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Playoff Platter: Three can clinch without playing

Penguins, Rangers, Predators idle Friday but possible to join postseason field

NHL.com @NHL

Thursday was not a good day for teams in position to clinch berths in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But for the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators, redemption can come as soon as Friday, when each team can clinch. The Pittsburgh Penguins also are in position to clinch a playoff berth; New York, Nashville and Pittsburgh are all idle Friday.

The Rangers, with a chance to become the second team in the Eastern Conference to clinch, after the Washington Capitals, lost 4-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. That game marked the return of forward Eric Staal to Carolina for the first time since his trade to New York on Feb. 28.

The Predators let a third straight opportunity at clinching slip with a 5-2 loss against the Penguins. Nashville, the first wild card in the Western Conference, holds a nine-point lead on the Colorado Avalanche, who are five points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card.

The Penguins moved one point ahead of the Rangers and took over second place in the Metropolitan Division. Each has five games to play.

With 10 days remaining in the regular season, there are nine playoff berths available. Each day, NHL.com takes a look at the playoff picture.

CLINCHING SCENARIOS
Three teams can clinch a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday.

* The Penguins (idle) will clinch a playoff berth if the Detroit Red Wings lose to the Wild in any fashion OR if the Boston Bruins lose to the St. Louis Blues in any fashion.
 
* The Rangers (idle) will clinch a playoff berth if the Bruins lose to the Blues in regulation AND the Red Wings lose to the Wild in any fashion.
 
* The Predators (idle) will clinch a playoff berth if the Avalanche lose to the Capitals in regulation.

Video: NSH@PIT: Neal goes top-shelf for his 31st goal

KEY GAME
Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-N, FSN-D+): The Wild lost Wednesday to the Ottawa Senators, who are eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, Minnesota remains in the second wild card in the Western Conference, four points behind the Predators and five points ahead of the Avalanche. The Wild have played the same amount of games as the Predators, idle Friday, and one more than the Avalanche, who face the Capitals. Detroit is out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who occupy the second wild card. Detroit and Boston, the latter of which plays St. Louis on Friday, have played the same amount of games. Philadelphia, idle on Friday, has played one fewer game than the Red Wings and Bruins.

SPRINT TO THE FINISH
The Bruins begin their five-game sprint to the regular-season finish line on Friday at the Blues (8 p.m. ET; NESN, FS-MW, NHL.TV), and the stakes are as high as they come. The Bruins sat atop the tightly contested Atlantic Division before losing six of their past seven games. Now, Boston is one point ahead of the Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic. Boston is one point behind Philadelphia, which holds the second wild card and will have two games in hand on the Bruins after Friday. Boston is five points behind the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic. After facing the Blues, the Bruins finish with games against the Chicago Blackhawks, Hurricanes, Red Wings and Senators.

SEE-SAW PACIFIC
The first-place team in the Pacific Division changed again Thursday when the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Calgary Flames 3-0 to pass the Anaheim Ducks, who were idle. Los Angeles holds a one-point lead over Anaheim, which has a game in hand. That will be erased Friday when the Ducks host the Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; SNP, FS-SD, PRIME, NHL.TV) with an opportunity to move back into first place with a victory. The Kings hold the upper hand in the first tiebreaker with 44 wins in regulation or overtime, compared to 40 for the Ducks. The first-place team in the Pacific likely will play the first wild card in the West (Nashville at the moment) and the second-place team will face the third-place team from the Pacific, the San Jose Sharks.

SPOILER ALERT
The Blackhawks are trying to hold on to the third spot in the Central Division. The Winnipeg Jets would love to make it more difficult Friday (8 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, TSN3, NHL.TV) in Winnipeg. The Blackhawks, without defenseman Duncan Keith, who faces a phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday, are four points ahead of fourth-place Nashville, which has played one more game than Chicago. A Blackhawks win would move them six points ahead of the Predators and each team would have four games remaining.  

Best potential first-round matchup:
Blues vs. Blackhawks.
Among the fiercest of the Western Conference rivalries, the Blues and Blackhawks have battled for playoff positioning throughout the second half of the season. Each roster is filled with big-name players, and they have split the four-game season series. The two teams share a rich and passionate recent history in the postseason, with Chicago winning a six-game first-round series in 2014.

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