NHL Playoff Standings: Western Conference Participants Could Be Set Following Thursday's Action

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.

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