Friday night's action effectively made it a nine-team race in the Eastern Conference. The Ottawa Senators 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils put New Jersey seven games back of eighth place, with four points to make up. They would need to go 6-1-0 the rest of the way to just make the 52 points many have predicted it will take to make the playoffs, and then hope they get help. Ottawa's victory was their second straight, and put them within a point of fifth-place Toronto.
Out in the Western Conference, the Red Wings got a loser point in a shootout against the Blackhawks, keeping them two points above the line in eighth. However, the three main teams chasing them (Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus) all got at least a point on Friday, so there are now three teams chasing the Red Wings. Only Dallas has the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker over Detroit. Also, the Blackhawks clinched the Central Division. All that's left is to clinch the top seed and a President's Trophy.
Here's the NHL's playoff picture after Friday night's action.
Clinched a Playoff Spot:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 62 points (41 games played)
2. Montreal Canadiens, 57 points (40 GP)
Currently in Playoff Position:
3. Washington Capitals, 46 points (41 GP)
4. Boston Bruins, 56 points (40 GP)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs, 49 points (40 GP)
6. Ottawa Senators, 48 points (41 GP)
7. New York Islanders, 46 points (41 GP)
8. New York Rangers, 44 points (40 GP)
On the Bubble:
9. Winnipeg Jets, 44 points (42 GP)
Clinched Playoff Spot:
1. Chicago Blackhawks, 66 points (40 GP)
2. Anaheim Ducks, 59 points (41 GP)
Currently in Playoff Position:
3. Vancouver Canucks, 52 points (40 GP)
4. Los Angeles Kings, 50 points (41 GP)
5. San Jose Sharks, 49 points (40 GP)
6. St. Louis Blues, 48 points (40 GP)
7. Minnesota Wild, 46 points (40 GP)
8. Detroit Red Wings, 45 points (41 GP)
On the Bubble:
9. Dallas Stars, 43 points (40 GP)
10. Phoenix Coyotes, 43 points (41 GP)
11. Columbus Blue Jackets, 43 points (41 GP)
Here are Saturday's games that could affect playoff positioning.
Vancouver vs. Colorado, 3 p.m. ET
With the Avalanche eliminated, this one's only really important to the Canucks, who have a magic number of seven points to clinch. A win tonight would, coupled with a Minnesota loss, put their number to clinch the Northwest Division at six points. With the Wild struggling and the Ducks and Blackhawks well ahead, the Canucks are pretty much stuck in the No. 3 spot for now.
Montreal vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. ET
A few huge rivalry games tonight, and it starts out with the Forever Rivals. The Leafs current number to clinch a postseason berth is seven points with Winnipeg stuck at 44 with just six games left. A win for Toronto gives them not only a closer path to clinching, it gives them some confidence against a team they could very well play in the Conference Quarterfinals. Montreal needs a win to stay ahead of Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
NY Rangers vs. NY Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
This is the game many people on the Island are hailing as the biggest Rangers-Islanders game since 1994, when the Blueshirts swept the Isles on their way to a Stanley Cup. The winner tonight gets possession of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference for the time being. Winnipeg is idle, however, so neither team can fall lower than eighth place with a 60-minute loss. It's great, however, that this is a real rivalry between teams with something to truly play for again.
Tampa Bay vs. Washington, 7 p.m. ET
Tampa has eight games left, and they need to win all of them to make 52 points and then get help, so let's forget about them. This is the last game in hand the Capitals have over the second-place team in the Southeast Division, the Winnipeg Jets. A four-point lead with six games to go might be insurmountable for Winnipeg, despite the Jets being on a three-game winning streak.
Boston vs. Carolina, 7 p.m. ET
Carolina can't get to 52 points even by winning out their last eight games, so they're largely eliminated as well. Boston can clinch a playoff berth with a point, and will take the division lead with a win coupled with a Montreal 60-minute loss. They don't hold any of the main tiebreakers (regulation/overtime wins, goal differential in games between the two teams) over the Canadiens.
Columbus vs. Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET
There are two huge games in terms of playoff positions on the Western bubble tonight. This is one of them. The Blue Jackets have won two straight, and despite not holding any tiebreakers, can technically even themselves with the eighth place Red Wings if they get a win in St. Paul tonight. The Wild, meanwhile, are starting to tailspin, having gone 4-6-0 in their last ten. They've lost two straight, and would find themselves just one point short of the nine line with a 60-minute loss.
San Jose vs. Dallas, 8 p.m. ET
We gave up on the Stars when they traded Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy about a week ago. Surprise! With a win, they would take over the eighth seed from Detroit. They hold the first tiebreaker over the Red Wings, as they'd have at least one more regulation/overtime victory. As for the Sharks, they've continued to roll on towards the postseason, having gone 8-1-1 in their last ten. A loss in 60 minutes, however, drops them to just four points short of the ninth-place team. Those last two sentences are a microcosm of the Western Conference race this season.
Anaheim vs. Los Angeles, 11 p.m. ET
This one is probably a little more important to the Kings than the Ducks, considering Anaheim's up nine points on the Pacific Division with seven to go for both, but it's still fun -- similar to the Battle of New York - to see the two SoCal teams playing elite hockey and keeping their rivalry fierce. The Kings can't move up with a win, but they get dropped a spot with a 60-minute loss and a San Jose win.