The Anaheim Ducks, who have won the division in each of the past four seasons, are transitioning and becoming a younger team. The Ducks could be joined in the postseason by the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames who, during the past seven seasons, have combined for one playoff appearance (Calgary, 2015).
The San Jose Sharks, who went to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time last year, have a seven-point lead on the Ducks and Oilers. The Sharks have one of the most dynamic personalities in the game, defenseman Brent Burns, whose playoff beard already is in fine form.
San Jose Sharks
Record: 39-19-7 (85 points)
Where They Stand: First place in the division, third in the Western Conference. They lead the Oilers and Ducks by seven points and have played one fewer game.
What's left: 17 games: 10 at home, where they are 20-7-4, and seven on the road, where they are 19-12-3. They start a six-game homestand Thursday, then play seven of eight on the road.
3 Key Games: March 9 vs. Washington Capitals. Good test against the best team in the NHL; March 21, at Minnesota Wild. Will look to avenge 3-1 loss at Xcel Energy Center on March 5; April 6 vs. Oilers. Division showdown against Connor McDavid & Co.
Key injuries: Defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) has missed two games but is expected back soon.
Player to Watch: Mikkel Boedker. After a slow start, Boedker is finding his scoring touch and his niche within coach Peter DeBoer's lineup. The presence of fellow Denmark native and childhood friend Jannik Hansen, added before the NHL Trade Deadline in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks, only can enhance his comfort level.
The outlook: After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, the Sharks are looking to take the next step and win their first championship. They're being fueled by a stupendous season from Burns, a strong Hart and Norris Trophy candidate, and the reliable efficiency of Joe Pavelski.
Video: SJS@WPG: Pavelski follows up play and nets rebound
Record: 35-23-8 (78 points)
Where They Stand: Second place in the division, fourth in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Ducks in points (78) and regulation/overtime wins (31) but lead the season series 2-1-0.
What's left: 16 games: Eleven at home, where they are 16-11-3, including the final six of an eight-game homestand, and five on the road, where they are 19-12-5.
3 Key Games: March 10 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champs make their annual trip to Edmonton; April 1 vs. Ducks. Last of five games between teams in the regular season; April 6 at San Jose. The middle game of a tough three-game trip vs. divisional opponents.
Key injuries: Forward Benoit Pouliot (undisclosed) has been out since Feb. 11 but has been cleared for contact.
Player to Watch: McDavid. Too obvious? But you can't take your eyes off the second-year center, who's bidding to win the NHL scoring title ahead of far more experienced, established stars. McDavid has dazzled opponents with his speed and creativity.
The outlook: With McDavid as the offensive catalyst and goaltender Cam Talbot playing yeoman's minutes (NHL-high 3,497:15), the Oilers are poised to end a playoff drought that dates to 2006, the longest current streak in the League. Note: The last time the Oilers were in the playoffs, they made it to the Final.
Video: DET@EDM: McDavid shows off wheels, nets backhander
Record: 34-22-10 (78 points)
Where They Stand: Third in the division, fifth in the Western Conference. They lead the fourth-place Calgary Flames by two points.
What's left: 16 games: Nine at home,where they are 21-8-3, and seven on the road, where they are 13-14-7.
3 key games: March 18 at San Jose. The final regular-season game between the teams; March 22 vs. Edmonton. Possible Western Conference First Round preview; April 6 vs. Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago always is a good measuring stick for the Ducks.
Key injuries: Goaltender John Gibson (muscle strain) has missed Anaheim's past five games but is skating on his own. Defenseman Clayton Stoner (abdominal surgery in December) still is not ready for a rehab assignment.
Player to watch: Patrick Eaves. Acquired by the Ducks in a trade with the Dallas Stars prior to the deadline to add experience to a team that introduced a below-the-radar youth movement up front, Eaves has been effective on a line with center Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell. Eaves has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past three games.
The outlook: In a perfect world Gibson would do for Anaheim what rookie call-up Matt Murray did for Pittsburgh last season: provide the consistent goaltending needed for a long playoff run. Gibson has started six playoff games in his NHL career; this is the first time he heads toward the postseason as the unquestioned starter.
Video: NSH@ANA: Rakell nets wrist shot that deflects in
Record: 36-26-4 (76 points)
Where They Stand: Fourth in the division, sixth in the Western Conference (first wild card). They trail Edmonton and Anaheim by two points and have an eight-point lead on the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings.
What's left: 16 games. Nine at home, where they are 18-14-0, and seven on the road, including a three-game trip to California to end the season. They're 18-12-4 away from Scotiabank Saddledome.
3 key games: March 19 vs. Los Angeles. First of three remaining regular-season games between the teams; March 25 at St. Louis Blues. Goaltender Brian Elliott plays his former team; April 4 at Anaheim. The Flames have lost their past 24 regular-season games at Honda Center.
Key injuries: None.
Player to Watch: Johnny Gaudreau. After cracking the top 10 in scoring in his second full NHL season, Gaudreau got off to a slow start this season under new coach Glen Gulutzan and only recently has started finding his form. But he can be an explosive scoring talent when he gets on a roll.
The outlook: Elliott's goaltending helped the Flames go 9-2-1 in February, and they take a seven-game winning streak into their home game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, SNE, RDS, NHL.TV). That begins a streak where the Flames will play every other day until its season ends April 8. Much of Alberta is pondering the tantalizing prospect of seeing the first Flames-Oilers playoff series since 1991.
Video: CGY@CAR: Gaudreau slides puck five-hole on Lack
Los Angeles Kings
Record: 31-28-6 (68 points)
Where They Stand: Fifth in the division, ninth in the Western Conference. They lead the sixth-place Canucks by four points but trail the Blues for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference by three points.
What's left: 17 games. Eleven at home, where they're 17-12-1, and six on the road, where they're 14-16-5. The Kings are two games into an eight-game homestand but still have to make two trips to Western Canada.
3 key games: March 19 at Calgary. First of three regular-season games remaining against their division rival; March 20 at Edmonton. The back-to-back set in Alberta could be the season's turning point; April 9 at Anaheim. Regular-season finale against their Southern California rival.
Key injuries: Forward Jordan Nolan (lower body) and center Nick Shore (upper body). Each is listed as day to day.
Player to Watch: Anze Kopitar. In his first season as captain, Kopitar has had a difficult time scoring goals (eight in 59 games). But he has demonstrated throughout his NHL career that he can elevate his play when the games mean the most.
The outlook: Jonathan Quick's return from a groin injury and Ben Bishop's acquisition in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning has stabilized the goaltending; no small matter on a team that adheres to a defense-first identity. The Kings need a little more scoring from Tyler Toffoli and recently added Jarome Iginla to vault into a playoff spot.
Video: VAN@LAK: Bishop snags D. Sedin's slapper
Record: 28-30-8 (64 points)
Where They Stand: Sixth in the division, 12th in the Western Conference. They have an 11-point lead on the seventh-place Arizona Coyotes but trail St. Louis by seven points for the second wild card.
What's left: 16 games. Eight at home, where they're 18-10-5, including the next four. They play eight on the road, where they're 10-20-3.
3 key games: March 18 at Edmonton. Opener of a critical five-game trip; March 28 vs. Anaheim. Canucks hope they'll still be in the race for a wild card spot; April 2 vs. San Jose. Forward Jannik Hansen, traded to the Sharks before the trade deadline March 1, makes his return to Vancouver.
Key injuries: Forward Loui Eriksson (knee), injured against Anaheim on Sunday, will miss 1-2 weeks. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom (lower body) has missed four games. Defenseman Nikita Tryamkin (mumps) has missed five games but has resumed skating. Forward Jack Skille (groin) has not played since Feb. 18.
Player to watch: Bo Horvat. As the Canucks continue to rebuild, Horvat has taken a great leap forward this season and is their lone 20-goal scorer. Horvat, a center, was the No. 9 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft because of his two-way abilities but is showing more offensive skill than many believed possible.
The outlook: The Canucks need a strong final surge in order to earn a playoff spot. But they've been more than respectable of late and will stick closely to the plan of giving their young talent on-the-job training in hopes that doing so will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
Video: VAN@ANA: Horvat stuffs a rebound into the cage in 1st
Record: 23-35-7 (53 points)
Where They Stand: Seventh in the division, 13th in the Western Conference.
What's left: 17 games. Nine at home, where they are 14-15-3, and eight on the road, including a five-game trip to the Southeast later this month. They are 9-20-4 away from Gila River Arena.
3 Key Games: March 13 vs. Colorado Avalanche. Bragging rights for the season series are on the line; March 23 at Florida Panthers. It will be a homecoming for rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who was born and raised in Boca Raton; April 8 vs. Minnesota Wild. Season finale also will mark return of center Martin Hanzal, who was traded to the Wild before the deadline.
Key injuries: Alexander Burmistrov (upper body), Kevin Connauton (upper body) and forward Brad Richardson (broken leg).
Player to Watch: Max Domi. After an excellent rookie season that saw him finish with 52 points, most among Coyotes forwards, Domi's second season was torpedoed by an upper-body injury that kept him out 23 games. But when healthy, he is one of their most intriguing offensive talents.
The outlook: Auditions are underway for next season. The trades of Hanzal, forward Ryan White and defenseman Michael Stone before the deadline have created opportunities for some of the organization's younger talent. Expect to see a lot of minutes devoted to forwards Christian Dvorak and Lawson Crouse, and defensemen Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo.
Video: BUF@ARI: Domi cashes in on a Buffalo turnover