The 2012-13 season is racing toward the finish line. In fact, the regular season ends Saturday, April 27, a mere 13 days away. 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 Saturday: None
Teams that can clinch Sunday: None
Playoff positions to be claimed: 12
Days remaining in regular-season: 14
Total games remaining in regular season: 101
Chicago at St. Louis: The Chicago Blackhawks locked up the Central Division title on Friday with a 3-2 shootout victory against the Red Wings. Their next objective is to wrap up the top seed in the Western Conference, and a road victory against the St. Louis Blues would help a lot. The Blues are back at Scottrade Center after completing a road trip with a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday that kept them sixth in the Western Conference. The Blues begin a closing stretch that will see them play seven of their last eight games at home.
Detroit at Nashville: The Red Wings find themselves on the outside looking in at the top eight in the Western Conference as they prepare to visit the Nashville Predators. Back-to-back shootout losses to the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks cost the Red Wings a pair of valuable points, and they start Sunday with 45, leaving them behind the eighth-place Dallas Stars on a tiebreaker. A date with the Predators could be just what the doctor ordered for Detroit -- Nashville is mired in a five-game losing streak during which it has scored just six goals. Expect Swedish rookie Filip Forsberg, the 11th player taken in the 2012 NHL draft, to make his debut for the Predators. He was acquired from Washington for Martin Erat on April 3.
Teams on the rise:
New York Rangers: The New York Rangers and New York Islanders battled through more than 63 scoreless minutes before low-scoring defenseman Dan Girardi had the game's only goal in a 1-0 victory that lifted the Rangers two points clear of the Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are one point behind the Islanders, have a game in hand on both New York and Winnipeg, and play all seven of their remaining games against teams outside the top eight.
Dallas Stars: With two weeks left in the season, the Dallas Stars have barged their way into the top eight in the Western Conference by winning five consecutive games. The fifth one came Saturday night when they held off the San Jose Sharks 2-1 before more than 18,000 fans at American Airlines Center. The Stars are perfect since completing a trade-off of veterans by dealing Jaromir Jagr at the deadline. Rookie Alex Chiasson, who was recalled from the minors when Jagr was traded, had the game-winner -- his sixth goal in as many games since joining the Stars.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Winning on the road has been the Columbus Blue Jackets' bugaboo all season, so a 3-2 shootout victory against the Minnesota Wild in the opener of a six-game trip was a cause for celebration. The Blue Jackets were outshot 41-22, but Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 39 shots through 65 minutes and two more in the tiebreaker. Columbus is in a three-way tie with the eighth-place Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings with 45 points as they prepare for a visit to the Colorado Avalanche before visiting the three California teams and Dallas.
Teams on the decline:
Winnipeg Jets: Saturday couldn't have gone much worse for the Winnipeg Jets -- and they didn't even lace up a skate. The Jets entered the weekend with only six games remaining, and had to watch the teams they're battling with for a playoff berth all pick up points. Winnipeg fell four points off the pace in the race for first place in the Southeast Division when the Washington Capitals beat Tampa Bay 6-5 in overtime. They also had the worst possible outcome from a game between the teams they’re chasing for seventh and eighth place in the Eastern Conference when the New York Rangers beat the New York Islanders 1-0 in overtime, giving points to both teams. The Jets trail the seventh-place Islanders by three points and the Rangers by two -- and the Rangers still have a game in hand.
Boston Bruins: For the second time in three days, the Boston Bruins missed a chance to lock up a playoff berth. Losing to the surging New York Islanders was one thing, but a 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes is something else. The Hurricanes had lost seven in a row and were 1-13-1 in their previous 15 games -- but they outplayed the Bruins for much of the night and scored twice against Boston's vaunted penalty-killers. Not only did the Bruins miss a chance to wrap up a playoff berth, they flubbed an opportunity to move past the Montreal Canadiens into first place in the Northeast Division.
Minnesota Wild: Everything appeared to be lined up for a Minnesota Wild victory on Saturday night -- they were home and rested, playing against a team (the Columbus Blue Jackets) that struggles on the road and was playing the second half of a back-to-back. The Wild outshot Columbus 41-22, but they managed only two goals through 65 minutes before losing 3-2 in a shootout. The single point gives the seventh-place Wild 47 points -- but they're just two points ahead of the Dallas Stars, Red Wings and Blue Jackets after allowing one to slip away.
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