The 2012-13 season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Sunday, April 28. Although the finish line is clearly in sight, the Stanley Cup playoffs qualification picture is far less clear. To help make sense of the numerous 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.
Teams that clinched Monday: None. The Boston Bruins would have had the opportunity to assure themselves of a playoff berth, but their game against the Ottawa Senators was postponed in the wake of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon.
Teams that can clinch Tuesday: In the Eastern Conference, the Bruins can clinch a spot if the Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Winnipeg Jets in any fashion. The Toronto Maple Leafs can also clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Washington Capitals in any fashion and the Lightning defeat the Jets in regulation.
Playoff positions to be claimed: 12
Days remaining in regular-season: 13
Total games remaining in regular season: 91
Florida at New York Islanders: The Florida Panthers won't make the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they can have a say in who does. The Panthers visit the New York Islanders on Tuesday and the New York Rangers on Thursday, then host the Rangers again next week. With their final five games on the road, beating the last-place team in their final home game is a must for the Islanders, who begin the night seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto at Washington: The Washington Capitals bring a seven-game winning streak and a four-point lead over the second-place Winnipeg Jets into their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center. They've had two days off after a 6-5 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday -- a game they won after blowing a four-goal lead. The Leafs come off a 2-0 home victory against the New Jersey Devils on Monday that moved them within four points of clinching their first playoff berth in nine years.
Carolina at Ottawa: The Ottawa Senators are back at Scotiabank Place after a seven-game trip that was cut short when Monday's game against the Boston Bruins was postponed. They lost the first four games of the trip before winning on consecutive nights against the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. The Carolina Hurricanes had lost seven in a row before snapping their slide with a 4-2 home victory against Boston on Saturday night.
New York Rangers at Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Flyers had been stuck in a scoring slump until Monday night, when they went to Bell Centre and blew out the Montreal Canadiens 7-3. They're back home to face the New York Rangers, who are 5-1-1 in their past seven games and coming off a 1-0 overtime victory against the Islanders on Saturday. The Rangers have won 11 of the past 12 games between the teams and beat the Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center three weeks ago.
Tampa Bay at Winnipeg: It's crunch time for the Winnipeg Jets, who play the first of three home games this week before ending with two of three on the road. The Jets begin the week two points behind the eighth-place Rangers and three in back of the seventh-place Islanders (who come to MTS Centre on Saturday). But the Jets can't afford to look ahead to that game -- the Tampa Bay Lightning may be all but out of the playoff race but they're still playing hard, as witnessed by Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss in Washington when they earned a point after trailing 5-1.
Vancouver at St Louis: The Vancouver Canucks aren't overwhelming anyone, but they're winning a lot more than they're losing. Their 5-2 road victory against the Nashville Predators on Monday night was their fourth in five games, and they're closing in on another Northwest Division title. The St. Louis Blues had won six in a row until losing 4-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday, then made it back-to-back losses when they were beaten 2-0 at home by the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and have dropped to seventh place in the Western Conference.
Minnesota at Edmonton: The Minnesota Wild came to Alberta in desperate need of goals and wins. They got both at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday, scoring four times and hanging on for a 4-3 victory against the Calgary Flames that moved them into sixth place in the Western Conference. The Wild don't get much time to enjoy the victory -- they left right away for the second half of their Alberta trip against the Edmonton Oilers, who've dropped five in a row and were booed off the ice Saturday night in a 4-1 home loss to Calgary.
Los Angeles at San Jose: The California rivals are on target to meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second time in three years, and the team that wins this game will have the inside track on home-ice advantage in that series. The San Jose Sharks, who open a four-game homestand, will be playing the second half of a back-to-back -- they stifled the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 on Monday in one of their most dominant performances of the season. The Los Angeles Kings have been off since beating the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 at home on Saturday.
Teams on the rise:
Toronto Maple Leafs: Two wins by the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last five games will end the NHL's longest current playoff drought, no matter what anyone else does. The Maple Leafs moved closer to their first postseason berth since 2004 by beating the New Jersey Devils 2-0 on Monday night. James Reimer made 32 saves as the Maple Leafs won despite managing only 11 shots on goal. Toronto is fifth in the Eastern Conference, but trails the Northeast Division-leading Montreal Canadiens by just four points.
Columbus Blue Jackets: If heart were the sole requirement for making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets would have already punched their postseason tickets. The Blue Jackets gave up a go-ahead power-play goal with 2:02 remaining in their game against the Colorado Avalanche, but tied the game 35 seconds later on a goal by RJ Umberger and won it when Nick Foligno scored with 28.7 seconds remaining in overtime. Columbus has won four in a row, and the Blue Jackets' 47 points are the same as the eighth-place Red Wings, who've played one fewer game.
San Jose Sharks: The San Jose Sharks finished with a split of their four-game road trip by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-0 in one of their best 60-minute performances of the season. The victory moved them within a point of the Los Angeles Kings in the battle for fourth place (and home ice in the first round) -- and on Tuesday, the defending Stanley Cup champions come to the Shark Tank, where San Jose has lost just once in regulation in 20 games this season.
Teams on the decline:
Montreal Canadiens: The Montreal Canadiens haven't been the same since clinching a playoff berth last week. They were routed 5-1 on the road by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, then were hammered 7-3 at home by the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. Carey Price, who allowed three goals on four shots before being pulled against Toronto, surrendered six in two periods before being lifted against the Flyers.
Dallas Stars: The task facing the Dallas Stars on Monday night was daunting -- beating the League-leading Chicago Blackhawks in their own building. After spotting Chicago a 2-0 lead, the Stars pulled even 3:07 into the third period on Jamie Benn's second goal of the night, and it looked like a sixth consecutive victory could be in the cards. But the tie lasted less than 90 seconds before Andrew Shaw put the Blackhawks back in front in what became a 5-2 Chicago victory. The loss kept the Stars two points behind eighth-place Detroit in the Western Conference with six games remaining.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Phoenix Coyotes made a pit stop at home Monday night; they went 1-1-1 in Western Canada last week and head out for three games in the Midwest later this week. That's why they really needed a win when the San Jose Sharks came to Jobing.com Arena -- but they didn't get it. Instead, the Coyotes were dominated in a 4-0 loss that kept them four points behind eighth-place Detroit with five games remaining.