NHL playoff picture: Columbus looks to tie for eighth with a win tonight

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals could get a huge boost from sweeping a two-game set with the Jets, while the Red Wings and Blue Jackets look to gain ground.

Things shook up a bit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff standings last night, with the New Jersey Devils jumping from ninth to seventh with a win over Carolina, who fell to the eighth. The big loser of the evening? The New York Rangers, who dropped from eighth to ninth with a loss at home to the worst team in the league, points-wise, the Florida Panthers. Toronto got a point out of Buffalo, putting them alone in sixth place. The Canadiens continued to outpace the Bruins for the top spot in the Northeast and second in the conference.

Out West there was only one positive movement, as the Canucks beat the Phoenix Coyotes to jump from sixth to fifth, switch places with the St. Louis Blues. They tied the Minnesota Wild (third seed) for first in the Northwest Division, but are currently second on games played.

Here are the current playoff standings after Thursday evening's games:

Eastern Conference

Currently in Playoff Position:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 46 points (31 games played)

2. Montreal Canadiens, 45 points (30 games played)

3. Winnipeg Jets, 34 points (31 games played)

4. Boston Bruins, 43 points (29 games played)

5. Ottawa Senators, 38 points (31 games played)

6. Toronto Maple Leafs, 35 points (31 games played)

7. New Jersey Devils, 34 points (31 games played)

8. Carolina Hurricanes, 32 points (30 games played)

On the bubble:

9. New York Rangers, 32 points (30 games played)

10. New York Islanders, 29 points (30 games played)

Western Conference

Currently in Playoff Position:

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 51 points (30 games played)

2. Anaheim Ducks, 48 points (29 games played)

3. Minnesota Wild, 36 points (29 games played)

4. Los Angeles Kings, 36 points (30 games played)

5. Vancouver Canucks, 36 points (30 games played)

6. St. Louis Blues, 34 points (29 games played)

7. Detroit Red Wings, 33 points (30 games played)

8. San Jose Sharks, 32 points (29 games played)

On the Bubble:

9. Dallas Stars, 31 points (30 games played)

10. Columbus Blue Jackets, 30 points (30 games played)

11. Phoenix Coyotes, 30 points (31 games played)

12. Nashville Predators, 30 points (31 games played)

13. Edmonton Oilers, 29 points (29 games played)

Here are games scheduled for Friday that could directly affect playoff positioning:

Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders, 7 p.m. ET

The Rangers and Hurricanes both lost last night, which means that despite a second consecutive third period breakdown on Thursday against the Canadiens, the Islanders can still put themselves within one point of eighth place tonight. It won't be easy, as the Penguins remain the top team in the Eastern Conference. Florida (the worst team in the East) currently maxes out at 58 points, so a victory puts the Penguins within 10 points of becoming the first Eastern team to clinch a post-season berth, for what it's worth.

Calgary vs. Columbus, 7 p.m. ET

Yeah, wasn't expecting this one to matter a month ago or a week ago, but here we are in the midst of the Blue Jackets explosion. The Jackets can tie the San Jose Sharks for the eighth spot with a win over 14th-place Calgary tonight. Columbus would still technically be in ninth on games played, but it's still fun to see Columbus playing meaningful hockey in late March. If they lose, however, they would fall to 12th, behind Nashville and Phoenix on account of having fewer regulation or overtime wins. For what it's worth on Calgary's side, a win puts them within four points of eighth and probably keeps any delusions of post-season play in the air.

Washington vs. Winnipeg, 8 p.m. ET

Speaking of delusions, here's your chance, Washington. If the Capitals win in Winnipeg tonight -- taking four points out of four in a strange back-to-back in Manitoba -- it would put them at 29 points with 31 games played. That would place them five points back of the Jets (whom the Capitals still have a game in hand on), and three points back of the eighth-seeded Hurricanes (whom the Hurricanes would have a game in hand on). If Ovechkin and company are serious about making a run to the post-season, they have to take care of business again tonight.

Detroit vs. Anaheim, 10 p.m. ET

The Red Wings are back out in the Pacific Time Zone again for the second time in a week. A win hops them over the Blues and into sixth. A loss not only keeps them in seventh, but leaves them a point ahead and a point behind of two teams (St. Louis and San Jose) that would have two games in hand on them. Less is at stake for the Ducks beyond the attempt at continued excellence, but this is a game in hand Anaheim has on the Blackhawks, with a win putting them a point away from the Western Conference lead.

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