The playoff picture could be a lot clearer after 28 teams play Thursday.
With just three days left in the 2011-12 regular season, the race for playoff seeds remains wide open. Five playoff berths are still up for grabs, and two division titles, one conference title and the Presidents' Trophy also are still to be decided.
The final five playoff spots could all be claimed Thursday. It's also possible for the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal-round matchups to be set.
But a lot will have to happen.
Century club history
Never before in the NHL has one division laid claim to four 100-point teams in the same season.
There could be two in 2011-12 after the games Thursday night.
If New Jersey wins in Detroit and Chicago wins in Minnesota, both the Atlantic Division and Central Division will have four 100-point teams. The Devils and Blackhawks are fourth in their respective divisions despite having as many or more points than three of the other four division leaders/winners.
The Rangers (109), Penguins (104), Flyers (101), Blues (109), Red Wings (101), and Predators (100) are already members of the Century Club from the Atlantic and Central divisions.
If the Devils and Blackhawks fail to reach the century mark Thursday, they can still get there Saturday, the final day of the 2011-12 regular season. New Jersey is home against Ottawa while Chicago plays in Detroit.
-- Dan Rosen
Let's start with getting eight teams in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. In order for that to happen, Washington needs to beat Florida at home and Philadelphia has to beat Buffalo at home.
A Sabres regulation loss immediately puts the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2000 regardless of what happens in Washington. However, if Buffalo loses in regulation and the Capitals beat the Panthers in any way, Washington also clinches a playoff berth.
The Sabres and Capitals both have 88 points, but Washington holds the tiebreaker with five more regulation/overtime wins (ROW).
Buffalo, though, could move into eighth place if it wins in Philadelphia and the Capitals lose in any way to the Panthers. The Sabres would also move up to eighth with one point gained in their game against the Flyers as long as the Capitals lose in regulation to the Panthers.
Florida, by the way, needs just one point to clinch its first Southeast Division title in franchise history. However, it's also still possible for the Panthers to miss the playoffs entirely.
For that possibility to still exist Saturday, both the Capitals and Sabres have to win in regulation Thursday. Washington and Buffalo each have more ROWs than the Panthers.
Now, what has to happen for the first-round matchups to be set in the East after the games Thursday?
It starts with the Panthers getting at least one point against the Capitals. That will put them into the third seed.
Buffalo also has to lose to Philadelphia in regulation. Any point earned by the Sabres keeps them alive in the race.
In addition, the Penguins need to beat the Rangers in Pittsburgh and Ottawa needs to gain at least one point in its game against the Bruins in Boston. Pittsburgh needs two points to secure the fourth seed and the Senators need just one to lock up the seventh seed.
If all that happens, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals would look like this: (1) Rangers vs. (8) Capitals; (2) Bruins vs. (7) Senators; (3) Panthers vs. (6) Devils; (4) Penguins vs. (5) Flyers.
What about the Western Conference, where the race has been even nuttier than in the East?
All eight spots can be claimed Thursday, but the first-round matchups can't be decided until Friday night at the earliest.
Los Angeles will clinch at least a playoff berth if it gains just one point against San Jose or if Dallas loses in any fashion at Nashville.
Phoenix, one of only two NHL teams not in action Thursday, will clinch a playoff berth if Dallas loses in Nashville either in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
The Sharks have three ways to clinch a playoff berth: 1) By beating the Kings in any fashion; 2) By gaining one point against the Kings and having Dallas loss in any fashion at Nashville; 3) By Dallas losing in regulation at Nashville and Colorado losing in any fashion against Columbus.
Regardless of what happens between the Kings and Sharks, the Stars will be eliminated if they lose to the Predators in regulation.
Colorado will be eliminated if it loses to Columbus or the Sharks get one point.