Playoff Pulse: Fringe teams fight to keep hopes alive
The race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not unlike a game of musical chairs. With 13 days left in the regular season, the music is about ready to stop.
There are still 11 postseason berths available with 21 teams technically alive for those bids and only four mathematically eliminated. There are two teams that can clinch Monday on a night when all six games on the docket carry some sort of meaning for at least one of the teams involved.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Philadelphia Flyers -- The nationally-televised game (7:30 pm. NBCSN) features one team hanging onto its playoff dreams by a fraying thread and the other trying to make a push for home-ice advantage. The Lightning are nine points back of eighth with eight games remaining, meaning they would likely have to win out to reach the postseason. The fifth-place Flyers have already clinched and are four points back of fourth-place Pittsburgh and five points back of the first-place Rangers.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Detroit Red Wings -- Here's our first clinching scenario of the night: If the Red Wings win in any way, shape or form, they wrap up a playoff berth. Also, if the Red Wings earn a consolation point, they would clinch with regulation losses by San Jose and Los Angeles tonight. Despite their recent slump, the Red Wings can still climb to the fourth spot in the West and get home-ice in the first round.
Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets -- The lights are flickering on the Jets' playoff hopes, and the struggling Senators can just about turn them out for good with a regulation win tonight. The Jets are six points back of eighth, and this is their game in hand on Buffalo and Washington. Meanwhile, the Sens have lost five of seven and are only two points clear of ninth place. Both teams need a win badly.
Dallas Stars at Calgary Flames -- The Flames are another team clinging to life. They are only three points out of eighth place, but they must pass three teams to get to a playoff spot. They have also played more games than two of the teams they are chasing. The Stars are in third place in the West by virtue of leading the Pacific, but are only one point ahead of 10th place Colorado. Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks -- The final two games of the night hold playoff implications for the idle Nashville Predators. If the Kings and Sharks lose in regulation, the Predators are headed to the playoffs. More importantly to the eighth-place Kings, if they lose in regulation, they could find themselves out of the playoff picture tomorrow morning. The Northwest-leading Canucks are only four points back of the League-leading Blues with a game in hand. Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks -- Both teams have 86 points, tied with the eighth-place Kings who hold the tiebreakers. A regulation loss for the Avs, who have just four games remaining after tonight, could be devastating. No team has played more games in the NHL than the Avs, who have no margin for error coming down the stretch. The Sharks have had games in hand on everyone for what seems like the entire season. If they start winning those games, they can secure a playoff spot.