A dozen teams that are realistically battling for a spot and/or position in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be in action on a busy Tuesday night.
The Detroit Red Wings (37-27-14), who currently hold the top wild-spot in the Eastern Conference, get things started when they visit the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Detroit is one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The New York Rangers clinched a playoff berth when the New Jersey Devils lost to the Calgary Flames on Monday, but they're still trying to secure second place in the Metropolitan Division. New York, which is two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, hosts the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia, which has a game in hand, will visit the Florida Panthers. The Flyers would clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they defeat the Panthers in any fashion.
Columbus is in action as well; the Blue Jackets take on the Phoenix Coyotes at Nationwide Arena. Columbus has a three-point lead on New Jersey and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card in the East. Phoenix trails the Dallas Stars by one point for the second wild card in the Western Conference; the Stars are hosting the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center.
The Maple Leafs will try to bounce back from a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a huge game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Lightning, who have lost back-to-back games, trail the Montreal Canadiens by four points for second place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay has a game in hand on Montreal.
The Washington Capitals will try to keep their faint playoff hopes alive when they visit the St. Louis Blues. Washington is four points back of Columbus; the Blues are one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the West. St. Louis (52-19-7) has a game in hand on Anaheim.
Ilya Bryzgalov helped the Minnesota Wild inch closer to a playoff spot Monday when he recorded his second straight shutout in a 1-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets. The Wild would clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they get at least one point against the Boston Bruins or if Coyotes lose to the Blue Jackets in any fashion or defeat the Blue Jackets in a shootout or if the Stars lose to the Predators in any fashion. Boston is two points ahead of St. Louis in the Presidents' Trophy race.
The Colorado Avalanche will aim to increase their second-place lead on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division when they face the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. Colorado is two points ahead of Chicago with a game in hand.
Here's a closer look at the action Tuesday:
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 just 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.