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 not as 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 Wednesday: The Chicago Blackhawks scratched the Presidents' Trophy off their regular-season to-do list by beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. The Blackhawks are assured of the home-ice advantage for as far as they go in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Teams that can clinch Thursday: In the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa Senators will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Washington Capitals in any fashion, OR if they earn one point and the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Winnipeg Jets in any fashion, OR if the Canadiens defeat the Jets in regulation. The New York Rangers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in any fashion, OR if they earn one point and the Canadiens defeat the Jets in any fashion, OR if the Canadiens defeat the Jets in regulation.
In the Western Conference, the idle Minnesota Wild will clinch a playoff berth if the Dallas Stars defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in regulation. The Detroit Red Wings will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Nashville Predators in any fashion and the Stars defeat the Blue Jackets in any fashion, OR if they earn one point and the Stars defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 4
Teams in contention: 7
Days remaining in regular season: 4
Total games remaining in regular season: 29
New York Rangers at Carolina: The New York Rangers will take their second crack at locking up a playoff berth when they play their final road game of the regular season against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers missed a chance to assure themselves of a postseason berth when they lost 3-2 to the last-place Florida Panthers on Tuesday, keeping them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has faded out of the playoff race, but the Hurricanes are still playing hard -- they beat the playoff-bound New York Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday.
Montreal at Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Jets become the first team to complete its regular season, but they're hoping they won't have to put away the sticks and pucks just yet. They trail the Rangers and Ottawa Senators by one point in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and need a victory against the Montreal Canadiens -- and some help -- to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Habs still have hopes of finishing first in the Northeast Division; they are tied with the Boston Bruins at 59 points, though Boston has a game in hand.
Ottawa at Washington: The Washington Capitals know where they'll be next week -- hosting the first two games of their opening-round playoff series after winning the Southeast Division title by beating the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 on Tuesday. As the third seed, they could wind up playing the Ottawa Senators, who begin a season-ending stretch of three games in four days. Ottawa is seventh with 52 points but has a game on hand on the sixth-place New York Islanders, who have 54.
New York Islanders at Philadelphia: The New York Islanders are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 -- they locked up a berth despite a 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. The Islanders could finish as high as fifth place in the Eastern Conference by beating the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres on consecutive nights. The Flyers aren't going to the playoffs, but they are finishing strong -- they've won four of five, including a 5-2 victory against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay at Boston: This game is a makeup of a Feb. 9 contest that was snowed out. The Bruins desperately need the two points as they battle the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They get the Tampa Bay Lightning on the second half of a back-to-back after the Lighting beat Toronto 5-2 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday. Martin St. Louis has a two-point lead in the scoring race and could become the oldest player ever to win the Art Ross Trophy.
Toronto at Florida: The Toronto Maple Leafs finish a two-game trip to the Sunshine State with a visit to the Florida Panthers, who are completing their home schedule. The Leafs saw their chances of earning home ice in the first round damaged badly when they lost 5-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. They need a victory and a loss by the Montreal Canadiens to have a chance to overtake the Canadiens for fourth place in the Eastern Conference by beating them at Air Canada Centre on Saturday; they would need that scenario as well as three regulation losses by the Boston Bruins to finish first in the Northeast Division.
Nashville at Detroit: The Detroit Red Wings took a big step toward qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season by beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Wednesday night. The victory moved them back into eighth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Red Wings can lock up a playoff berth with a victory against the out-of-the-playoffs Nashville Predators and a loss by the Blue Jackets.
Columbus at Dallas: The Columbus Blue Jackets' hopes for a playoff berth are riding on their ability to win one more road game before ending their season at home on Saturday night. Columbus watched the Detroit Red Wings move past them into eighth place with a victory on Wednesday night; a loss to the Dallas Stars and a Detroit victory would all but end the Blue Jackets' season. Dallas needs a victory and a loss by the Red Wings against the Nashville Predators to have a chance to snatch eighth place by beating Detroit in its season finale at American Airlines Center on Saturday.
Calgary at St. Louis: The St. Louis Blues locked up a playoff berth by beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, but they have a chance to finish as high as fourth place in the West -- if they can beat the Calgary Flames before the Chicago Blackhawks come to Scottrade Center on Saturday. The Flames are long since out of the playoff picture and coming off a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Teams on the rise:
Detroit Red Wings: The longest current playoff streak in the NHL is one victory away from reaching 22 seasons. The Detroit Red Wings spotted the Los Angeles Kings a one-goal lead, then scored three unanswered goals for a 3-1 victory that moved them back into eighth place. The Red Wings are home again Thursday night against the Nashville Predators; a victory and a loss by the Columbus Blue Jackets will assure Detroit of a playoff berth.
St. Louis Blues: It was a good night for the St. Louis Blues to stay home and watch TV. The Blues remained sixth in the Western Conference, but the two teams in front of them -- the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks -- both lost in regulation. The Blues trail both California teams by one point, but have a game in hand and can move into fourth place by beating the Calgary Flames at home on Thursday night.
Teams on the decline:
Los Angeles Kings: The Los Angeles Kings had a chance to take charge in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference and the final home-ice edge in the first round -- but they were dominated for most of the game in a 3-1 road loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The Kings now have to beat the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center on Saturday night and hope the St. Louis Blues don't win both of their last two games.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Toronto Maple Leafs are headed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004, but a 5-2 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday put a big hole into their hopes of getting home ice for the first round. The Leafs trail both the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens by four points; they need to beat the Florida Panthers on Thursday and hope that the Canadiens lose in regulation to the Winnipeg Jets before they meet on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.