Playoff Primer April 23: Five teams can clinch berths
The 2012-13 NHL season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Sunday, April 28. Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are clearly in sight, the qualification picture is far less clear. To help make sense of the numerous permutations that exist, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.
Teams that can clinch Tuesday: In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals can clinch the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed if they beat the Winnipeg Jets in either regulation or overtime. The New York Islanders can clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in any fashion and the Capitals defeat the Jets in any fashion, or if they earn one point against the Hurricanes while the Capitals defeat the Jets in regulation. The New York Rangers can clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Florida Panthers in any fashion and the Capitals defeat the Jets in regulation.
Montreal at New Jersey: Despite a slide that has seen them drop four of their past five games, the Montreal Canadiens are still very much alive in the Northeast Division race. The Habs and Boston Bruins are tied at 59 points apiece, although the Bruins have a game in hand. Montreal will be facing a New Jersey Devils squad that was mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers.
Winnipeg at Washington: This is arguably the biggest game on Tuesday’s NHL schedule, as the Winnipeg Jets have a chance to move past the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division standings. However, the Caps can clinch the division if they can find a way to beat the Jets in either regulation or overtime. The Southeast winner would be the No. 3 seed, which means home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
N.Y. Islanders at Carolina: Currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders are 8-0-2 in their past 10 games and are closing in on their first playoff berth since 2007. Tuesday marks the third of their season-ending, five-game road trip. They’ve already earned wins at Toronto and Winnipeg.
Buffalo at Pittsburgh: Already guaranteed the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins still have a chance to claim the Presidents’ Trophy after the Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. The Pens, who earned a 3-1 victory at Ottawa on Monday, trail Chicago by three points with three games remaining.
Boston at Philadelphia: The Boston Bruins are in a heated battle with Montreal for the Northeast title. Tuesday marks the second of three straight games against non-playoff teams for the Bruins, as they’re coming off a 3-0 win against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. Boston will also host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
N.Y. Rangers at Florida: The New York Rangers won’t face a playoff-bound team the rest of the way. They mathematically eliminated the Devils with Sunday’s 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden and now begin a brief two-game trip that also has a stop in Carolina on Thursday. New York enters Tuesday’s action in seventh place in the East, but one point ahead of ninth-place Winnipeg.
Colorado at St. Louis: With 54 points and three games remaining, the St. Louis Blues are all but assured an invitation to the playoffs. The only question is, where will they finish? Currently in sixth place the Western Conference, the Blues could find themselves in fifth by the end of the night should they collect two points on home ice against the Colorado Avalanche.
Los Angeles at Minnesota: Two big points on the line for both the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The defending Stanley Cup champs are trying to nail down the fourth seed in the West, which would guarantee them home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Minnesota, though, is still simply trying to get there. The Wild enter Tuesday’s action in seventh place, one point ahead of ninth-place Detroit.
Dallas at San Jose: With 48 points, the Dallas Stars need this victory in the worst way. It won’t be easy, as the San Jose Sharks are still chasing Los Angeles and boast a record of 16-2-5 at HP Pavilion. This is the first of three remaining games for both teams.
Teams on the rise:
Winnipeg Jets: They’re still on the outside looking in, but the Jets have an opportunity to take the lead in the Southeast Division on Tuesday at Washington after picking up two big points Monday at Buffalo. However, the Capitals will win the division if they beat Winnipeg in regulation or overtime.
Detroit Red Wings: They’ve made the playoffs 21 years in a row, and they took care of business Monday against Phoenix to remain very much alive in the race. The Red Wings, who are idle Tuesday, sit in ninth place in the West, just one point behind both the Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Teams on the decline:
Ottawa Senators: For a while, they seemed to be a lock to qualify for the playoffs. Now, the Senators are in some danger after Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Penguins at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa currently resides in eighth place in the East, just one point ahead of Winnipeg, although the Senators still have a game in hand.
Phoenix Coyotes: After reaching the Western Conference Finals a year ago, the Coyotes -- who have dropped four of their past five games -- are on the brink of elimination with Monday’s 4-0 loss at Detroit. A lack of offense has hindered the Coyotes all season long, as they’ve now been shut out eight times.