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.