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Wild six days in store for 14 playoff hopefuls

by Staff
With six days remaining in the regular season, nearly half of this year's 16 playoff berths have yet to be determined.

Nine teams -- San Jose, Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver and Chicago in the West; Boston, Washington, New Jersey and Carolina in the East -- are assured that they'll still be playing when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way. Only Boston knows exactly where it will finish within the conference standings.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up:

Eastern Conference:

Boston (Northeast) has long since wrapped up its division title and clinched first in the East by blanking the Rangers 1-0 on Saturday. Washington (Southeast) clinched its division and sits in second, while New Jersey is currently the third seed. All three teams were idle Monday.

Four spots in East still remain up for grabs. Philadelphia was off Monday but will have a chance to clinch a playoff spot Tuesday night against Florida at the Wachovia Center. With 95 points, the Flyers remain in fourth place in the East ahead of Carolina since they have a game in hand. The Hurricanes, though, have two more victories.

The Flyers will visit the Rangers on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday before finishing against the Rangers at home Sunday.

Carolina has won eight in a row and 11 straight at the RBC Center, which is the longest streak in the NHL. Goalie Cam Ward was the NHL's Player of the Month for March after going 10-1-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and has been the biggest factor in his team's surge.

The Hurricanes were off Monday. They'll host the Islanders on Tuesday and Buffalo on Thursday before ending their season Saturday at New Jersey.

Pittsburgh (93 points) has lost only three games in regulation (15-3-4) since Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien behind the bench, including Sunday's 4-2 loss at Florida. The Pens, who were idle Monday, visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday before the Islanders come to Mellon Arena on Thursday. Pittsburgh finishes Saturday at Montreal.

Montreal (92 points) saw its six-game point streak come to an end with a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night at the Bell Centre.

That's not the only bad news for the Habs -- defensemen Andrei Markov (knee) and Mathieu Schneider (shoulder) are out for the remainder of the regular season.

Currently the seventh seed, the Canadiens continue a stretch of four games in six days Tuesday against the host New York Rangers. The Habs will visit the Bruins on Thursday before the Penguins come to Montreal on Saturday.

The New York Rangers (89 points) got some company in the standings Sunday thanks to Florida's win against Pittsburgh. New York, which was idle Monday, hosts Montreal on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Thursday before visiting the Flyers on Sunday.

Florida (89 points), which is desperately trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, was also idle Monday. The Panthers play at Philadelphia on Tuesday and Atlanta on Thursday before finishing at home Saturday against Washington.

Buffalo (85 points) may have seen any remaining playoff hopes come to an end with Monday night's 4-1 loss to Detroit at HSBC Arena. While they're not mathematically eliminated, the Sabres have a tough road ahead as they'll visit Toronto on Wednesday and Carolina on Thursday before finishing at home Saturday against Boston.

Western Conference:

San Jose (Pacific) and Detroit (Central) have long since wrapped up their divisions, but the Sharks saw their conference lead trimmed to four points Monday night after Detroit's 4-1 win at Buffalo. Calgary (96 points) continued its march toward a Northwest Division title Monday with a 4-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Vancouver had been tied with Calgary at 94 points until Monday, but the Flames have pulled ahead in that category and now have three more victories than the Canucks. The teams will meet Tuesday night at G.M. Place, with Calgary having a chance to clinch the division and the No. 3 seed.

The loser will battle Chicago (97 points) for fourth place and the last home-ice berth in the opening round. The Blackhawks earned a 1-0 overtime win Sunday at Columbus on a goal by Kris Versteeg. They were idle Monday.

Columbus (90 points) was also idle Monday, but is on the verge of earning its first-ever playoff berth. The Jackets have three games remaining. They'll visit Chicago on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday before returning home Sunday to face Minnesota.

Anaheim (88 points) is currently playing a waiting game, as the Ducks are off until Friday night following Sunday's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the Honda Center. A victory would have allowed them to move into sixth place in the West, as Anaheim has one more win than Columbus.

The Ducks host Dallas on Friday before visiting Phoenix on Saturday.

Nashville (86 points) moved into eighth place with a 5-4 shootout win Saturday against Columbus. The Predators, who were idle Monday, are tied in points with No. 9 St. Louis, but the Predators have one more victory.

Nashville hosts Chicago on Tuesday before ending the season with visits to Detroit and Minnesota.

St. Louis
(86 points) fell into ninth place Saturday due to a 5-4 overtime loss at Dallas. The Blues, who were off Monday, have two of their last three on the road. They visit non-playoff teams Phoenix, on Tuesday, and Colorado, on Sunday. Those road games are sandwiched around a Saturday home game against Columbus.

Minnesota (83 points) greatly hindered its chances with Sunday's 3-2 loss at Detroit and is officially on life support. The Wild came within 55 seconds of earning at least a point, but Marian Hossa broke a 2-2 tie in the final minute of regulation.

The Wild were off Monday but will host Dallas on Tuesday and Nashville on Friday before finishing Saturday at Columbus.

(83 points) kept its slim hopes alive with a 5-3 win Saturday against Vancouver at Rexall Place. Much like the Wild, the Oilers will likely have to win out to have any hope of making the top eight.

The Oilers, who were idle Monday, don't leave Alberta for the rest of the season. They host Los Angeles on Tuesday and Calgary on Friday, then visit the Flames on Saturday in the back end of a home-and-home.

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