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Playoff Pulse: Preds can clinch; Caps-Sabres pivotal

by Dave Lozo
The Nashville Predators didn't get the help they needed to clinch a playoff spot during Monday's night off, so they'll try to take care of it themselves against the NHL's top team Tuesday night.

By earning at least a point on the road against the St. Louis Blues, the Predators would become the fifth Western Conference team and eighth team overall to punch its ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the sixth and final matchup between the teams, and the Predators are 4-0-1 during the season series.

A win would push the Predators ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for fourth place in the West.

The game also carries meaning for the Blues, who are just two points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks for the top spot in the West. With six games remaining for each team, the Blues hold the tiebreaker advantage, but could use some breathing room against last year's Presidents' Trophy-winning club.

2011-2012 Standings

Eastern Conference
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.
03/27/12 11:10AM
What other games carry playoff implications tonight? Let's take a gander:

Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals --
It's the biggest game of the night, with each team entering with 84 points and tied for eighth in the East with six games remaining. Both teams are heating up as they come down the home stretch -- the Sabres are 13-2-3 in their last 18 while the Caps are 6-2-2 in their last 10. The Sabres have taken two of three in the season series and need the win more badly, as they trail the Caps in the all-important regulation/OT wins tiebreaker 36-30. A two-point deficit might as well be a three-point deficit for the Sabres, who have a losing record (17-18-2) on the road. The Caps (24-10-4) are the NHL's seventh-best home squad.

Chicago Blackhawks at New Jersey Devils --
Losers in four of five and five of seven, the Devils need a win to hold off the Ottawa Senators, who are two points back of the sixth seed in the East. If things continue to trend in this direction for the Devils, they could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming off a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Predators, but had won five straight up until that beating. The Blackhawks will be without Duncan Keith (suspension) and Jonathan Toews (concussion), and a win would keep their hopes alive of landing home-ice advantage in the first round.

New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins -- With a loss, the Islanders could find themselves eliminated from postseason eligibility. With a win, the Penguins' climb to the top of the Eastern Conference could be complete. The Pens enter the game one point back of the New York Rangers, who face the Minnesota Wild later in the night. The Penguins haven't lost at home to the Islanders since Dec. 21, 2007.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins --
With a seven-point deficit and seven games remaining, the Lightning likely need to win out to reach 91 points and have a shot at claiming the No. 8 seed in the East. The Bruins are starting to find their stride, winning four of five to put some distance between themselves and Ottawa for the Northeast lead and No. 2 seed. The Bruins are three points ahead of the Senators with two games in hand.

Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens -- The Panthers lead the Southeast with 87 points, but the Sabres and Capitals are nipping at their heels and one of those teams will end the night with 86 points. The Panthers need to take advantage of a matchup against the Canadiens, who have long since had their playoff hopes dashed.

New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild --
As stated previously, the Rangers are hanging onto East supremacy by a thread. The Flyers losing in regulation to the Lightning on Monday helps ease the pressure of slipping all the way to the No. 5 seed -- the Rangers are five points up on Philadelphia with a game in hand -- but there's no stopping the Penguins juggernaut of late. The Rangers may need to earn at least a point to hang on to first in the East.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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