NHL Playoff Primer for April 15
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 Sunday: None
Teams that can clinch Monday: The Boston Bruins will clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth straight season if they claim at least one point against the Ottawa Senators
Playoff positions to be claimed: 12
Days remaining in regular-season: 13
Total games remaining in regular season: 98
Ottawa at Boston: The Ottawa Senators have responded nicely to their recent five-game skid by notching back-to-back victories against the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, allowing just one goal along the way. But with the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets all within striking distance, it is imperative the Sens continue to collect points. The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, have dropped back-to-back games but still remain one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead adn can clinch a playoff spot with a single point from this game.
New Jersey at Toronto: The New Jersey Devils' postseason hopes are on life support, as they'll attempt to avoid a 10-game winless skid Monday at Air Canada Centre. The Devils haven't won since Ilya Kovalchuk suffered a shoulder injury. Or, ironically, since Martin Brodeur earned his 666th career victory. The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are well on their way back to the big dance for the first time since 2004 as they've earned points in nine of their past 10 games.
Philadelphia at Montreal: Of these teams prior to the season, more prognosticators would have picked the Philadelphia Flyers to make the playoffs. But it's the Montreal Canadiens who are headed there, while it appears the Flyers will head home earlier than anticipated. Philadelphia enters Monday's action in 12th place in the East, nine points behind the Rangers. The Canadiens are atop the Northeast, one point ahead of Boston.
Dallas at Chicago: Prior to the NHL trade deadline, Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk shipped Michael Ryder, Brenden Morrow and Jaromir Jagr out of town. No way the Stars can make the playoffs without those three, right? Wrong. Dallas, winners of five straight, enters Monday's action in ninth place in the West, just two points behind the Red Wings after the latter earned a 3-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Sunday. Chicago, meanwhile, collected two more points with Sunday's 2-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL standings with 68 points.
Vancouver at Nashville: With wins in seven of their past 10 games, the Vancouver Canucks have created a bit of breathing room in the Northwest Division, as they hold a five-point lead on the struggling Minnesota Wild. The Nashville Predators, on the other hand, simply can't score. They were shut out for the third time in their past six games -- all regulation losses. They're also 1-7-2 in their past 10 games and fell nine points behind eighth-place Detroit with Sunday's 3-0 loss at Bridgestone Arena.
Columbus at Colorado: Guided by the outstanding play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus Blue Jackets are contending for what would be their second playoff appearance in franchise history. Winners of three straight, the Blue Jackets are two points behind Detroit for the final playoff spot in the West. The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, are 3-5-2 in their past 10 games and were officially eliminated from postseason contention Sunday.
Minnesota at Calgary: The Minnesota Wild have struggled of late -- and it could cost them a playoff berth. Just 3-6-1 in their past 10, the Wild now sit in seventh place in the West, two points from ninth. Despite back-to-back wins, the Calgary Flames are all but out of the playoff picture, as they have only 36 points with seven games to play.
San Jose at Phoenix: With losses in three of their past four games, the San Jose Sharks know they need to find some consistency if they plan on playing beyond the conclusion of the regular season. Todd McLellan's club enters Monday's action in fifth place in the West with 49 points -- but that's only four points from ninth. The Phoenix Coyotes are in 12th place in the West, four points behind Detroit.
Teams on the rise:
Buffalo Sabres: The Buffalo Sabres are not giving up. Jhonas Enroth provided another solid performance between the pipes Sunday, leading the Sabres to a 3-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at First Niagara Center. The win moved Ron Rolston's club within four points of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their push continues Wednesday, when they'll visit the Boston Bruins.
Detroit Red Wings: Given how heated the race is in the West, points are required basically every night the rest of the way. Jimmy Howard played with such urgency Sunday, as he stopped all 22 shots he faced to lead his club to a 3-0 win at Nashville. The victory moved the Red Wings past the Dallas Stars into eighth place in the conference. Now 1-0-2 in their past three, the Wings begin a tough two-game trip to Western Canada on Wednesday at Calgary.
Teams on the decline:
New Jersey Devils: They didn't even play Sunday, but the Devils' playoff chances grew slimmer as the Buffalo Sabres dropped them into 11th place in the East thanks to the latter's 3-1 win against Tampa Bay. While New Jersey does have two games in hand on the Sabres, it's hard to envision them leaping three teams in the conference when you consider they're winless in nine straight games. The Devils are in Toronto on Monday.
Edmonton Oilers: Another team that was idle Sunday, but it didn't stop the gap between the Oilers and a playoff berth grow even wider. With Detroit's 3-0 win at Nashville, the Oilers -- losers of five straight -- now find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot with seven games to go. Edmonton returns to action Tuesday against Minnesota at Rexall Place.