The biggest beneficiary of Wednesday's games could be a team that's not even playing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
can clinch a playoff spot while spending the night at home, as a Buffalo Sabres
loss or shootout win against the Montreal Canadiens
would make the Pens the second Eastern Conference team to qualify for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
All five games Wednesday's schedule has playoff implications:
Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres --
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted. For full standings tiebreakers, click here.
A Sabres win would give them 80 points, the same as the eighth-place Washington Capitals
. A win in regulation or overtime would be even better, as the Sabres' 27 regulation/overtime wins are the third-fewest in the conference.
Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes --
The Panthers' 2-1 win in Philadelphia on Tuesday was their fifth straight, their best stretch since a franchise-record seven-game win streak in 2008. Their strong play has allowed them to build a five-point lead on Washington in the Southeast Division, and move within two points of Boston for second place in the East. A win would match the Bruins' 87 points, but Florida would remain third due to points percentage.
Detroit Red Wings at New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) --
Both teams are in good shape, but each could use a victory here. Just getting the game past regulation would boost the Red Wings ahead of the Predators for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Rangers, who snapped a two-game losing streak with a win Monday, can open some breathing room on the Penguins, who have pulled within one point of the conference lead.
Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET, TSN) --
The Canucks appear locked into the second spot in the West, but catching the Blues remains a possibility -- as long as they can snap out of a funk that has seen them win just three times in their last 10 games. A Blackhawks victory would be their fifth straight, and combined with a Red Wings loss on Wednesday, would leave those teams and the Predators each with 92 points. The Blackhawks, with the lowest points percentage of the three, would remain sixth in the conference.
St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks --
The Blues haven't clinched the Central Division yet -- they enter eight points ahead of Nashville and Detroit -- so they need points to continue to move in that direction. They're also just six points ahead of Vancouver for the top spot in the conference, and with the Canucks playing Wednesday, they need to keep pace in that race, as well.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK