NHL playoff picture: Eastern Conference landscape stands to change

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

The NHL postseason is on the horizon, with many teams still in the fight for playoff seeding. We run down all of the important action on Thursday.

There was little movement in the NHL's playoff picture following Wednesday night's slate of games. Despite the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers' opportunity to jump into the top eight, both teams remained on the outside looking in.

The only positive movement came with the Toronto Maple Leafs defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning to overtake the sixth seed from the idle Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina could regain the sixth seed with a win on Thursday night and potentially retake the No. 3 seed from the Winnipeg Jets.

Here are the current playoff standings entering Thursday night:

Eastern Conference:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 46 points (31 games played)
2. Montreal Canadiens, 43 points (29 games played)
3. Winnipeg Jets, 34 points (30 games played)
4. Boston Bruins, 41 points (28 games played)
5. Ottawa Senators, 38 points (30 games played)
6. Toronto Maple Leafs, 34 points (30 games played)
7. Carolina Hurricanes, 32 points (29 games played)
8. New York Rangers, 32 points (29 games played)

Western Conference:

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 51 points (30 games played)
2. Anaheim Ducks, 48 points (29 games played)
3. Minnesota Wild, 36 points (29 games played)
4. Los Angeles Kings, 36 points (29 games played)
5. St. Louis Blues, 34 points (29 games played)
6. Vancouver Canucks, 34 points (29 games played)
7. Detroit Red Wings, 33 points (30 games played)
8. San Jose Sharks, 32 points (29 games played)

Here are games scheduled for Thursday that could directly affect playoff positioning:

Hurricanes vs. Devils, 7 p.m., ET

Both teams can gain ground with a win. New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in following a loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday. If the Devils win and the Rangers lose, they will move into eighth place. If the Rangers win, the Devils will remain in ninth place.

Carolina will retake the sixth seed from the Maple Leafs with a win. If the Winnipeg Jets lose and the Hurricanes win, Carolina will take over as the Southeast Division leader and will move into third place.

Panthers vs. Rangers, 7 p.m., ET

As was detailed above, the Rangers will retain eighth place with a victory. The Panthers have virtually no shot of making the playoffs.

Bruins vs. Senators, 7:30 p.m., ET

Boston can take over as the Northeast Division leader with a win and a Montreal Canadiens loss. Ottawa won't move regardless of result on Thursday, but can gain ground on a division opponent with a win.

Canadiens vs. Islanders, 7 p.m., ET

Montreal has played more games than Boston, so the Bruins have the tie-breaker. With a win, the Canadiens stay in first place in the Northeast. With a loss and a Bruins win, they drop down to fourth place in the conference.

The Islanders are still on the outside looking in, but can pull closer to the Devils and Rangers with a win. Of course, how close they come to their division opponents will be dependent upon the result of their games.

Canucks vs. Coyotes, 10 p.m., ET

Vancouver can jump idle St. Louis with a win or overtime loss.

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