The 2012-13 season is hurtling toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, just a mere 18 days away. Although the finish line clearly is in sight, the Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification picture is far less in focus. To help make sense of the many permutations that exist for the playoffs, NHL.com's Playoff Push Primer looks at some of the biggest movers and shakers among the postseason hopefuls.
For a complete look at the current playoff matchups and breakdown of remaining games, click here.
Playoff Positions to be claimed: 14
Days remaining in regular-season: 19
Total games remaining in regular season: 140
Philadelphia at NY Islanders -- The Islanders are closing in on their first playoff spot since 2007 and can leap as high as sixth with a win and a regulation loss by the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers have won seven straight at Nassau Coliseum, and need to extend it to eight if they have any hope of climbing into the Eastern Conference's top eight. They enter the night 12th in the conference, five points out of eighth.
Pittsburgh at Carolina -- The Penguins have won just once in three games since their 15-game win streak ended. While they've already clinched their playoff spot, a win would give them their first division title since 2008. It also would allow them to boost their conference lead on the Montreal Canadiens, which currently stands at just three points. With one win in 10 games, the Hurricanes have slipped eight points out of a playoff spot with 10 games remaining.
San Jose at Columbus -- Marian Gaborik has three points in three games since joining the Blue Jackets, but the team has won just once and enters four points out of a playoff spot, but with four teams in front of them. A regulation win by the Sharks and a regulation loss by the Los Angeles Kings would allow the streaking Sharks to climb to fourth in the Western Conference.
Washington at Montreal -- Four straight wins have allowed the Capitals to climb to the top of the Southeast, and to stay there they'll have to continue their recent strong play on the road. They're 10-9-2 away from home this season, but 6-0-1 in their past seven. The Canadiens have won two in a row, and with the Boston Bruins idle, a win would allow them to push their Northeast Division lead to three points as well as cut the gap on the conference-leading Penguins to one.
Ottawa at Tampa Bay -- The reeling Senators are desperate for a win. With four straight losses, they've fallen to sixth in the East, but only four points ahead of the ninth-place New Jersey Devils. They're also just 6-10-3 away from home, and will face a Lightning team that has had a disappointing season, but has won four of its past five at home.
Buffalo at Winnipeg -- The Jets' five-game losing streak, which they snapped Saturday with a win against the Flyers, will become even more of a distant memory with a win Tuesday. Two points won't be enough to put the Jets back in the playoffs, but if a few things go their way, they'll trail the Southeast-leading Capitals only on tiebreakers. The Sabres, despite their poor start, are just four points out of a playoff spot, and would leapfrog the Jets for 10th in the East with a regulation victory.
St. Louis at Nashville -- The Blues could be kicking into gear at just the right time. They've won four straight and have allowed just five goals in that span. Plus, they've won three straight on the road, including their win Sunday in Detroit, which started a four-game road trip. The Predators have lost two in a row and look to be fading from the playoff chase -- they're five points out with eight games to play.
Chicago at Minnesota -- The Hawks can continue to focus on leading the Presidents' Trophy race, as well as shrinking their magic number toward clinching the Central Division title, which is down to five points entering Tuesday. The Wild snapped a three-game losing streak when they beat the Blue Jackets on Sunday, and now start a three-game homestand. Minnesota has won eight of its past 10 at Xcel Energy Center, and need to keep that level of play going to cut into the Vancouver Canucks' four-point Northwest Division lead.
Los Angeles at Dallas -- The Kings need a win to stay in front of the San Jose Sharks and maintain home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Stars, winners of two in a row, need to grab every point possible to have any hope of grabbing one of the final spots in the West. They enter their game Tuesday four points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings.
Teams on the rise
Washington Capitals -- The Capitals have taken control of the Southeast Division by winning four straight games and taking 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 and is tied for the League lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
Vancouver Canucks -- They pushed their win streak to three with a 2-0 defeat of the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Bolstering their effort was Ryan Kesler, who scored a goal in his first game in six weeks. They've opened a four-point lead on the Wild atop the Northwest Division, and while they start a five-game road trip Wednesday, four of the teams they'll face currently are outside the top eight in the Western Conference.
St. Louis Blues -- The St. Louis Blues excelled last season because of strong defensive play, and in their past four games they've gotten back to that strong defensive focus, allowing just five goals in that span. The Blues also play seven of their final 11 games at home, where they've done well. However, the road also has been good to the Blues -- they're 12-7-1 away from Scottrade Center.
Teams on the decline
Ottawa Senators -- The Senators suffered a killer loss Sunday against a Florida Panthers team playing for pride. The 2-1 loss was the fourth straight for Ottawa, which has seen its hold on a playoff spot slip to just two points on the eighth-place Islanders and four points on the ninth-place Devils.
Philadelphia Flyers -- Just when the Flyers looked to be ready to make a run at a playoff spot, they turned in a dismal second period Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Jets. With days off and teams around them winning, the Flyers now are 12th in the East, five points behind the eighth-place Islanders, with three teams between them. They also have three of their top six defensemen out of the lineup, with another, Kimmo Timonen, less than 100 percent.
Columbus Blue Jackets -- The Blue Jackets went big at the Trade Deadline, bringing in star sniper Marian Gaborik. While Gaborik has three points in three games, the Blue Jackets are just 1-2-0 with him in the lineup, and enter their game Tuesday 12th in the West, four points out of a playoff spot. They have two games left in their current homestand, and need to take advantage of it. Because they hit the road for six straight, and their 5-11-2 record away from home is among the worst in the conference.