The 2012-13 NHL season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Sunday, April 28. Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are clearly in sight, the qualification picture is far less clear. To help make sense of the numerous permutations that exist, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.
Teams that clinched Tuesday: In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals clinched the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed by beating the Winnipeg Jets 5-3. The Jets' regulation loss enabled the New York Islanders to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007 by getting a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks clinched a playoff berth by rallying to beat the Dallas Stars 3-2, and the St. Louis Blues also locked up a berth by beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-1.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 4
Teams in contention: 8
Days remaining in regular season: 5
Total games remaining in regular season: 33
Los Angeles at Detroit: The Los Angeles Kings know they’re going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they need every possible point to assure themselves of fourth place in the Western Conference and the home-ice advantage that goes with it. They're playing the second of back-to-back games after losing 2-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. The Detroit Red Wings start the night in ninth place in the West, but still have their playoff fate in their own hands -- they trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by one point but have a game in hand and own the tiebreaker.
Toronto at Tampa Bay: The Toronto Maple Leafs already know they are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but the late slump by the Montreal Canadiens has given them a chance to steal fourth place in the Eastern Conference and the home-ice edge in the first round. The Leafs come into their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with 55 points, four behind the Canadiens, who've played one more game. A victory would keep alive Toronto's chance to overtake Montreal with a victory in the season finale between the teams on Saturday night.
Chicago at Edmonton: The Chicago Blackhawks can scratch off the last item on their regular-season to-do list by beating the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. A victory of any kind will give the Blackhawks 74 points and assure them of their first Presidents' Trophy in 22 years. They'll be facing an Edmonton team coming off back-to-back home losses to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday in which they scored a combined total of one goal.
San Jose at Phoenix: The San Jose Sharks punched their playoff tickets on Tuesday night by rallying to beat the Dallas Stars 3-2. With 57 points, they're even with the Los Angeles Kings in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Kings own the tiebreaker -- though the Sharks have a chance to catch them by winning their showdown in L.A. on Saturday. The Phoenix Coyotes still have a mathematical chance to finish eighth, but any realistic chance ended Monday when they were beaten 4-0 by the Detroit Red Wings.
Teams on the rise:
Washington Capitals: The Southeast Division title belongs to the Washington Capitals, who beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 at Verizon Center on Tuesday for their fifth division crown in six years. The Capitals are 14-2-1 in a 17-game surge that began on March 21 with the first of back-to-back victories in Winnipeg. Alex Ovechkin continued his personal hot streak with a goal and an assist, giving him 19 goals and 29 points during the 17-game run.
St. Louis Blues: Wrapping up a playoff berth took a lot longer than it did last season, but the St. Louis Blues assured themselves of a return to the postseason by beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 on Tuesday night. St. Louis is in sixth place but just one point out of fourth entering its final two games -- both at home -- against the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks.
Minnesota Wild: There were a lot of worried faces in the Twin Cities before the Los Angeles Kings came to Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night -- the Minnesota Wild had dropped five in a row at home and were staggering into the final week of the season, with the possibility of blowing a playoff berth looming in the distance. But a 2-1 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champions eased that concern. The Wild now are three points ahead of ninth-place Detroit and have games remaining against two non-playoff teams, the Edmonton Oilers at home on Friday and the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Saturday.
Teams on the decline:
Montreal Canadiens: The Montreal Canadiens have looked like anything but a playoff team since clinching a trip to the postseason on April 11. They lost for the fifth time in six games since that night when they spotted the New Jersey Devils an early three-goal lead and left Newark with a 3-2 loss on Tuesday. They're still even with the Boston Bruins atop the Northeast Division with 59 points (the Bruins own the top spot because they have a game in hand), but with road games remaining against the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs, they could find themselves dropping as far as fifth in the Eastern Conference if they're not careful.
New York Rangers: With the Washington Capitals' victory against the Winnipeg Jets staring at them on the scoreboard during the third period of their game against the Florida Panthers, the New York Rangers knew all they needed to do was beat the NHL's worst team to assure themselves of a playoff berth. But they couldn't do it. The Rangers lost 3-2 to the Florida Panthers and remained eighth in the Eastern Conference; they need a victory against the Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils, or a Jets loss to the Montreal Canadiens, to wrap up a berth.
Dallas Stars: The Dallas Stars' hopes of ending a playoff drought that dates to 2008 may have died in a 30-second span late in the third period on Tuesday night. Dallas led the San Jose Sharks 2-1 with less than six minutes remaining before goals by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture turned a one-goal lead into a one-goal loss. The Stars would need to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings in their final two games -- and get a lot of help.