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 Thursday: The New York Rangers assured themselves of a playoff berth when they rallied to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime. The Ottawa Senators completed the field in the Eastern Conference when they beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in OT. The victories by the Rangers and Senators eliminated the Winnipeg Jets, who wound up losing 4-2 to the Montreal Canadiens anyway.
Teams that can clinch Friday: The Minnesota Wild will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Edmonton Oilers in any fashion.
Matchups that can be set: In the Eastern Conference, the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins would be locked in against the New York Islanders if the Buffalo Sabres defeat the Islanders in regulation.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 2
Teams in contention: 3
Days remaining in regular season: 3
Total games remaining in regular season: 18
New York Islanders at Buffalo: The New York Islanders are going to the playoffs, but they need to beat the Buffalo Sabres in their season finale to avoid being assured of having to face the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. The Islanders looked sluggish in a 2-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday that dropped them from sixth to eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders, Rangers and Senators all have 54 points.
Edmonton at Minnesota: The Minnesota Wild get the first of two chances to lock up a playoff berth in the Western Conference when they host the Edmonton Oilers in their home finale. The Wild need to beat the Oilers -- or the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night -- to assure themselves of a playoff berth. The Oilers are staggering to the finish line after losing three times in four days at home earlier this week.
Teams on the rise:
Detroit Red Wings: The sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena had to feel a little uneasy when the Red Wings went to the dressing room after one period of their game Thursday night trailing the Nashville Predators 2-1. But the Red Wings found their legs in the second period and rolled to a 5-2 victory that moved them into seventh place in the Western Conference. They need one point in Saturday's season finale against the Dallas Stars to assure themselves of qualifying for the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year.
Ottawa Senators: Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal in overtime gave the Senators a 2-1 victory against the Washington Capitals and a hard-earned playoff berth. But not only will the Senators be in the postseason again, they'll have Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson available -- Karlsson returned Thursday, less than 10 weeks after a 70 percent tear of his Achilles tendon. He had an assist and played more than 27 minutes against Washington.
St. Louis Blues: Very quietly, the Blues have been piling up wins and points. They ground their way to a 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, moving them past the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings into fourth place in the Western Conference and the final home-ice advantage berth in the first round. They can assure themselves of finishing fourth and hosting the winner of the San Jose-Los Angeles game on Saturday night by beating the Chicago Blackhawks earlier that evening.
Teams on the decline:
New York Islanders: The Islanders went from hoping to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference to trying to avoid ending up eighth in the space of less than three hours -- the amount of time it took for them to lose 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers while the Rangers, Senators and Maple Leafs all won. The Islanders, Senators and Rangers all have 54 points -- but the Senators have an extra game remaining and the Rangers own the tiebreaker against the Islanders.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild could have clinched a playoff berth without having to do anything, but the Columbus Blue Jackets refused to cooperate. They actually dropped from seventh to eighth in the West because the Red Wings won, and with 53 points, they're even with the Blue Jackets. They need to beat the Oilers on Friday night or the Avalanche on Saturday to lock up a berth.
Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks -- The two California rivals dropped below the Blues in the race for fourth place in the West. The winner of their season-ending showdown in L.A. on Saturday night doesn't control its own fate -- the Blues can clinch fourth by beating the Blackhawks in a game that should be ending at just about the time the puck is dropped at Staples Center.