Saturday could go a long way toward adding more clarity to the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture. Twenty-two of the NHL's 30 teams are in action, and up to four teams can clinch a berth in the playoffs.
The Nashville Predators, without playing, became the eighth team to qualify for the postseason, and the seventh in the Western Conference, when the Colorado Avalanche lost at home to the Washington Capitals on Friday. The Predators could be joined Saturday by the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning; each has a scenario in which they can clinch an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
The only playoff spot remaining in the West comes down to a battle between the Minnesota Wild and Avalanche. The Wild have a five-point lead for the second wild card; Minnesota has three games left; Colorado has four.
Things are much less defined in the East. The Capitals, guaranteed the top seed throughout postseason, are the only team to qualify so far.
The Rangers host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, BELL TV, MSG, NHL.TV) and the Penguins play at the New York Islanders (1 p.m. ET; SN, MSG+, ROOT, NHL.TV) in a game between Metropolitan Division foes separated by three points in the standings. Pittsburgh has 96 points and sits second in the division; the Islanders have 93 points and are in fourth, but occupy the first wild card.
With nine days remaining in the regular season, there are eight playoff berths available. Each day, NHL.com takes a look at the playoff picture.
* The Penguins will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the New York Islanders in any fashion OR if the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in any fashion OR if the Penguins get one point against the Islanders AND the Red Wings defeat the Maple Leafs in a shootout
* The Rangers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Sabres in regulation or overtime OR if they defeat the Sabres in a shootout AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Sabres AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.
* The Panthers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Canadiens in any fashion AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Canadiens AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.
* The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Devils in any fashion AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.
Video: MIN@DET: Tatar banks in Nyquist's no-look feed
Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, CITY, FS-D): Detroit won a huge game Friday, defeating the Minnesota Wild, but has precious little time to celebrate. The Red Wings temporarily moved from out of the playoff picture into third place in the Atlantic Division. However, the Boston Bruins defeated the St. Louis Blues about an hour later to reclaim third place in the Atlantic and bounce the Red Wings back to the outside looking in. Boston is idle Saturday. Detroit also could gain ground in the wild-card race with a win. The Red Wings are even with the Philadelphia Flyers with 78 points each, but Philadelphia has played two fewer games. The Flyers host the Ottawa Senators in a Saturday matinee (1 p.m. ET; CSN-PHI, RDS, TSN5, NHL.TV). Philadelphia is four points behind the Islanders for the first wild card; each has six games remaining. Toronto has won seven of its past 12 games, including four against teams in playoff positions.
Video: CGY@LAK: Carter's pass deflects in off skate
Whatever chance the Los Angeles Kings have of catching the Dallas Stars for the top seed in the Western Conference could be determined Saturday. The Kings, first in the Pacific Division with 97 points, travel to Dallas, first in the Central Division with 103 points (4 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-W, SN1, NHL.TV). Los Angeles has a game in hand on Dallas, and a Kings victory would tighten the race into the final week of the regular season. Los Angeles leads the Anaheim Ducks by one point in the Pacific. Anaheim, which lost to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, is idle Saturday. The Stars hold a two-point lead on the St. Louis Blues. Each has four games remaining; the Blues are idle Saturday after a 6-5 loss to Boston on Friday.
The Panthers hold a two-point lead on the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division. Each has four games remaining, and each plays Saturday. The Panthers, who have 95 points, host the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN, FS-F, NHL.TV); the Lightning host the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, SUN, NHL.TV). The Panthers must finish with more points than the Lightning to win the Atlantic, because Tampa Bay has five more regulation and overtime wins, the first tiebreaker if the teams are tied at the end of the season. Each can advance to the playoffs Saturday if the proper scenarios take place.
Video: NYR@CAR: Lundqvist stands tall with mask for save
The New York Rangers are feeling pressure from all sides. The Penguins have passed them for second place in the Metropolitan Division and hold a one-point advantage. The Islanders, fourth in the division and holding the first wild card, are two points behind the Rangers. The Penguins and Islanders play each other Saturday, so one will gain two points. That makes the Rangers' game against Buffalo crucial; the Rangers are 20 points ahead of the Sabres in the standings and have won the two previous games this season, but have lost two straight games with an opportunity to clinch.
Best potential first-round matchup
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers. These teams have been battling for position in the Metropolitan Division throughout the second half of the season, and whichever team can grab home-ice advantage in the playoffs will have a huge edge. The Penguins and Rangers have played four times this season and three goals separate them, though Pittsburgh has won three times. The Rangers and Penguins have met in the postseason each of the past two seasons, with the Rangers eliminating the Penguins each time.