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Three games will impact final NHL playoff spots

by Dan Rosen
Eight teams are alive for six playoff spots with four days left in the regular season. Thursday's schedule, while light, includes three games that will directly impact the bottom of each race. As always is here to give you Down the Stretch -- a daily highlight what you need to know about these games.

Here is the installment for Thursday, April 7:

ATLANTA (33-34-12, 78 points) at NEW YORK RANGERS (43-32-5, 91 points)

Where they stand: Atlanta is 12th in the East; New York is eighth in the East (7 p.m. ET, Versus)

What's at stake: New York can jump over Buffalo into seventh place with a win. The Rangers would also make Carolina's challenge of sneaking into the playoffs that much harder. They lead the Hurricanes by two points and each has two games left. The Hurricanes and Rangers are tied with 34 non-shootout wins. If the Rangers win, even in a shootout, Carolina would have to win both of its remaining games just to have a chance at clinching a playoff spot, but even then nothing would be guaranteed. The Thrashers, meanwhile, can have a real impact on the playoff race with Thursday's game against the Rangers and Friday's game at home against Carolina.

How's it going: The Rangers have won two in a row, including Monday's thrilling 5-3 come-from-behind win against Boston. They roared back from a 3-0 deficit with two goals before the second intermission and three goals in the final four minutes of the game. However, they paid a significant price with Ryan Callahan potentially going down for the season with a fractured right ankle. Callahan injured himself blocking a shot from Zdeno Chara, and he's listed as being out indefinitely. He had 48 points in 60 games.

The Thrashers have lost two in a row since winning in Philadelphia last Thursday.

Upcoming: The Rangers finish the regular season at home against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Atlanta hosts Carolina on Friday and Pittsburgh on Sunday.

COLORADO (29-42-8, 66 points) at DALLAS (40-28-11, 91 points)

Where they stand: Colorado is 14th in the West; Dallas is 10th in the West

What's at stake: Dallas is looking to stay alive in the playoff race. The Stars have three games left and while this one isn't technically a must-win, it would behoove them to collect two points at home against the Avalanche. It would be better if they won in regulation or overtime. The Stars are four points behind both Chicago and Anaheim and they are using up their game in hand Thursday. Nashville and Phoenix will clinch playoff berths if the Stars lose in any way.

How's it going: The Stars have won two in a row to stay alive, but they did not like seeing Jonathan Toews score in overtime Wednesday night nor did they enjoy seeing Corey Perry and the Ducks light up San Jose. The wins by Chicago and Anaheim put the Stars closer to the brink, but they're not done yet. They're going to need wins and some help in order to get in, but their schedule is preferable to that of Chicago or Anaheim. The Stars play the Avalanche twice and Wild once, while the Hawks have a home-and-home against the Red Wings and the Ducks have one against the Kings.

The Avalanche have lost two in a row, but they learned Wednesday that they can't finish 30th in the League this season. The Oilers locked that up with their 6-1 loss to Calgary.

Upcoming: The Stars and Avalanche are back at it Friday in Denver. Dallas finishes up Sunday in Minnesota while Colorado closes the season Sunday at home against Edmonton.

MONTREAL (43-30-7, 93 points) at OTTAWA (31-39-10, 72 points)

Where they stand: Montreal is sixth in the East; Ottawa is 13th in the East (7 p.m. ET, CBC)

What's at stake: Montreal has already clinched a playoff berth and now is trying to finish the season strong and with as high a seed as possible. The Canadiens can't go any higher than sixth but they can fall to eighth. No matter what happens Thursday they will remain in sixth. If they beat the Senators they'll be guaranteed to finish no lower than seventh.

How's it going: The Canadiens locked up their playoff berth Tuesday with a 2-1 overtime win over Chicago. P.K. Subban scored the winner during a 4-on-3 power play 1:19 into the extra session. Carey Price outdueled Chicago goalie Corey Crawford by making 42 saves to win his 37th game of the season. The Canadiens have won two in a row and three of their last four. As of right now they're in line to open the playoffs against Boston.

The Senators beat Philadelphia, 5-2, on Tuesday. Thursday's game against Montreal is their home finale.

Upcoming: The Canadiens finish the regular season Saturday at Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada. The Senators play at Boston on Saturday.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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