April 5, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco stands behind his bench during the third period of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Pepsi Center. The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche, 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
The field for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was set on Thursday night with the elimination of Dallas and Colorado.
A few of the 14 games on the NHL's Thursday night slate had significant playoff chances and seeding ramifications. Most of them did not. But the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche were eliminated from postseason contention, the Chicago Blackhawks got seed clarity and the Boston Bruins topped the Ottawa Senators in a likely playoff preview.
Dallas fell in a 2-0 shootout to the Nashville Predators to officially end its run at a playoff spot. The Stars needed at least a point to stay within range of the San Jose Sharks for the Western Conference's final seed, but Pekka Rinne's 28 saves scuttled those chances.
That wasn't nearly as bad a loss as the Avalanche, in the same 88-point position, suffered: Colorado took a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, a squad that remains the NHL's cellar-dweller by more than 10 points despite the victory. The Avalanche were eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
In the East, the Florida Panthers fell to the Washington Capitals, leaving the Southeast Division title up for grabs. However, thanks to the Buffalo Sabres, who fell to the Flyers in Philadelphia, both Florida and Washington clinched playoff spots.
Chicago's 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, which came after a goal late in the third period by Minnesota, left the Blackhawks sitting on 99 points instead of 100 heading into the season's final game. That means Chicago can't catch Nashville, at 102 points, for the West's No. 4 seed, and will have to win in regulation or overtime on Saturday to beat Detroit, at 101 points with more wins, by having more non-shootout wins and taking the season series with the Red Wings. If they can't do that, the Blackhawks will look forward to a date with the No. 3-seeded winner of the Pacific Division.
The Vancouver Canucks' chances of claiming the Presidents Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs took a hit with a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames, who rallied with three third-period goals to upset the 2011 Western Conference champions. Vancouver and the New York Rangers both have 109 points with one game to go, but the Rangers have more non-shootout victories.
The Bruins' 3-1 victory over Ottawa was likely a snapshot of what could be a quick playoff series between the two Northeast Division foes. The Bruins are locked into the No. 2 seed in the East, and the Senators need just one point in their final game to clinch the No. 7 seed, which means the two teams will almost certainly renew a series that Boston took by a 5-1 count in the regular season in the postseason's first round.
Elsewhere, Anaheim got a 3-2 overtime win over Edmonton, Carolina prevailed 2-1 in a shootout over Montreal, Toronto claimed a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay, and the New York Islanders won a 5-4 game with Winnipeg.
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