The New York Rangers boosted their hopes of finishing second in the Metropolitan Division earlier this week with home victories against the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers. They'll get a different kind of test when they begin a four-game road trip Friday night with a game against the Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET).
The Rangers (41-29-4) are three points in front of the Flyers as they begin their trip, which also includes games against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. They've actually played much better on the road (23-13-0) than at home (18-16-4), and they are 3-2-0 in their past five visits to Scotiabank Saddledome.
New York is playing against an opponent whose hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all but mathematically gone. The Flyers are facing one that desperately needs the victory when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, RDS2). Toronto comes to Wells Fargo Center having lost its past six games, all in regulation, to drop out of a wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia has dropped back to third in the Metropolitan Division after losses to the Los Angeles Kings and the Rangers, but they have two games in hand on New York.
The Maple Leafs are last among the four teams at the top of the hunt for the two East wild-card spots; all four enter Friday with 80 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets are first, and they'll try to give themselves some breathing room when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. Columbus has been off since beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 at home Tuesday; the Penguins come to Nationwide Arena after a 3-2 home loss to the Kings on Thursday.
Four teams have clinched playoff berths entering play Friday. That number could grow to seven by the end of Friday. The Penguins would clinch if they get at least one point against the Blue Jackets. The Chicago Blackhawks would clinch if they get at least one point against the Ottawa Senators or if the Dallas Stars lose to the Nashville Predators in any fashion. And the idle Colorado Avalanche would clinch if the Stars lose to the Predators in any fashion.
Here's a rundown of the action Friday:
The Stanley Cup Playoffs consist of 16 teams, eight in each conference, but it is now division-based and a wild-card system has been added.
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.
Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.