NHL playoff picture: Western conference positioning battle continues

USA TODAY Sports

The race for the final spot in the West continues on Wednesday night, with both Columbus and Detroit facing must-win games.

Remember that time when the Washington Capitals were the worst team in the NHL and everyone pointed and laughed at the misfortunes of a rookie head coach and a Russian superstar? Seems like such a long time ago, doesn't it?

With another win on Tuesday, the NHL's hottest team continues to looks to be one of the more dangerous heading into the postseason. While it's true a good amount of success has come against a hapless Southeast division, the Capitals showed to be the real deal with their complete destruction of the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

Here's a look at the playoff picture entering competition on Tuesday night:

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 64 points (42 games played) Y
2. Montreal Canadiens, 57 points (42 GP) X
3. Washington Capitals, 50 points (43 GP)
4. Boston Bruins, 56 points (41 GP)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs, 53 points (43 GP)
6. Ottawa Senators, 50 points (42 GP)
7. New York Islanders, 49 points (43 GP)
8. New York Rangers, 46 points (42 GP)
----
9. Winnipeg Jets, 46 points (43 GP)
10. Buffalo Sabres, 42 points (43 GP)

Western Conference

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (42 GP) Y
2. Anaheim Ducks, 59 points (42 GP) X
3. Vancouver Canucks, 55 points (43 GP)
4. Los Angeles Kings, 53 points (43 GP)
5. San Jose Sharks, 53 points (43 GP)
6. Minnesota Wild, 51 points (43 GP)
7. St. Louis Blues, 50 points (42 GP)
8. Detroit Red Wings, 47 points (42 GP)
----
9. Columbus Blue Jackets, 47 points (43 GP)
10. Dallas Stars, 45 points (42 GP)
11. Phoenix Coyotes, 43 points (42 GP)

Y- denotes clinched division
X- denotes clinched playoff berth

Here's a look at tonight's slate of games:

Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins - 7 p.m. ET

With six games remaining, it's technically possible for the Canadiens to catch the Penguins for the top spot in the East. I doubt that happens, however, as the gap between the two has only increased in the past week.

Buffalo Sabres at Boston Bruins - 7:30 p.m. ET

The Sabres are holding on to a slim, slim hope of making the postseason and need to outrace two teams to the final spot in the East. A loss tonight would pretty much seal their fate.

Detroit Red Wings at Calgary Flames - 9:30 p.m. ET

The Red Wings are holding onto the No. 8 spot in the West and continue down a path of increasingly easy opponents as they fight off the possibility of missing the postseason for the first time in what feels like four decades.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Anaheim Ducks -10 p.m. ET

The Blue Jackets, in a race with the Dallas Stars to overcome the Red Wings, now take on a suddenly-struggling Ducks team on the road. Can Sergei Bobrovsky continue to work his magic?

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