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Stanley Cup Playoff Primer: April 8

by Shawn P. Roarke

The 2012-13 season is hurtling toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, just a mere 19 days away. Although the finish line is clearly in sight, the Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification picture is far less in focus. To help make sense of the many permutations that exist,'s Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.

Teams that clinched Sunday night: Chicago, Pittsburgh

Teams that can clinch Monday night: None

Playoff positions to be claimed: 14

Days remaining in regular-season: 20

Total games remaining in regular season: 145

Monday's schedule

Carolina at Boston -- The Bruins, looking to get back on track after several tough losses, including a one-goal defeat to Montreal on Saturday, can close to within one point of the Canadiens in the Northeast Division race with a win against reeling Carolina. The Hurricanes have lost four straight and sit eight points out of a playoff spot in the East.

NY Rangers at Toronto -- There is some serious jockeying going on here for playoff seeding. The Maple Leafs sit in fifth, six points behind fourth-place Boston, but have to worry about sixth place Ottawa, which is just two points behind Toronto, and the hard-charging Rangers, who can also move to within two points of the Leafs with a regulation win here.

Calgary at Colorado -- No playoff implications here as the bottom two teams in the Western Conference face off. Calgary is looking to break a five-game losing skid, while the Avalanche can climb out of the conference cellar with a victory here.

Phoenix at Vancouver -- The Coyotes have won three in a row to get back onto the fringes of the playoff picture in the West, but now must find a way to gain a rare road victory (4-8-5) against the team that leads the Northwest Division. For Vancouver, it is a matter of trying to put some distance on the Minnesota Wild, who continue to chase the Canucks, winning 3-0 Sunday to stay just two points off the pace.

Edmonton at Anaheim -- The Oilers are facing a must-win game against a tired team, which played an emotional rivalry game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night. Edmonton is four points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, but are playing the game which it has in hand. A victory moves the Oilers past 10th-place Dallas, which is idle, and perhaps past Phoenix if the Coyotes lose.

Teams on the rise

Washington Capitals -- The Capitals have taken control of the Southeast Division by winning four straight games and earning points in six straight. Alex Ovechkin has fueled the Washington turnaround with a renaissance of epic proportions. Left for dead earlier this season, Ovechkin scored two more goals Sunday night and is now tied for the League lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.

Chicago Blackhawks -- By taking a home-and-home series from the Nashville Predators, the Hawks assured that they become the first team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a fitting honor for a team that took at least a point from each of the first 24 games this season.

St. Louis Blues -- The race for the Central Division crown is long over as the Blackhawks have lapped the field. The Blues, though, have plenty to play for, as they showed Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game by holding on to beat Detroit, another Central Division team, by a 1-0 score. With the win, the Blues leapfrogged the Red Wings into seventh place and temporarily, at least, put a bit of distance on the chasing pack in the West.

Teams on the decline

Ottawa Senators -- The Senators suffered a killer loss Sunday night against a Florida Panthers team playing for pride. The 2-1 loss was the fourth straight for Ottawa, which no longer has the comfortable hold on a playoff spot it possessed at this time last week. Instead, the sixth-place Senators hold just a two-point lead on the eighth-place New York Islanders and a four-point lead on the 10th-place team in the East.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- The most aggressive team at the Trade Deadline -- obtaining game-breaker Marian Gaborik -- is suddenly in danger of being on the outside looking in in the West after a dispiriting 3-0 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the second-straight for the Blue Jackets. Columbus has fallen all the way to 13th place and has just 12 non-shootout wins, the lowest total among those teams still in the Western Conference race.

New Jersey Devils -- Despite earning a point Sunday night and jumping past idle Winnipeg into ninth place, the free fall continues for the Devils after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres. New Jersey rallied from two one-goal deficits, but couldn't solve Ryan Miller in the shootout and has not won in seven games. Now, both Buffalo and Philadelphia are within striking distance of passing the Devils. More importantly, the Devils have just 13 non-shootout wins -- the third-lowest total in the East.

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