NHL Playoff Picture 2011: Red Wings, Lightning On Verge Of Clinching

ALREADY IN

East: No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers (76 GP, 102 pts), No. 2 Washington Capitals (77 GP, 99 pts), No. 3 Boston Bruins (76 GP, 96 pts), No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins (77 GP, 98 pts)

West: No. 1 Vancouver Canucks (77 GP, 111 pts, clinched conference)

ALMOST THERE

East:  Tampa Bay can clinch a playoff berth on Wednesday night with a Carolina Hurricanes loss. Their magic number to clinch is just two points. They have a pretty strong hold on the fifth seed at this point, with a four-point gap over the Montreal Canadiens and a game-in-hand over them. That doesn't mean that the Habs can't catch them, though. 

Montreal is only five points away from clinching a playoff berth with five games remaining, so they should feel confident. The Rangers still need eight points in their final six games to clinch, so we're not putting them in this category just yet. 

West: The Red Wings need just four points in their final six games to clinch a berth, the ninth-place team win the rest of their games. We're going to go out on a limb and say they get in. San Jose needs five points to clinch a playoff spot and Phoenix needs five. The rest is still very much in question. 

ON THE BUBBLE

East: Carolina is still very firmly on the bubble in the East, the only team on the outside with any realistic chance of knocking one of the others out. The Sabres, Rangers and Canadiens are still in dangers of falling out, although they all certainly control their own fate. 

Wednesday night's games in the East are big. Should Carolina beat Montreal in regulation, they'll move within five points of the Habs with a game in hand. Should New York beat Buffalo in that same scenario, the Rangers will move into sixth place ahead of Montreal and the Hurricanes will move within just one point of the Sabres for the last spot.

A Montreal win will go a long way towards quelling their slim "we-might-miss-the-playoffs!" fears, as will a Rangers win over Buffalo. Wins by Carolina and NYR will make the most intriguing situation in the battle for the 8-seed.

Buffalo and Carolina play one more time this season, in Raleigh on Sunday. 

West: Nothing is certain in the Western Conference, aside from the fact that the Vancouver Canucks are the best team in it. If we're calling Montreal on the bubble in the east with the sixth-seed, it's only fair to call the San Jose Sharks on the bubble in the West with the three-seed. Both teams have a magic number of five points to clinch a playoff spot. 

Below that, nobody is certain. Dallas and Calgary are on the outside looking in and the Flames have a huge game tonight with the Anaheim Ducks. Should they win in regulation they'll give themselves a much better shot at knocking somebody out, but even still, the fact that they only have a max-point total of 97 hurts things. If the Flames lose tonight, we can essentially call them out of the hunt. 

Dallas is still very much involved, three points back of eighth-place with seven games to play. The Blackhawks need wins and points, and with six games left in the season their magic number to clinch stands at 12. Yes, that's every possible point.

Nashville is the most deceiving team in the race. They control their own fate, but with 92 points and 77 games played, Anaheim has an upper hand over them by way of an extra game and the Blackhawks can pass them should they win their game-in-hand. 

BOOKIN' TEE TIMES -- unofficially but realistically speaking, in some cases

Officially speaking, New Jersey and St. Louis can be eliminated on Wednesday night. They're both effectively out anyway, but should the Devils lose and Buffalo win, they'll be out for real. Also, the Blues are out if they fail to get two points vs. Detroit. 

East: No. 11 Atlanta Thrashers (74 points), No. 12 New Jersey Devils (73 points), No. 13 New York Islanders (70 points), No. 14 Florida Panthers (68 points), No. 15 Ottawa Senators (67 points)

West: No. 11 Minnesota Wild (80 points), No. 12 Columbus Blue Jackets (79 points), No. 13 St. Louis Blues (78 points), No. 14 Colorado Avalanche (64 points), No. 15 Edmonton Oilers (57 points)

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