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playoffs

Kings vs. Blackhawks should have playoff feel

Los Angeles aims to bolster Pacific lead; Chicago trying to keep pace in Central

by NHL.com @NHL / NHL.com

The end of the NHL regular season is 27 days away, and not one team has clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, setting up what should be a wild finish. 

Each day, NHL.com will take a closer look at the playoff races.

KEY GAME

Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, CSN-CH+): Two of the top teams in the Western Conference play one another in what should be a good test for each. The Kings sit atop the Pacific Division but hold a two-point lead on the Anaheim Ducks and a three-point cushion on the San Jose Sharks, who have played one more game than the Kings and Ducks. The Blackhawks have slipped to third place in the Central Division, falling three points behind the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have played one fewer game than each of those teams, however. The Kings and Blackhawks played twice in November, with each winning a game, but have not met since.

IN GOOD SHAPE

San Jose Sharks. The Sharks may be third in the Pacific but they have almost no pressure from behind; they hold a 15-point lead on the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes, who have 13 games remaining. Without fear of being caught from behind, the Sharks can concentrate on trying to pass the Ducks for second and the resulting home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round, or on passing the Kings for first in the division and a top-two seed in the West. The Sharks are one point behind the Ducks and three points behind the Kings.

LOOK OUT FOR 

The New Jersey Devils. New Jersey goes for a sweep of their California trip Monday when it visits the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET; MSG, F-SD, PRIME, NHL.TV). The Devils already have defeated the Kings and the Sharks on the trip to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. If the Devils defeat the Ducks, they would leapfrog the idle Carolina Hurricanes and move within four points of the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings, however has a game in hand on the Devils, who will have a dozen games remaining after Monday. 

NEED HELP

The Nashville Predators. A playoff spot, likely the first wild card, is a pretty safe bet at the moment. The Predators, who play the Edmonton Oilers on Monday (9 p.m. ET; FS-TN, SNOL, NHL.TV), hold a seven-point lead on the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche with 13 games remaining, but they need to make a run of their own if they want to climb into a top-three spot in the Central Division. They trail third-place Chicago by seven points with 13 games remaining and are 10 points behind the Stars and Blues, the top-two teams in the division.

Best first-round matchup if playoffs started today: 
The possibility of an all-Florida first round is alive and well. The Florida Panthers, who play the New York Islanders on Monday (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, MSG+, TVA Sports, NHL.TV), are second in the Atlantic Division while the Tampa Bay Lightning are third. The teams never have played in the postseason, but would in this scenario with the Panthers holding home-ice advantage.

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