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Playoff Platter: Capitals can be first team to clinch

Central Division lead hangs in balance when Stars host Blues on Saturday

NHL.com @NHL

The end of the NHL regular season is less than a month away, and not one team has clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, setting up what should be a wild finish. 

Each day, NHL.com will take a closer look at the playoff races.

CLINCHING SCENARIO


Washington at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-DC+, CSN-CA, NHL.TV): The Capitals, who own the best record in the League, will become the first team to clinch a playoff berth under the following scenarios:

* If they defeat the Sharks in any fashion; OR

* If they get one point against the Sharks AND both the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings lose in any fashion; OR

* If they get one point against the Sharks AND either the Flyers or Red Wings lose in regulation.

The Capitals cannot clinch a playoff berth if they lose to the Sharks in regulation.

Video: Tarasenko, Allen lead Blues past Ducks

KEY GAME 

St. Louis at Dallas (9 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-MW, FS-SW): Both teams had important and convincing wins Friday. The Stars got a 5-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks while the Blues defeated the Anaheim Ducks 5-2. The Stars lead the Central Division with 90 points, the Blues are second with 89 and the Blackhawks third with 88. The game Saturday between the Blues and Stars could help determine the division champion and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. 

IN GOOD SHAPE

The New York Rangers, with 84 points, have a two-point lead over the New York Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, and may get three regulars back into the lineup Saturday at the Detroit Red Wings (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, MSG, FS-D, SN). Forward Rick Nash, who missed 20 games with a bone bruise, could be in the lineup along with defenseman Marc Staal, who missed the past two games with a lower-body injury. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has missed the past three games with neck spasms, is expected to start.

Video: Milan Lucic on the LA King's push for the playoffs

LOOK OUT FOR 

The Los Angeles Kings have scored nine goals in their past two games, are 7-2-1 in their past 10 and are 21-11-1 at Staples Center, where they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday (10:30 p.m.; MSG+, FS-W, NHL.TV). The Kings hold a one-point lead over second-place Anaheim in the Pacific Division, and have a game in hand and four more regulation wins than the Ducks. A win Saturday would give the Kings some breathing room in the division.

NEED HELP 

The Vancouver Canucks are 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card out of the Western Conference, but have three games in hand. Vancouver makes up one of those games Saturday against the Nashville Predators (10 p.m. ET; FS-TN, CBC, NHL.TV). Canucks captain Henrik Sedin is expected to return after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Nashville has earned at least one point in each of its past 14 games. 

Best first-round matchup if playoffs started today: 

The Chicago Blackhawks would open the playoffs in St. Louis as the No. 3 seed in the Central Division. In 2014, the two teams played each other in the first round and the Blues won the first two games, but the Blackhawks took the next four and the series. A rematch this season would certainly be full of intrigue.

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