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Season's final three days should be a wild ride

by Dan Rosen /

The regular season has come down to the final three days and 30 games. There still is so much that is to be determined.

Who will win the Pacific Division? Can the Stars get back into the top eight in the Western Conference?

Will the Panthers hang on to win the Southeast? If they do, will Washington still be able to clinch a playoff berth? Can the Sabres finish their miraculous second-half run with a playoff spot?

Will the Flyers and Penguins meet in the first round? If they do, where will that series start?

Who will win the Presidents' Trophy?

All these questions and many more will be answered between now and late Saturday (or early Sunday, depending on where you live). However, to better understand all that can happen before the final answers are revealed, we have put together this little survival guide to help you prepare for what is now the final three days of the 2011-12 NHL regular season.

Follow along. Hopefully all of your questions will have been answered by the time you reach the italicized Twitter tagline:

Which games should you be watching?

Here is your TV guide for all the games between Wednesday and Saturday that could have playoff implications:

(All times ET)

Buffalo at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (MSG-B, CSN-PH)
N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSN, TSN2, MSG 2, ROOT)
Florida at Washington, 7 p.m. (NHLN-US, FS-F, CSN-MA)
Boston at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m. (NESN, SNET-E, TVA)
New Jersey at Detroit, 7:30 p.m. (MSG-PLUS, FS-D)
Dallas at Nashville, 8 p.m. (FS-SW, FS-TN)
Chicago at Minnesota, 8 p.m. (CSN-CH, FS-N, FS-WI)
Columbus at Colorado, 9 p.m. (FS-O, ALT)
Vancouver at Calgary, 9 p.m. (SNET-P, SNET-CGY)
San Jose at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. (CSN-CA, PRIME)

Phoenix at St. Louis, 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN, TSN2)

Chicago at Detroit, 1 p.m. (NBC, TSN2)
Ottawa at New Jersey, 3 p.m. (CBC, MSG-PLUS)
Buffalo at Boston, 4 p.m. (MSG-B, NESN)
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m. (NBCSN)
Washington at N.Y. Rangers, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Carolina at Florida, 7:30 p.m. (FS-CR)
Phoenix at Minnesota, 8 p.m. (FS-A PLUS, FS-N)
St. Louis at Dallas, 8 p.m. (FS-MW, FS-SW+)
Nashville at Colorado, 9 p.m. (FS-TN, ALT)
Edmonton at Vancouver, 10 p.m. (CBC)
Los Angeles at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. (KCOP-13, CSN-CA)

How many playoff spots are available in the Eastern Conference?

There are three teams alive for two spots, including the Southeast Division title. However, the Florida Panthers need to gain just one point in their final two games to clinch their first-ever Southeast crown.

The Panthers play Thursday in Washington (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

The catch is that if the Capitals beat the Panthers in regulation, they will move within one point of first in the division heading into the final day of the season. Washington plays Saturday at the Rangers, while the Panthers are home against Carolina.

The Sabres also remain alive. They could be eliminated Thursday, but it's also possible that Buffalo, Washington and Florida head into the final day of the regular season with the two playoff berths up for grabs.

If Washington beats Florida and Buffalo loses in Philadelphia on Thursday, the Sabres will be out. But if both the Capitals and Sabres win, it remains possible for Florida to miss the playoffs.

The only way all the playoff spots get filled Thursday is if Washington beats Florida in overtime or a shootout, and Philadelphia beats Buffalo in regulation.

How many playoff spots are available in the Western Conference?

There are technically five teams alive for three spots, including the Pacific Division title, which won't be decided until late Friday night at the earliest.

The Kings, Coyotes and Sharks all are in the hunt for the Pacific Division crown. Los Angeles enters Thursday's games with the lead by a tiebreaker over Phoenix, but San Jose is one point behind both.

Dallas fell out of the running for the Pacific Division title with its loss Tuesday to San Jose. The Stars are four points back in ninth place, but if they win out and get some help, they could finish as high as seventh.

Colorado is four points back in 10th and mathematically alive with two games left. Of course, it's going to take a small miracle for the Avs to get in because not only do they need to win out, but the Sharks have to lose twice in regulation and the Stars can't pick up more than two points from their remaining two games.

At least the Avalanche are at home, with games against Columbus and Nashville, to close the season. The Sharks play a home-and-home against the Kings, while the Stars are in Nashville and home against St. Louis.

What is the current breakdown of the Pacific Division race?

It's down to three teams, with Dallas being eliminated Tuesday. The winner will have at least 95 points, but it could take 96 or 97 to get the job done.

Los Angeles and Phoenix each have 93 points, but the Kings own the tiebreaker because they earned more points head-to-head in their season series against Phoenix. However, the Sharks at 92 points still have some control of this race, with back-to-back games against the Kings, starting Thursday in Los Angeles.

The Kings technically can win the division title Friday even though they do not play. They will need to beat San Jose in regulation on Thursday and Phoenix would have to lose Friday in regulation at St. Louis.

The Sharks would be three points back heading into the final game of the season and the Coyotes would not be able to catch L.A. because of the tiebreaker.

It's still possible for all three teams to finish with 95 points and 34 non-shootout wins. If that happens, just check back with us Saturday, OK?

What has to happen for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to meet in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals?

Not much, actually.

What arguably might be the most compelling matchup of the first round could be set Thursday. The Flyers simply need one point gained by them or lost by New Jersey to lock into at least the fifth seed and set up the Battle of Pennsylvania.

The Penguins secured at least the fourth or fifth seed with their win Tuesday against Boston.

Perhaps the more important question here is who will have home-ice advantage in a first-round series between the Flyers and Penguins. It could come down to the final regular-season showdown between the rivals Saturday in Pittsburgh (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Penguins have a three-point lead and can clinch home-ice Thursday with a win against the Rangers or if the Flyers lose to Buffalo in regulation. The Penguins also will clinch home-ice if both teams lose in overtime or the shootout.

However, if Pittsburgh stumbles against the Rangers and Philadelphia beats Buffalo, Saturday's game will be for home-ice advantage. Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker with two more non-shootout victories.

What will be the 4-5 matchup in the Western Conference?


Watch all the action of the playoff chase this week on the NHL's national broadcast partners:



We know it will be between two Central Division teams. The question is which two.

Detroit, Nashville, and Chicago all are within three points of one another. The Red Wings enter Thursday in fourth with 101 points after their shootout win Wednesday over the Blues. The Predators have 100 points and Chicago is sixth with 98.

Nashville and Detroit both have home games Thursday, against Dallas and New Jersey, respectively. Chicago plays in Minnesota.

The 4-5 matchup could be set Thursday if both the Red Wings and Predators win. If that happens, Chicago would not be able to catch either team regardless of how it finishes the season.

However, it also could come down to Saturday, when the Wings and Hawks play in Detroit (1 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2).

Who is alive for the Presidents' Trophy?

We're looking at a three-team race between the Rangers, Canucks and Blues.

New York has the lead with 109 points and 47 non-shootout wins through 80 games. The Canucks trail only by a tiebreaker with two games left while the Blues are pushing hard from the third-place spot, but they are two points back with two games to play.

Vancouver, which has won seven in a row, will have to finish with more points than New York to win their second-straight Presidents' Trophy. The Rangers have the tiebreaker on the Canucks and Blues.

The Rangers will win the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since 1993-94 if they win their remaining games, against Pittsburgh and Washington. However, if they hit a bump in the road, the Canucks could claim it by winning their last two, against Calgary and Edmonton.

St. Louis just has to win and hope the Canucks and Rangers stumble if they are going to have any chance of winning the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since 1999-2000.

It should be noted that the Presidents' Trophy winner has won the Stanley Cup just seven times in the 25 years it's been awarded.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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