All five games Monday will have an impact on the way the Stanley Cup Playoffs will look when they start a week from Wednesday.
The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning each can clinch a berth in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Florida Panthers, the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues, all in the postseason, have the opportunity to better their positioning. With less than a week to go, there are five berths remaining.
The Rangers, who have lost three straight, play at the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-O, NHL.TV) on Monday and need a victory in any fashion to qualify. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who play at the New York Islanders (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, MSG+, FS-F), need one point to become the second Atlantic Division team to make it into the postseason.
Aside from that, there are many other storylines to follow on the final Monday of the regular season. With the end of the regular season looming Sunday, six playoff berths remain available. Each day, NHL.com takes a look at the playoff picture.
* The Rangers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blue Jackets in any fashion.
* The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the Islanders.
Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders: Each team is limping to the finish line. The Islanders, who have the first wild card, are without top defenseman Travis Hamonic and No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak. They hold a two-point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers, in the second wild card, and a three-point lead on the Boston Bruins, who are out of the playoff picture. They also are two points behind the Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have played fewer games than all of those teams. The Lightning lost star forward Steven Stamkos for at least a month, and up to three, after a blood clot was discovered under his collarbone Friday. He will have surgery Monday. They also are without top defenseman Anton Stralman, who broke his fibula last week. The Lightning are two points behind the Panthers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Rangers have been on the cusp of booking their passage to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a week now but have lost three straight (0-2-1), including consecutive losses to the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres, each of whom has been eliminated from the postseason. The Rangers face another eliminated team Monday in their latest attempt to make qualification official. The Rangers have beaten the Blue Jackets in their three previous games this season. If they don't win Monday, the Rangers may have to start worrying about the Islanders, who have played one fewer game, passing them for third in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers have 95 points and the Islanders have 93.
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The Blues still have a chance at first place in the Central Division and the Western Conference after a 5-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The Blues, who trail the first-place Stars by two points, plays its game in hand Monday against the Arizona Coyotes (8 p.m. ET; FS-A+, FS-MW, NHL.TV), and with a win match the Stars with 105 points. The Stars, however, hold the tiebreaker with four more regulation/overtime wins (ROW) than the Blues.
First place in the Pacific Division switched hands again Sunday when the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1. With the two points the Ducks jumped past the Kings by one point. The Kings can go back in front with any kind of victory Monday against the Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; FS-W, SNP, NHL.TV). The Kings have lost two of their past three games (1-2-0) but are 3-1-0 against the Canucks this season.
Best potential first-round matchup
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks must be resigning themselves to the fact that they will draw a California rival, either the Ducks or the Kings, in the first round. If it's the Kings, which is the scenario entering play Monday, it will present a good deal of drama. The Kings and Sharks have met in the postseason the past two years and each time the Kings have advanced after seven games of unforgettable, edge-of-the-seat hockey. A third go-round likely would be among the highlights of the first round.