Saturday, April 11, marks the conclusion to the 2014-15 regular season. Yet, much remains to be decided in the frantic run to the finish line, including playoff positioning and numerous individual accomplishments and milestones. To celebrate the countdown to the end of the season and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15, NHL.com will provide a piece of playoff-related content each day.
It wasn't long ago the Boston Bruins had slipped out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference and their run at an eighth straight postseason berth seemed in serious jeopardy.
With a regulation win Thursday at the Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins (39-25-13) would tie the Red Wings (40-23-13) with 93 points. Detroit would still hold down third place in the Atlantic Division by virtue of having played one fewer game, but it would continue a late-season trend that has seen the Bruins come on strong and the Red Wings start to fade.
Two teams hoping Boston won't get the job done are also in action. The Ottawa Senators (38-26-12) could close to within one point of the second wild card with a win at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning (47-24-7) and a regulation loss by the Bruins. The Senators still hold a game in hand. The Florida Panthers (35-27-15) begin a five-game homestand to close the regular season in dire need of two points against the Carolina Hurricanes (28-37-11), having fallen six points off the pace.
The Washington Capitals could leap from fourth in the Metropolitan into second and be in position for home ice in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Capitals (42-25-10) need a road win against the Montreal Canadiens (47-22-8) and a loss in any fashion by the New York Islanders (45-27-5) against the surging Columbus Blue Jackets (37-35-4), who are going for their eighth straight win. Washington enters Thursday one point behind the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, who are idle.
Out in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues (46-23-7) take another crack at clinching a playoff berth when they host the Calgary Flames (42-28-7). Hot on their tails in the Central are the Chicago Blackhawks (46-24-6), who can also clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Vancouver Canucks (45-27-5) or if they gain at least a point and get help. Chicago trails St. Louis by one point for second place in the Central while Calgary trails Vancouver by four points for second in the Pacific.
The Los Angeles Kings (37-25-14) can move back into the second wild card in the West by defeating the Edmonton Oilers (23-41-13). That would give them 90 points, tied with the idle Winnipeg Jets, but the Kings own the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker. Each team will have five regular-season games remaining after Thursday.
The only non-conference game on the schedule has postseason implications of its own. The New York Rangers (48-21-7), who have already wrapped up a playoff berth, can clinch the Metropolitan title with a road win against the Minnesota Wild (44-25-7), who are only three points behind the Blackhawks and four back of the Blues in the Central.
Here's a closer look at the action Thursday:
New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-O)
Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, RDS, SNE)
Tampa Bay Lightning at Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m. ET; SUN, RDS2, TSN5)
Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, NESN, FS-D)
Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-F)
New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-N, FS-WI)
Calgary Flames at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-MW)
Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-CH)
Edmonton Oilers at Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-W)
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots are filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends just three.
Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.