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Countdown to the Playoffs

Hitch, goalie tandem key reasons for Blues' clinch

Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 9:54 PM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

The St. Louis Blues began the 2011-12 season 6-7-0 and fired their coach. Now they have become the first team to clinch a place in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- they assured themselves of a trip to the postseason by beating Tampa Bay 3-1 on Saturday night.

How did the Blues engineer such a remarkable turnaround? Here are a few reasons:

1. Ken Hitchcock found the right team: The Blues proved to be a perfect fit for the style Hitchcock wants his teams to play. There are a lot of guys willing to work, but also enough skill to make the Blues dangerous at the offensive end.  Hitchcock might not win the Jack Adams Award, but only because pundits incorrectly pegged Ottawa as a lottery team. He has transformed the Blues into an elite team.

Playoff Push: Panthers extend lead in Southeast

Monday, 02.27.2012 / 2:00 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

Stephen Weiss
Center - FLA
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 45
SOG: 111 | +/-: 7
The Florida Panthers honored Stephen Weiss prior to Sunday's game against the Montreal Canadiens after he became the franchise's all-time leader in games played just a few days earlier.

With his family and friends in the stands, Weiss thanked the Panthers by scoring twice and adding an assist in a 4-2 win at the BankAtlantic Center. The victory allowed Florida to move two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and three ahead of the Washington Capitals in the ever-so-tight Southeast Division race.

The Panthers also were able to overcome a two-goal deficit for a second straight day. The Panthers rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Carolina before earning a 3-2 shootout victory at the RBC Center on Saturday.

NHL history loaded with dramatic finishes

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 4:55 PM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

There have been plenty of memorable finishes to NHL seasons, and it appears the 2010-11 campaign will join the list.

Just one year after watching the Philadelphia Flyers clinch the last available playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and go on a dramatic run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL will need the very last game on its regular-season schedule to determine the eighth playoff team in the West.

Here's a closer look at some of the League's more dramatic finishes over the years:

1970 -- Rangers edge Canadiens

A playoff tie-breaking formula which featured goals-for as the criteria for breaking a tie between clubs tied in points and wins led to a bizarre finish to the 1969-70 season on April 5.

Hawks' loss opens door for Dallas

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 3:30 PM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Their fate isn't sealed just yet and it's still a tad early for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to start making tee times.

However, after Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, the Hawks now need the Minnesota Wild to go wild tonight against the Dallas Stars (6 p.m. NHLN) if they're going to get a chance to defend their crown.

If Dallas beats the Wild in regulation or overtime, the Stars are going to the postseason and the Hawks are going home for a long summer. Only a Dallas loss or shootout win would spring Chicago into the Western Conference playoff field.

Also thanks to the Hawks' loss on Sunday, it means there is only the eighth seed in the West left to be determined. Had Chicago gotten two points, the Hawks would've been locked into the fifth seed and faced the fourth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round.

Stars, Hawks take season to last day

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 11:39 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

David Kalan - Staff Writer

As the 2010-11 season reaches its final day, only one playoff berth is undecided, but while the Eastern Conference is set in stone, the wild race in the West still has five teams unsure of where they'll be playing come Wednesday or, in two cases, if they'll even be playing at all. One last time, Down the Stretch gives you the full rundown of the action.

Here is the installment for Sunday, April 10:

DETROIT RED WINGS (46-25-10, 102 points) at CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (44-28-9, 97 points)

Where they stand: The Red Wings are third in the Western Conference; the Blackhawks are eighth in the West. (12:30 ET, NBC, TSN)

What's at stake: Detroit is locked into the No. 3 seed in the West, but it doesn't get much bigger for Chicago. The defending Champs can seal up the last remaining playoff berth with one point -- meaning all the Hawks need is a regulation tie to punch their ticket. In addition, one additional point would lift Chicago out of the eighth spot and a first-round matchup with Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver. A regulation win would bring the Hawks as high as fifth, earning them a first-round date with Anaheim. If Chicago loses in regulation, it will need help from Minnesota to stay in the playoff field.

How it's going: The Hawks beat the Wings 4-2 Friday night in Detroit in the first half of a home-and-home. The win was huge for Chicago for obvious reasons, but it was also the Blackhawks' first regulation victory since March 23. For the Wings, it was their seventh loss in the past 10 games.

Final day holds many fates for Blackhawks

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 10:20 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

After 81 hard-fought games by both Chicago and Dallas, it will take the final day of the regular season to settle the final standings in the wild Western Conference.

The key game will be Sunday's clash between the Detroit Red Wings the Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN) at the United Center. The Hawks can clinch a playoff spot and avoid becoming the fifth team in the expansion era to miss the postseason one season after winning the Stanley Cup by picking up a point against the Wings, or having the Dallas Stars lose to the Minnesota Wild (6 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NHLN-CA) in the final game of the 2010-11 season.

Two points for the Blackhawks also could move them all the way to fifth place in the conference. How long it takes them to get that win, though, will be significant.

A win in regulation or overtime would give the Blackhawks 99 points, the same as fourth-place Anaheim, fifth-place Nashville and sixth-place Phoenix. However, the Ducks would remain fourth based on their 43 regulation/overtime wins, the first tiebreaker in the final standings. A regulation/overtime win for the Hawks on Sunday would give them 39 regulation and overtime wins, one more than Nashville and Phoenix, and place the Hawks fifth.

Race for the Cup: April 10

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 9:48 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

San Jose, who has clinched the #2 seed, still has FOUR possible first-round opponents - Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles or Chicago. Vancouver, the #1 seed, still has three possible opponents.


Seed    Club
      1    VANCOUVER (clinched)
      2    SAN JOSE (clinched)
      3    DETROIT (clinched)
      4    ANAHEIM (clinched)
      5    Nashville or Chicago
      6    Nashville or Phoenix
      7    Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles or Chicago
      8    Los Angeles, Chicago or Dallas

'Canes, Rangers want trip to Washington, not vacation

Saturday, 04.09.2011 / 10:49 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

For the second straight year the New York Rangers will learn their playoff fate on the last day of their regular season, but this time around they have much less control over the situation.

The Rangers welcome the rival New Jersey Devils across the Hudson River for a Saturday matinee at Madison Square Garden. They must at least get the game to overtime to not be eliminated from the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but even a win does not guarantee them a berth.

Fourth place in West up for grabs

Saturday, 04.09.2011 / 9:51 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

The final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference will be decided Saturday, while the final spot in the top eight of the Western Conference will have to wait until Sunday. As always is here to give you Down the Stretch -- a daily highlight what you need to know about today's games.

Here is the installment for Saturday, April 9:

ANAHEIM DUCKS (46-30-5, 97 points) at LOS ANGELES KINGS (46-29-6, 98 points)

Where they stand: The Kings are in sixth place in the Western Conference while the Ducks are seventh.

What's at stake: Los Angeles could finish fourth with a regulation win and regulation losses by Nashville and Phoenix. Anaheim would do the same, although the Ducks don't need to win in regulation. The loser of this game will finish eighth if Chicago wins on Sunday.

Four teams clinch, two berths left

Saturday, 04.09.2011 / 1:49 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

The number of available berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is down to two.

The Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks all punched their playoff tickets with victories on Friday. The Sabres became the seventh team in the East to qualify by beating Philadelphia 4-3 in OT, while Nashville, Phoenix and Anaheim all won at home to assure themselves of playoff berths in the West.

There's only one spot left in each conference, with Carolina and the New York Rangers battling in the East, and Chicago trying to hold off Dallas in the West. Carolina won Friday and plays Saturday, as do the Rangers; the Hawks and Stars both won Friday and don't play until Sunday.
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