pass two teams -- to get to the No. 8 spot. Nashville, meanwhile, is coming off a loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday and needs points in an attempt to get into fourth place, currently held by Detroit, and stay ahead of Chicago, which is idle Saturday. The game against the Jets will also be the home debut of Alexander Radulov, who scored Thursday night in his season debut in Pittsburgh.

2011-2012 Standings

Eastern Conference
GP
P
ROW
1
74
99
43
2
73
87
34
3
74
86
31
4
73
98
37
5
74
94
39
6
75
90
31
7
75
84
32
8
75
82
35
9
75
82
29
10
74
78
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.
03/24/12 12:31PM
Boston Bruins at Los Angeles Kings: This is a battle of division leaders, but only one has its hold on a top-three spot up for grabs Saturday night. That would be the Kings, who are on a six-game win streak, but only have the slimmest of leads on Phoenix and Dallas. The Coyotes, in seventh, have the same amount of points (86), but have played one more game. Dallas, which plays Saturday afternoon at home, is just one point behind in the League's tightest divisional race.  How high are the stakes for the Kings, who are on an 8-2 run? Lose Saturday night and they could, conceivably, tumble from No. 3 to No. 10. Boston has a bit more breathing room in the Northeast Division -- three points and two games in hand on Ottawa -- but still needs to watch out for No. 3 Florida, which is just one point behind Boston. Saturday night is the game Boston has in hand on the Southeast Division leaders.

Vancouver Canucks at Colorado Avalanche: This might be the Avs biggest home game of the season. Sitting in ninth, but on the same point total as eighth place Dallas, Colorado knows it must win and win often to separate itself from the pack of chasers for those bottom two spots in the Western Conference. Plus, if the Avs do find a way to get into the playoffs, there is a good chance that Vancouver could be their first-round opponent. Vancouver, which will again be without Daniel Sedin, still has designs on first place in the West and the top seed in the postseason. They are just four points behind St. Louis, which is idle Saturday night. A win here for Vancouver, in its game on hand on St. Louis, will put the Canucks just two points in back of the Blues. Each team has seven games remaining after Saturday night.

Minnesota Wild at Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo continues its impressive late-season push with a home game against a Minnesota team that has already put a dent in Calgary's playoff hopes this week. With a win, the Sabres will move into the No. 8 spot in the East, passing idle Washington, which squandered a point with a come-from-ahead overtime loss to the Jets on Friday night. Buffalo, which has taken 14 of the past 20 possible standings points, can actually tie seventh-place Ottawa in points if the Senators lose to Pittsburgh, but do not own the primary tie-breaker against Ottawa. 

Montreal Canadiens at Philadelphia Flyers: If the Flyers, who are on a 7-2-1 run, want to keep the heat on Atlantic Division rival New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the division and the Eastern Conference, they must dispatch a Montreal team that is merely playing out the string and has won just 15 of 37 road games this season. Philadelphia is four points behind Pittsburgh and five behind the Rangers. New Jersey, which lost a shootout to Toronto last night, is four points behind the Flyers.

Carolina Hurricanes at Detroit Red Wings: The Hurricanes' faint playoff hopes took a huge hit with a loss to Edmonton on Friday night and now Carolina must face a Red Wings team that is getting healthy and may welcome Nicklas Lidstrom back into the fold Saturday night.  Carolina is seven points out of the No. 8 spot -- and must climb past three teams -- with just seven games remaining. For Detroit, this game is about rediscovering the winning formula that carried them through the middle of the season. It's unlikely the Red Wings can improve on its No. 4 seed -- it is eight points behind division-leading St. Louis -- but they have to worry about the teams behind them. Both Nashville, which plays Saturday, and Chicago, which plays Sunday, are just one point out of the No. 4 spot.

Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential