NHL playoff picture: Stars can jump into top eight with a win

Victor Decolongon

More than a dozen teams already in or a couple of points away from a playoff spot hit the ice this evening.

The Blue Jackets did what we hinted at yesterday, blowing out the Calgary Flames and moving into a tie for eighth with the Sharks. Tonight, they'll look to gain more solid footing in the top eight. Also last night, the Capitals inched closer back to relevance, beating the Jets for a second day in a row and moving within five points of the division lead and three points of eighth in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Red Wings passed the Blues and moved into sixth with a throttling of second-place Anaheim.

Here are the current playoff standings after Friday's games.

Eastern Conference

Currently in Playoff Position

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 48 points (32 games played)

2. Montreal Canadiens, 45 points (30 GP)

3. Winnipeg Jets, 34 points (32 GP)

4. Boston Bruins, 43 points (29 GP)

5. Ottawa Senators, 38 points (31 GP)

6. Toronto Maple Leafs, 35 points (31 GP)

7. New Jersey Devils, 34 points (31 GP)

8. Carolina Hurricanes, 32 points (30 GP)

On the Bubble

9. New York Rangers, 32 points (30 GP)

10. Washington Capitals, 29 points (31 GP)

11. New York Islanders, 29 points (31 GP)

Western Conference

Currently in Playoff Position

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 51 points (30 GP)

2. Anaheim Ducks, 48 points (30 GP)

3. Minnesota Wild, 36 points (29 GP)

4. Los Angeles Kings, 36 points (30 GP)

5. Vancouver Canucks, 36 points (30 GP)

6. Detroit Red Wings, 35 points (31 GP)

7. St. Louis Blues, 34 points (29 GP)

8. San Jose Sharks, 32 points (29 GP)

On the Bubble

9. Columbus Blue Jackets, 32 points (31 GP)

10. Dallas Stars, 31 points (30 GP)

11. Phoenix Coyotes, 30 points (31 GP)

12. Nashville Predators, 30 points (31 GP)

13. Edmonton Oilers, 29 points (29 GP)

Here are games scheduled for Saturday that could directly effect playoff positioning:

Tampa Bay vs. Ottawa, 2 p.m. ET

Racking up wins continues to be important for the impossibly banged up Senators, who may be without the services of Sergei Gonchar today in addition to ... well, it'd be easier to list who isn't hurt for Ottawa than who is. As for Tampa, an idle night for both Carolina and the Rangers guarantees that a win puts them within three points of the eighth spot.

San Jose vs. Minnesota, 2 p.m. ET

These two teams will largely be looking to keep pace today, as Minnesota looks to hold onto their division lead over the Canucks with a victory, and San Jose hopes to stave off pesky Columbus. Losing out on the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker, San Jose cannot move past St. Louis, even with a Blues loss and a Sharks victory today.

Vancouver vs. Los Angeles, 4 p.m. ET

Perhaps the game of the day, and possibly a playoff preview, considering the Kings are -- barring a miracle run down the stretch -- likely stuck with the fourth seed as their ceiling. The Canucks can, with a win and a Wild loss, move back into the top spot in the Northwest Division and third seed in the Western Conference. With a victory today, they are guaranteed to be no lower than fourth place in the West.

Boston vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. ET

Toronto must win to guarantee a hold on the sixth spot with the seventh-place Devils hosting Florida. A victory puts them one point back of fifth should the Senators finally begin regressing with all their injuries. For Boston, it's simple: a win and a Canadiens loss in 60 minutes gets them back on top of the Northeast Division and in the second spot of the Eastern Conference.

Buffalo vs. Montreal, 7 p.m. ET

Speaking of Montreal, if you just read a few lines up, you know that the Canadiens must earn at least a point against the Sabres to remain on top of the Northeast Division and in second place of the Eastern Conference. Buffalo, meanwhile, has won two in a row, and can leapfrog from 12th to 10th with a win and be just two points out of the top eight in the East.

Florida vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m. ET

The Devils looked very impressive at times against Carolina as the team starts to get healthy with Martin Brodeur back in net. A victory over Florida at home and a Toronto loss in 60 minutes and the Devils hop over the Leafs and into sixth place. They can gain a couple more points on the line between eighth and ninth, one that they were under just 48 hours ago. Of course, a victory against the Panthers at home is easier said than done, as the Rangers can attest.

Columbus vs. Nashville, 8 p.m. ET

Blue Jackets-Predators is a big game in late March! We should be celebrating that fact alone. A victory for the Blue Jackets and a Sharks loss in Minnesota gets the Blue Jackets firmly entrenched in the eighth spot in the Western Conference. A win by Nashville, however, and they could hop over Columbus on a tiebreaker. Let's not even get started on what happens with this one in a three-point situation...

Colorado vs. Dallas, 8 p.m. ET

Things are a bit complicated for the Stars tonight. A win and losses in 60 for both San Jose and Columbus and they take the eighth spot by themselves. In a three-point situation, the Stars own a tiebreak right now with Columbus but not San Jose based on games played. Colorado, meanwhile, is just looking to escape the basement of the Western Conference.

St. Louis vs. Edmonton, 10 p.m. ET

While Edmonton is looking to inch closer to the top eight (they're three points down right now) the Blues can go as high as fifth by the end of the day with a victory and a 60-minute loser in the Los Angeles-Vancouver game, as St. Louis currently owns games played tiebreakers on both teams.

More in the NHL:

Martin Brodeur scores a goal!

Printable bracket for March Madness

Crosby back with a vengeance

All the NHL trade rumors

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