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The 2012 NHL Playoffs are finally in full swing — as long as "in full swing" is a valid description of the state of affairs on the second day of the postseason. And Game 1 of the Boston Bruins' Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Washington Capitals highlights the Day Two slate.
The 2011 Stanley Cup champions begin their title defense at home in Beantown as the No. 2 seed, and welcome the No. 7 Capitals to town. It's a bit of a role reversal for the two teams: Boston made its improbable run to the Cup as a No. 5 seed in 2011, while the Caps have underachieved in the playoffs after earning the No. 1 seed in the East in 2010 and 2011.
Elsewhere, the Chicago Blackhawks' trip to play the Phoenix Coyotes fills the second half of the NBC Sports Network double-bill, the No. 1-seeded New York Rangers begin their series with the Ottawa Senators, and the St. Louis Blues make their first postseason appearance since 2009 in a series against the San Jose Sharks.
No. 8 Ottawa Senators at No. 1 New York Rangers
7 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: NHL Network US, CBC, RDS | Local TV: MSG
No. 7 Washington Capitals at No. 2 Boston Bruins
7:30 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: NBC Sports Network, CBC, RDS2 | Local TV: CSN Washington, NESN
No. 7 San Jose Sharks at No. 2 St. Louis Blues
7:30 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Western Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: CNBC, CBC, RDSI | Local TV: FS Midwest, CSN California
No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes
10:00 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Western Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: NBC Sports Network, CNBC, TSN | Local TV: FS Arizona+, CSN Chicago
It's finally playoff time in the NHL, and that means it's also time for series predictions. Which eight teams will advance to the Conference Semifinal round? Our panel of Super Experts weigh in.
The NHL Playoffs begin on Wednesday, with Game 1 of three of the eight first round series. For the first time in a very long time, every single playoff game will be broadcast on a nationally available network from start to finish. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers kick things off at 7:00 p.m. ET in the Eastern Conference with an Atlantic Division grudge match. That game can be seen on NBC Sports Network.
Sandwiched between that game and the late game is the beginning of the Western Conference's 4-5 matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, which can be seen at 8:00 p.m. ET on CNBC. The night's action concludes in British Columbia, where the Vancouver Canucks take on the Los Angeles Kings on NBC Sports Network at 10:30 p.m.
The full schedule:
No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers at No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins
7:30 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: NBCSN, TSN, RDS | Local TV: CSN Philly, ROOT Pittsburgh
No. 5 Detroit Red Wings at No. 4 Nashville Predators
8 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Western Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: CNBC, CBC, RDS2 | Local TV: FS Detroit, SportSouth
No. 8 Los Angeles Kings at No. 1 Vancouver Canucks
10:30 p.m. ET -- Game 1, Western Conference Quarterfinals | Series tied, 0-0
National TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS | Local TV: KCOP 13
As we prepare for the 2012 NHL playoffs, there are plenty of questions to ask. Just how good are the Nashville Predators? What about the Florida Panthers? Mike Smith? Will this be the best Battle of Pennsylvania ever?
For the third time in five seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are set to meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Who will survive in 2012?
The Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, two familiar Central Division rivals, will do battle in the Conference Quarterfinal round of the 2012 NHL playoffs.
Despite holding the higher seed and a division title, there's no doubt that the Florida Panthers are considered underdogs to the New Jersey Devils in Round 1 of the 2012 NHL playoffs.
The Phoenix Coyotes won their division for the first time ever, and against the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 of the 2012 NHL playoffs, they'll try to win a series for the first time as well.
The St. Louis Blues weren't expected to finish second in the West, just as the San Jose Sharks weren't expected to finish seventh. But here they are, kicking off the Western Conference Quarterfinals in those very positions.
The Boston Bruins begin their title defense in these 2012 NHL playoffs on Thursday night at TD Garden. They'll try to get by the Washington Capitals in the seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
The Los Angeles Kings used a strong stretch run to qualify for the postseason, but they have the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks to deal with now that they're there.
The Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Thursday. The surprising Sens will look to upset the East's best club in the top-seeded Rangers.
The NHL announced the complete schedule for the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs on Sunday afternoon. The quest for Lord Stanley's Cup gets underway Wednesday.
The 2012 NHL Playoffs are set following Saturday's action. 15 games were played on the season's final day, and in some cases it took until the very last second ticked off the clock before we learned exactly who would play who in the Conference Quarterfinal round, but at long last, we finally know.
Here's a full look at the eight different match-ups that will kick off the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Washington Capitals have their eyes on the No. 3 seed and another Southeast Division championship on Saturday night as they face the New York Rangers, but that's a position that's out of their control. The Florida Panthers will win the division with one single point against the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game.
If Florida wins, the Capitals won't be stuck with the No. 8 seed, though. Thanks to an Ottawa Senators loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, the Capitals can grab the No. 7 seed with a victory over the Rangers. If the Capitals lose, they'll be stuck in eighth regardless of what happens between between Florida and Carolina.
The seventh seed will travel to face the Boston Bruins in the first round while the eighth seed will prepare for a date with the top-ranked Rangers.
Stick with our StoryStream for full coverage of Saturday's complete day of NHL action.
The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference after blowing a two-goal lead against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 82 of the regular season. Pavel Datsyuk (of course) scored in the final minute of regulation time to tie the score at 2-2, but Patrick Kane's shootout goal sealed two points for Chicago.
Ceding one point to Detroit was enough to miss out on the No. 5 seed, however, and the Blackhawks were well aware of that following Datsyuk's goal. Joel Quenneville pulled goaltender Corey Crawford following the Datsyuk goal even though the score was tied, but they were unable to retake the lead.
Once the final second ticked off the regulation clock, the Blackhawks were locked in to the sixth spot. By sending the game to overtime, Detroit guaranteed a date with the Nashville Predators in the first-round, but they needed two points to have a chance at home-ice advantage and the No. 4 seed in that series.
By losing the shootout, Detroit locked themselves into the No. 5 seed. It also means that the Nashville Predators clinched the No. 5 seed, making their game Saturday evening vs. Colorado completely meaningless.
Chicago, meanwhile, will go home and watch from their couch as the mayhem unfolds Saturday night between Phoenix, San Jose and Los Angeles. The winner of the Pacific Division will host the Blackhawks in Round 1.
For complete coverage of the final day of the NHL season, stick with our StoryStream.
Only three of the eight Eastern Conference playoff positions are still to be determined on the final day of the NHL season.In the Western Conference, there's a whole lot more up for grabs. In fact, there's not one single position that's been determined out West, so let's just run through this team-by-team.
Vancouver (109 pts, 42 Regulation + OT Wins): The Canucks control their destiny for the No. 1 seed in the West. With a single point in Edmonton against the Oilers, they'll clinch the top-seed. If they lose, the Blues can pass them in the standings via tiebreaker situations.
St. Louis (107 pts, 44 ROW): The Blues have clinched at least the No. 2 seed, but fell out of contention for the Presidents' Trophy with their loss to Phoenix Friday night. They need a Vancouver loss and a win of their own over Dallas to have a chance at the No. 1 seed. St. Louis holds the tiebreaker if the teams end up tied.
Nashville (102 pts, 42 ROW): They can finish in either the No. 4 spot or the No. 5 spot. With a single point vs. the Avalanche, the Predators will clinch home-ice against either the Red Wings or Blackhawks in Round 1, but with a regulation loss, the Preds could fall to the No. 5 seed should Detroit win their game against Chicago. If the Wings fail to beat the Hawks, Nashville will clinch the No. 4 seed.
Detroit (101 pts, 39 ROW): The Red Wings can finish anywhere between fourth and sixth. If Nashville earns a point, Detroit will be eliminated from contention for the No. 4 seed, thus making the Saturday showdown between the Wings and Blackhawks a battle for the No. 5 seed.
If Chicago wins in regulation, the teams would finished deadlocked in points and ROW but the Blackhawks would win the second tiebreaker as winners of the season series. If Detroit grabs one point, they'll clinch at least the fifth spot.
Chicago (99 pts, 38 ROW): Chicago is fighting for the No. 5 seed and the right to travel to Nashville for the first round, although finishing sixth and playing the eventual Pacific Division winner might be the ideal scenario for them. The Blackhawks need two points in regulation to pass Detroit via tiebreaker for the No. 5 seed. Otherwise, they'll finish sixth.
Phoenix (95 pts, 35 ROW): The Coyotes' win over St. Louis on Friday night kept them in the running for the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed. With two points vs. Minnesota Saturday, Phoenix will clinch the division, thus forcing Los Angeles and San Jose into a battle for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.
Since the Sharks and Kings play each other head-to-head, one of them is guaranteed to finish with 96 points, meaning that Phoenix will lose their shot at the division championship if they fail to get at least a point vs. the Wild. If they only grab a single point, tiebreaker scenarios will come into play.
The Coyotes have already clinched the tiebreaker over the Sharks, but it's a little more dicey with the Kings. An L.A. shootout win would give Phoenix the Pacific via the ROW tiebreaker, but if L.A. were to beat San Jose in regulation or overtime, the Kings would tie Phoenix in both points and ROW, pushing it to the second tiebreaker. Los Angeles earned eight points in six games vs. Phoenix this season compared to seven points in those games for the Coyotes, thus giving the Kings that tiebreaker.
Los Angeles (94 pts, 34 ROW): With a loss to San Jose in any form, the Kings will finish in the No. 8 spot. They need a win and help from Phoenix to keep hope for the Pacific Division title alive. There's hope via the tiebreaker if Phoenix earns one point, but if the Coyotes grab two, the Kings and Sharks will be playing for seventh and eighth on Saturday night.
San Jose (94 pts, 33 ROW): The Sharks face the same situation. A loss means they finish in eighth place, but even with a win they need help the Minnesota Wild to beat Phoenix in regulation to have a shot at the Pacific crown.
Tired yet? Literally every Western Conference playoff team still has something to play for on the final day of the season, and that's really all we can ask for. The dust will clear in a few short hours.
It's the final day of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, and while all eight participants in the Eastern Conference playoffs have punched their tickets to the ball, they still don't know the order in which they'll be seated at their tables.
That's what Saturday in the NHL is all about. All 30 teams in the league are in action -- it's just the fourth time in history that's happened -- and a good number of them will be jockeying for position when they hit the ice. Here's what we already know in the East:
The Florida Panthers enter Game 82 with a two-point lead on the Capitals for the Southeast Division title, so all they need is a single point against the Carolina Hurricanes to clinch their first-ever division crown. If the Panthers fail to earn a point, the Caps would clinch the division with two points in any fashion, as they hold the tiebreaker over Florida.
If the Panthers win the division, it's possible that the Capitals can still catch the Ottawa Senators for the No. 7 seed. Should Ottawa lose to the New Jersey Devils and should Washington beat the Rangers in any fashion, the Capitals will move up to the seventh spot. Ottawa would then move down to the No. 8 seed.
If the Capitals win the Southeast title, the Senators will clinch the No. 7 seed regardless of what they do vs. New Jersey, just as they will if they earn just a single point Saturday.
Stick with our StoryStream for full coverage of Saturday's complete day of NHL action.
Each team has one game remaining on the schedule. The Sharks and Kings play head to head on Saturday night in San Jose while Phoenix travels to Minnesota to take on the Wild in Game 82. With two points against the Wild, Phoenix will clinch the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West, regardless of what happens between the two teams from California.
Fortunately for our viewing pleasure, the Phoenix vs. Minnesota game will conclude well before the San Jose vs. Los Angeles game, so we'll know about midway through the game exactly what the Sharks and Kings are playing for. Should Phoenix lose, that game will decide the Pacific crown, as the two teams are deadlocked at 94 points entering Saturday's action.
With the loss, the St. Louis Blues lost their shot at the Presidents' Trophy and the No. 1 overall seed in the league, but they can still grab the top seed in the Western Conference with a victory vs. Dallas and a Vancouver loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Stick with our StoryStream for full coverage of Saturday's complete day of NHL action.
There's one game in the NHL on Friday night, and it just so happens to be between the only two clubs in the NHL that didn't play hockey on Thursday night. The Phoenix Coyotes, fresh off clinching a playoff spot from their couch, are in St. Louis to take Blues, who still have a President's Trophy and the West's top seed to play for in their final two games.
The Blues control their own destiny in the Western race. If they win on Friday night vs. Phoenix and on Saturday night vs. Dallas, they'll finish with the best record in the conference regardless of what the Canucks do Saturday vs. Edmonton. If both teams win their remaining games, they'll tie with 111 points on the year, but the Blues hold the tiebreaker over Vancouver.
In the President's Trophy race, the New York Rangers clinch with two points on Saturday against Washington. They can also max out at 111 points but New York holds the tiebreaker over St. Louis. The Blues' only hope for the top spot in the league comes if they win both of their games while the Rangers fail to earn two points in their final game.
Phoenix can leap from eighth place in the West to third place in the West with a win in regulation. Should they win in overtime, they'll grab the division lead for the time being thanks to tiebreakers, but there would be a three-way deadlock between the Coyotes, Kings and Sharks in the division race. A win in the shootout would keep Los Angeles in
If Phoenix loses in regulation to the Blues, they'll lose any hopes of winning the division, creating a one-game battle for the Pacific crown between the Sharks and Kings on Saturday night.
2011-12 will be just the third season since the 2005 lockout that NHL divisions will be won by teams that could not even manage 100 points.
Despite the Sharks' win in the shootout, the Kings hold on to the division lead, but only after one of the wackiest games this season.
Philadelphia scored two goals in the third period for their latest come-from-behind victory, one in which officially knocked Buffalo out of postseason contention, and set up a much-anticipated first round matchup with the Penguins.
With their 2-0 regulation loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, the Stars killed any hopes they had of reaching the postseason, and they'll instead watch from the couch for the fourth straight year. Defending Big D is disappointed, of course, but they have an optimistic view of a team nobody expected to challenge for a playoff spot.
The fact that this team, predicted to finish dead last in the entire league by some, and last in the western conference by most, came into game 81 of 82 with a shot at the playoffs is more than many expected at the beginning of the season.
While the Stars only needed one point to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Avs needed an outright win in regulation or the shootout to keep their season going. Cam Atkinson notched his first-career hat trick, the final goal coming with an empty net, as the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets played spoiler in a 5-2 win.
The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings were still in action as they learned they'd clinched playoff spots, and the Phoenix Coyotes were sitting home Thursday night, preparing for a Friday night matchup with the St. Louis Blues. Dallas and Colorado eliminated themselves. It wasn't the other way around.
Now all that's left in the Western Conference is seeding, which will be determined on Saturday as all 30 teams in the league are in action.
The Washington Capitals clinched their fifth straight playoff appearance with a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, but even with the loss, the Panthers were able to seal up a playoff spot of their own. Both have the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers to thank.
Philly's 2-1 come-from-behind regulation win over the Sabres gave the Panthers a guaranteed playoff spot, and the Buffalo loss combined with Washington's win gave the Caps a playoff spot.
Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich opened up a 3-0 lead for the Capitals before Mikael Samuelsson and Ed Jovanovski pulled Florida within a goal. There was hope for the Panthers -- and thus the Sabres, watching from the locker room in Philadelphia -- late in the third, but an Alex Semin goal with 1:02 left in the third sealed the deal and Buffalo's fate.
Now, all that's left in the Eastern Conference playoff picture is seeding. The Capitals' win gives them a shot at the Southeast Division title on Saturday night when the NHL season comes to a close. They need to beat the New York Rangers and hope for a Carolina regulation win over the Panthers to grab the Southeast title. Otherwise, Florida will win its first ever division title.
For more coverage of all the playoff scenarios across the NHL, stick with our StoryStream.
There are three teams battling for two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it could all come to a head on Thursday night. The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are set to duel in the District of Columbia, while the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres are in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.
Eastern Conference Playoff Race
|3.* Florida Panthers||80||37-25-18||92||31|
|8. Washington Capitals||80||40-32-8||88||36|
|9. Buffalo Sabres||80||39-31-10||88||32|
The Panthers can clinch the Southeast Division and lock down the East's No. 3 seed with a single point against the Caps, but should they lose in regulation, things get mighty interesting in the Southeast Division race.
In that scenario, the Capitals would sit just two points back of the Panthers with a game to play, and since Washington has already clinched the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins) over the 'Cats, the division title would come down to Saturday's action. Washington visits the top-ranked New York Rangers in the season finale and the Panthers visit the lowly Carolina Hurricanes, and it would be the same situation on Saturday. The Panthers would need just a point to clinch, but should the Panthers lose in regulation and the Capitals win, Washington would clinch the division title.
Of course, that all hinges on Thursday's game. It should be a good one, to say the least.
RACE FOR EIGHTH
Where do the Buffalo Sabres fall in all of this? They can only finish eighth, as they're not a Southeast Division club. They'll only face elimination Thursday under the following scenario:
On the flip side, the Sabres could pass Washington for the No. 8 spot with a win on Thursday night, provided the Capitals also lose to the Panthers. In a nutshell, the Capitals control their own destiny for the No. 8 spot thanks to owning the tiebreaker, so the Sabres need to hope the Caps cede at least one of their four remaining points.
Forgetting the Capitals, though, Buffalo could also find their way into the postseason if the Panthers drop their final two games. For that to happen, Florida would have to lose twice and the Sabres would have to win twice. They'd then hold the ROW tiebreaker over the Panthers. One point still clinches a playoff spot for Florida, however.
For more coverage of all the playoff scenarios across the NHL, stick with our StoryStream.
With two games remaining in the 2012 NHL season, theere are still five teams in the running for three playoff spots in the Western Conference. That can all wrap up on Thursday night, when four of those five teams hit the ice around the NHL. Here's how the playoff standings look heading into the evening:
Western Conference Playoff Race
|3.* Los Angeles Kings||80||40-27-13||93||34|
|7. Phoenix Coyotes||80||40-27-13||93||34|
|8. San Jose Sharks||80||41-29-10||92||33|
|9. Dallas Stars||80||42-33-5||89||35|
|10. Colorado Avalanche||80||41-33-6||88||32|
Here's how each game Thursday night can impact the race:
Stars at Predators: Back-to-back losses to the Sharks have dramatically hurt Dallas' playoff chances. They now need to win both of their games -- maxing out with 93 points -- while hoping the San Jose loses both of their games. Without at least a point against Nashville, the Stars' season will be over.
Blue Jackets at Avalanche: With any loss or even with a win in the shootout, Colorado will be eliminated from playoff contention. The Avs can max out with 92 points, so they need to hope San Jose fails to get any points while also taking care of their own business.
They need two wins in regulation or overtime because they also must finish with more non-shootout wins than San Jose. Should the teams tie in both points and ROW (regulation plus overtime wins), the Sharks would get in thanks to a better head-to-head record. San Jose finished with seven points in the season series. Colorado finished with just two.
Sharks at Kings: Regardless of what the Avs do vs. Columbus, the Sharks can eliminate Colorado by just earning one point vs. Los Angeles.
Of course, they want to do much more than that, as they're still in the running for the top spot in the Pacific Division and the No. 3 overall seed. If San Jose earns two points and Dallas loses to Nashville, the Sharks will clinch a playoff spot and the Stars would be eliminated, clinching playoff spots for the Kings and Coyotes in the process.
San Jose could overtake Los Angeles for the top spot in the Pacific Division with the win, but they'd need to earn the win in regulation or overtime, as the Kings would take the ROW tiebreaker even with a shootout loss.
A regulation win would give San Jose a one-point lead over L.A. with one game remaining between the clubs. An overtime win would tie the teams in both points and ROW. It would also tie the season series to date, giving both clubs six points in games against each other this season.
That would push the division race to the fourth tiebreaker, goal differential. Entering the game, the Kings have a one-goal advantage, but that would swing in the Sharks' favor should they win the game. Of course, that would all be moot as soon as Saturday when the two teams face again, a game that could decide Pacific Division title.
The Kings cannot clinch the division title even with a win in regulation vs. San Jose, but they can clinch a playoff spot with just a single point. A win in regulation would guarantee at least seventh-place in the final standings.
The 2012 NHL playoff races are down to the final couple of games for each team, but that just means we're in for some exciting finishes, with the Pacific and Southeast divisions still up for grabs.
In the Southeast, the Florida Panthers maintain the division lead despite a 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Picking up the overtime-loss point, the Panthers now have 92 points for the season and a four-point cushion on the Washington Capitals. Florida can clinch the division title on Thursday when they clash with the Capitals at the Verizon Center.
The Capitals can also make the playoffs by winning the No. 8 spot, but the Buffalo Sabres are hot on the heels of those skates. The Sabres landed a 6-5 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, picking up two points and joining the idle Capitals with 88 points. Should the two teams finish in a tie for the final playoff position, Washington would take the spot.
The Pacific Division remains in a tight contest. The San Jose Sharks defeated the Dallas Stars, 5-2, on Tuesday night and temporarily moved ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings. However, a 2-0 Coyotes victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets moved Phoenix back into the No. 7 spot. The Los Angeles Kings remain atop the Pacific Division with 93 points and the tiebreaker over the Coyotes.
For more coverage of all the playoff races across the NHL, stick with our StoryStream.
The San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars are set to play a hockey game against one another on Tuesday evening. Conveniently, the Sharks sit in the No. 8 position in the Western Conference, while the Stars sit in the No. 9 position. Those NHL schedule-makers are pretty good at this.
Both teams have played 79 games so far on the season, and through it all, they're separated by just one point in the NHL standings -- the Sharks have 90, the Stars 89. Should Dallas win on home ice, they'll pull ahead of the Sharks, bumping San Jose both out of the playoff picture and out of the driver's seat when it comes to their playoff destiny.
The No. 7 Phoenix Coyotes are also in action Tuesday evening, battling an awful Columbus team against which they've struggled so far this season. With a win in regulation or overtime, the Coyotes would jump into a dead heat with the idle Los Angeles Kings for the Pacific Division lead (and thus the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference). They would be knotted on the first tie breaker as well (total wins excluding those via the shootout), but the Kings hold the second, thanks to a better head-to-head record against Phoenix.
In any event, the Coyotes can make the Pacific Division race much closer with a win over Columbus. Should San Jose win, they'll pull within one point of the Kings for the division lead.
The only other team still alive in the West outside of the Pacific Division are the Colorado Avalanche, and while they're not in action Tuesday, they're clearly rooting for Columbus and Dallas. Wins by Phoenix and San Jose would just about put the playoffs out of reach for Colorado, as they'd require four points in their final two games just to have a chance at tying for the No. 8 spot.
The Washington Capitals did the Buffalo Sabres a huge favor by losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, but if the ninth-place Sabres can't pull out two points from their matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday evening, it won't mean a thing.
The Sabres enter the evening two points back of the eighth-place Capitals, but Tuesday's game is a game in hand for Buffalo, so a victory would put them in a points tie with Washington through 80 games. The Capitals would still control their own destiny, since they've won more games than Buffalo in regulation or overtime, but with a points tie and two games remaining on the schedule, it would put Washington in a less-than-ideal situation.
Should the Sabres lose to the Leafs in regulation, the Capitals would have the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Buffalo with a win on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
All they need is one more win and the Florida Panthers will clinch their first-ever Southeast Division title. They can do just that on Tuesday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets, their natural division rivals, at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
It's all thanks to the Washington Capitals' loss on Monday evening to the Tampa Bay Lightning. That loss left the Caps with 88 points through 80 regular season games, and should the Panthers beat the Jets Tuesday, they'll sit with 93 points through 80 games. Since it's an 82 game season and you can't earn five points with two games remaining, this is how divisions are won.
By clinching, the Panthers would seal up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. It's likely they face the New Jersey Devils in the first round, but that's not yet guaranteed. The Devils have a magic number of three to guarantee at least the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Regardless, with an Ottawa loss to Carolina Tuesday, a New Jersey win over the New York Islanders and a Florida win over Winnipeg, a Devils vs. Panthers first-round series will be clinched.
With Jonathan Quick getting yet another shutout, the Kings stay in playoff seeding and continue to lead the Pacific after a win against the Oilers.
With two late-game goals, the NHL's leading goal scorer denied the Capitals chances to get within a point of the Division-leading Panthers and take a commanding lead on the Sabres in the battle to lock up a postseason spot.
The Washington Capitals can clinch a playoff spot as early as Tuesday evening, but in order to have that chance they first need a victory Monday night over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Should the Caps beat their divisional foe, they'll boost their lead for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference to four points with two games remaining in the regular season.
The Buffalo Sabres, currently on the outside looking in at the No. 9 spot, sit two points back of the Capitals entering Monday's action. Buffalo does not play, which means Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a crucial game in hand for them.
If the Capitals grab two points Monday and the Sabres fail to earn a point vs. Toronto, Washington will clinch a playoff spot. If the Capitals do not earn any points Monday, the Sabres would be able to tie Washington with two points over Toronto, but since the Caps hold the tiebreaker, Buffalo would still sit in a perilous position.
Since Buffalo's 5-1 win over Washington last Monday, the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Sabres had control of their own fate following that win, but now they have to hope for help from elsewhere.
Boston's goaltending stood strong, taking Sunday's final match against the Rangers to finally clinch the division with a 2-1 victory.
In a pivotal game for both the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings, both seeking to nail down their playoff positions, the return of Jimmy Howard would prove the difference in a 2-1 shootout victory that put the Red Wings on the verge of capturing home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
The race in the Pacific Division is an even bigger jumble than it was a day ago while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators both got a leg up in their bids for home-ice advantage with wins on Friday night. In the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres lost ground on the Washington Capitals. Out west, the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Calgary Flames, seriously hindering the Flames' chances of making the playoffs.
Pittsburgh defeated Buffalo 5-3, giving themselves a four-point cushion on the Philadelphia Flyers. The New York Rangers also won on Friday, meaning the Atlantic division is very much out of reach for the Penguins, but they're looking good for fourth place at the moment. There's a similar situation in the Western Conference with the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators. Nashville won 4-1 on Friday and they now have a one-point lead on Detroit for fourth place.
The Los Angeles Kings won on Friday while the Dallas Stars lost to the Vancouver Canucks. The San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes were idle, and all of the contenders in the Pacific Division have now played 78 games. The Kings lead with 90 points, Dallas and Phoenix have 89 and San Jose have 88. As it stands, L.A. are the No. 3 seed, Dallas are No. 7, Phoenix are No. 8, and San Jose are out. Colorado are also at 88 points, but they have played 80 games.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins can officially punch their ticket to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday night without even stepping on the ice. If their Northeast Division rival Buffalo Sabres defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in regulation, the Bruins will officially clinch a spot in the postseason.
Buffalo, of course, is desperate for points. They sit tied in points with the Washington Capitals, and Friday's game vs. Pittsburgh is the lone game in hand they hold over their ninth-place foes. A loss in regulation puts the Sabres right back outside the playoff picture since Washington holds the tiebreaker over them.
The Penguins are losers of two straight while the Sabres have been red hot for ... well, basically over a month now. Pittsburgh needs the points too, however, as they are embroiled in a heated battle with the Philadelphia Flyers for home-ice in what will likely be a first-round battle between those two rivals.
Out West, the Chicago Blackhawks can also clinch on Friday night without taking the ice. Should the Los Angeles Kings lose to the Edmonton Oilers, whether that be in regulation, overtime or a shootout, the 2010 Cup Champs will also clinch a playoff spot. The Kings enter the evening needing a win to stay a step ahead of the San Jose Sharks for the eighth-seed in the Western Conference.
It seemed as though the Philadelphia Flyers' hopes for home-ice advantage in the first round were quickly fading away. Five days ago, the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins were just two points ahead of the No. 5 Flyers, but with a game in hand and two games coming up against the New York Islanders, it seemed as though the gap was about to grow.
The Penguins would be pushing for the No. 1 seed, not falling to the No. 5 seed.
But two surprising losses against the Islanders later and the Penguins' hold on the No. 4 seed doesn't look so strong. Following Thursday's games -- in which the Flyers crushed the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-1 and the Pens fell to the Isles 5-3 -- Philadelphia sits just two points back of Pittsburgh still. The only difference now is that the two teams have played the same number of games, and the Flyers hold a potential tiebreaker.
Despite still trailing in the race, the Flyers do hold their own destiny for home-ice advantage, thanks to playing two of their final three games against the Penguins. Of course, those games are in Pittsburgh, and it also means the Pens control their own fate as well, but Philadelphia has never lost in four total games at the new Consol Energy Center.
This is exactly what the NHL's schedule makers were hoping for when they released the schedule last June. Two bitter rivals playing two games in the final week of the season which could very well decide an important aspect of the playoff race. Doesn't get much better than that.
The San Jose Sharks, who took first place in the Pacific Division Monday night, are out of a playoff spot Friday morning after Radim Vrbata scored two goals and Mike Smith hampered all the Sharks' chances, putting Phoenix in seventh.
Bolland's game-winner in the shootout moved Chicago closer to clinching a postseason berth, while temporarily delaying the Blues eventuality of locking up the Central Division crown.
Three Central Division teams have clinched spots in the 2012 NHL playoffs, and on Thursday night, one other can join them. If the Chicago Blackhawks can beat the rival St. Louis Blues while getting assistance from the San Jose Sharks in beating the Phoenix Coyotes in regulation, Chicago will clinch a playoff spot.
The Blues won't be rolling over and letting Chicago in, however. With just a point vs. the Blackhawks on Thursday night, the Blues can clinch the Central Division title and at least one of the top-two seeds in the Western Conference. A win would put them four points up on the No. 2 Vancouver Canucks, who have clinched the Northwest Division.
In the Eastern Conference, New Jersey can get into the postseason with a victory Thursday over the Tampa Bay Lightning, provided the Boston Bruins also defeat the desperate Washington Capitals. The Bruins would also clinch a playoff spot with a victory, although their hold on the Northeast Division lead is still less-than-certain.
Also in action Thursday, No. 5 Philadelphia hopes to move closer to the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins, who are on Long Island to visit the Islanders. The Florida Panthers will try to tighten their grasp in the Southeast Division with a win over Minnesota, and San Jose and Phoenix are set for a battle royale in the Pacific Division race.
It's been quite a year for Allen York, but the former ECAC all-star goaltender marked his first NHL victory after stopping 29 shots for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
The Flames stumbled quite a bit against the Kings, making a solid Jonathan Quick more impenetrable and earning his ninth shutout of the season. Quick even got some rare goal-support from his teammates.
Wednesday will be a slow night in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. With the Winnipeg Jets essentially out of the mix at this point, the only Eastern team to watch is the New York Rangers, who can extend their hold on first place in the conference to five points with a victory over the Jets.
The West, however, is completely different. For starters, the Nashville Predators can again clinch a spot for the third straight night. They weren't able to win their game against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, which would have solidified their playoff spot for good, but they only need one of the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings to clinch a spot despite sitting idle Wednesday. Nashville will also clinch a playoff spot if two or more of the Stars, Sharks and Kings lose beyond regulation.
But yes, that means that three of the contenders in the wild, insane Pacific Division are in action on Wednesday.
Stars at Oilers: The Oilers will be without Taylor Hall, because they decided 60-something games with a busted shoulder is enough and have opted to sit the future of their franchise for the remaining six. The Stars will take the odd timing, though. Points, points, points. They're necessary for Dallas, which sits in the seventh spot, just one point up on No. 9 Los Angeles.
Kings at Flames: It's a huge game for both teams. While the Kings are looking to keep pace with the rest of the Pacific Division, the Flames sit just one point behind Los Angeles in the Western Conference standings. If the cards fall properly for Calgary, they could find themselves in playoff positioning by the end of the night, but a regulation win is of utmost importance. Of course, it's Brent Sutter vs. Darryl Sutter behind the benches, which makes this all so much more fun ... or something.
Sharks at Ducks: Anaheim may be done, but they can frustrate the rival Sharks by stealing some vital points. San Jose sits in third place in the West with the Pacific Division lead in hand, but could easily fall out of that spot and out of the playoff picture entirely should they lose. They sit just one point ahead of the Stars and idle Coyotes and just two points ahead of the ninth-seeded Kings.
The Colorado Avalanche are also in action on Wednesday evening, facing division foe Vancouver. Colorado sits just a point back of the final playoff spot but they've played two more games than San Jose, Dallas and Los Angeles. That's not good for their chances, and it makes points even more precious at this stage.
The Pacific Division playoff race is insane. What's it like to be a fan of one of the four teams still in contention? And what's it like to be a Ducks fan in all of this? We found out.
As the NHL season winds down, five playoff contenders desperately need to qualify for the postseason. The Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals lead the way.
The Blues shutout the Predators, tying an NHL record of team shutouts in a season thanks to Brian Elliott's 24-save performance.
Zajac netted a clutch goal in the fifth round of the shootout against Crawford, and Brodeur stopped 37 shots and four of five in the shootout to lead the Devils past Chicago, improving to an NHL-best 12-4 in the shootout.
The Buffalo Sabres blew out the Washington Capitals on the road, 5-1, to take a two-point lead in the race for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Nashville Predators face off against the NHL's best team, the St. Louis Blues, on Tuesday night, so while it won't be an easy task, they can clinch a playoff spot if they're able to pull just a point away from the contest. Nashville has had success against the Blues so far this season, winning four of the five games played thus far. This is the last meeting between the two clubs on the year.
The Predators (96 points, 76 games played) and Red Wings (97 points, 76 games played) can still catch the Blues (103 points, 76 games played), but a St. Louis win on Tuesday night will almost certainly take Nashville out of the running for the Central Division title and the No. 1 overall seed. A Nashville win, however, makes things much more intriguing.
Every game in the NHL on Tuesday night has some sort of playoff significance. Details on all of them:
Stick with our NHL playoff race StoryStream for all the storylines leading up to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres battle for the opportunity to control their own playoff destinies with a head-to-head matchup at Verizon Center on Tuesday.
The San Jose Sharks are atop the Pacific Division, thanks to their decisive win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night and the Dallas Stars' loss to the Calgary Flames. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize how nuts the Pacific race is at this point; all you have to know is that San Jose was in the West's No. 9 position Monday and now they're in the No. 3 spot. Crazy, indeed.
That doesn't mean they're out of the woods, though. Not only could they still lose the division, but they could miss the playoffs altogether and it wouldn't take that much of a slide. San Jose has 88 points through 76 games, while No. 7 Dallas has 87 through 76 and No. 8 Phoenix has 87 through 77 games. No. 9 Los Angeles is also in the running for the division title despite sitting outside of the playoff picture at present. The Kings have 86 points through 76 games.
To make matters even more interesting, these teams all play each other a bunch of times in the final six-to-seven games of the regular season. Remaining schedules for the four teams in the Pacific race:
The Coyotes and Kings certainly have the easiest schedules of the bunch the rest of the way out. Los Angeles has four of their remaining six on the road, but they play just one team that's currently in playoff position in a home-and-home with San Jose at the end of the season.
Phoenix, meanwhile, plays three of their remaining five at home and have the luxury of matching up with the Wild and Ducks, plus what essentially amounts to a night off against the Blue Jackets. San Jose clearly has the toughest schedule on their road to a title despite currently holding the top spot with five games set against teams who are fighting for the same position they hold.
The Detroit Red Wings are the latest team to clinch a playoff spot, doing so on Monday night with a gigantic victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's their 21st straight year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an absolutely remarkable feat, but that doesn't mean it's time to rest.
The Red Wings currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference with 97 points, one point ahead of No. 5 Nashville. The Predators are on the cusp of clinching a spot, too, and that jockeying for home-ice advantage will no doubt linger until the end of the season.
The two teams could very well face off as the West's No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup, although both are still in a position to catch the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title. St. Louis has complete control of their own destiny with 103 points through 76 games, but a slip up in the final six games could give the Red Wings or Predators an opportunity to pounce.
On the flip side, the Chicago Blackhawks could catch both clubs as well. It's unlikely they make an 11 point jump to reach St. Louis, but a four-to-five point leap to catch Detroit or Nashville? Plausible.
Joe Pavelski earned the first-star honors Monday night after his two goals led the way for a Sharks win over Colorado, moving San Jose to the Pacific Division lead.
With the Stars and Flames in a must win to keep their respective playoff hopes alive, Blake Comeau started a four-goal second period to help carry Calgary to a big win.
Monday's NHL action is critical in both the Western Conference and Pacific Division playoff races, as the Kings, Sharks, Avalanche, Stars and Flames are all in action. Nashville and Detroit can clinch playoff spots as well.
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