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5 playoffs berths available in season's final days

by Brian Compton and John Kreiser /
The end of the regular season is in sight. But with five days remaining, there are still five playoff berths that have yet to be decided.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both won Tuesday night to punch their tickets to the postseason. Nine teams -- San Jose, Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver and Chicago in the West; Boston, Washington, New Jersey and Carolina in the East -- previously were assured that they'll still be playing when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way next week, though only Boston knows exactly where it will finish within the conference standings.

But the last two spots in the East and the final three berths in the West are still up for grabs as the season heads toward its conclusion on Sunday.
Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up:

Eastern Conference:

Already in:

(Northeast) has long since wrapped up its division title and clinched first in the East by blanking the Rangers 1-0 on Saturday. The Bruins host Montreal on Thursday and visit Buffalo on Saturday. Washington (Southeast) has clinched its division and sits in second, while Atlantic Division leader New Jersey is the third seed. The Capitals' 4-2 win over Atlanta on Tuesday, combined with New Jersey's 4-1 loss to Toronto, means that the Caps need one more point (or one lost point by the Devils) to lock up second. The Caps finish with games at Tampa Bay on Thursday and Florida on Saturday.

The Devils need a point (or a lost point by Philadelphia) to wrap up the division title. They play at Ottawa on Thursday and host Carolina on Saturday.

(97 points after a 2-1 win over Florida 2-1) clinched a playoff spot by beating the Panthers. The Flyers hold fourth place over Carolina because they've played one fewer game. Philadelphia visits the Rangers on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday before finishing against the Rangers at home Sunday.

Carolina (97 points after a 9-0 win over the Islanders) has won nine in a row and 12 straight at the RBC Center. The 'Canes host Buffalo on Thursday before ending their season Saturday at New Jersey. They'll probably have to win both to finish fourth and get home ice in the opening round.
Pittsburgh (95 points after a 6-4 win at Tampa Bay) is now 16-3-4 since Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien behind the bench. The Penguins could finish as high as fourth if they win their last two games and the Flyers and Hurricanes lose out. They host the Islanders on Thursday and finish at Montreal on Saturday.

Still to be decided:

(92 points after Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers) has dropped two games in two nights after a 5-0-1 streak that moved the Habs into seventh. The Canadiens are feeling the absence of injured defensemen Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider, who are gone for the season. The Canadiens have a tough finish. They visit the first-place Bruins on Thursday before closing against Pittsburgh at home on Saturday -- capping a season-ending stretch of four games in six nights.

The New York Rangers (91 points after a 3-1 home win over Montreal) took a big step toward a playoff berth by winning Tuesday night. But they're still likely to need two points from their last two games, a home-and-home series against Philadelphia. The Flyers come to Madison Square Garden on Thursday; the Rangers visit the Wachovia Center on Sunday.

Florida (89 points after a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia), dropped a game it had to win when the Flyers overcame an early 1-0 deficit. The Panthers, who are desperately trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, play at Atlanta on Thursday before finishing at home Saturday against Washington. They have to win both games and hope for the Rangers and Canadiens to lose. Florida loses tie-breakers with both teams.

(85 points) has to win all three remaining games, beginning Wednesday night at Toronto, and hope the Rangers lose twice and the Panthers once. The Sabres visit Carolina on Thursday before finishing at home Saturday against Boston.

Western Conference:

Already in:

San Jose
(Pacific) and Detroit (Central) have long since wrapped up their divisions. The Sharks can wrap up the Presidents' Trophy by beating Phoenix at home on Thursday or at Los Angeles on Saturday.

(96 points after a 4-1 loss at Vancouver) is still first in the Northwest Division because it has two more wins than the Canucks. The Flames end with a home-and-home series (Friday-Saturday) against the Edmonton Oilers. Vancouver (96 points) hosts Los Angeles on Thursday and visits Colorado on Saturday; the Canucks will have to get one more point than the Flames to win the division and the third seed.

(99 points after a 4-2 win over Nashville) will face the Northwest runner-up. The Hawks have a three-point lead in the race for fourth place and the last home-ice berth in the opening round. They've won four in a row and host Columbus on Wednesday before finishing with a home-and-home series against Detroit on Saturday and Sunday.

Still to be decided:

(90 points) is on the verge of earning its first-ever playoff berth. The Jackets have three games remaining. They'll visit Chicago on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday before returning home Sunday to face Minnesota.

(88 points) is watching and worrying -- the Ducks are off until Friday night following Sunday's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the Honda Center. The Ducks, who are seventh, ahead of St. Louis, because they've won two more games, host Dallas on Friday before visiting Phoenix on Saturday.

St. Louis
(88 points after a 5-1 win at Phoenix) climbed back into eighth place by routing the Coyotes, capping an excellent road trip. The Blues are idle until Saturday, when they host Columbus. St. Louis finishes the season Sunday at Colorado, the last-place team in the West.

(86 points after a 4-2 loss to Chicago) fell out of eighth place by losing its final home game of the season. If the Predators are going to make the playoffs, they'll have to do it the hard way -- they end the season with visits to Detroit on Thursday and Minnesota on Saturday.
Minnesota (85 points after a 3-1 home win over Dallas) stayed alive, but just barely, by beating the Stars. The Wild have to win both of their remaining games -- at home to Nashville on Friday and at Columbus on Saturday -- and hope for losses by the teams in front of them.

(83 points) saw its playoff hopes disappear after losing 2-1 at home to Los Angeles.

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