NHL playoff picture: Winnipeg in a must-win to keep pace with the Rangers


If the Jets lose, they'll only have three remaining games to make up the deficit.

Friday night was fairly quiet in the National Hockey League, but one game in each conference had an affect on the bubble of the playoff race.

In Buffalo, the New York Rangers -- a team far from being known for its scoring capabilities, though really, with all the talent they ought to be -- put up a season-high eight goals and beat the Buffalo Sabres, inching closer to the final Eastern Conference post-season berth. With three games remaining, it eliminated Buffalo from playoff contention, whereas a win would've put the Sabres within two points. It was likely an important statement that the Rangers shook off a hot team that could've made their last week a living nightmare. Their win last night also eliminated the Flyers, while the Devils go down with any remaining 60-minute loss. It's largely a two-team race, both realistically and logistically.

Out in the Western Conference, a huge missed opportunity for the Dallas Stars, who lost a one-goal tilt in St. Louis. The win would've put Dallas ahead of Columbus in eighth place with a game still in hand, but now the Stars drop beneath Detroit in 10th place on games played. Detroit is in action tonight (more later) and can flip the Stars right back into ninth, but still, if you're either team, you don't want Columbus spending an extra day in eighth place. The Blue Jackets don't play again until Sunday, and if they're still in the eighth spot by then, it could be a huge boost.

Here are the playoff standings heading into action on Saturday.

Eastern Conference

Clinched Playoff Spot:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 66 points (43 games played)

2. Montreal Canadiens, 59 points (44 GP)

4. Boston Bruins, 57 points (42 GP)

Currently in Playoff Position:

3. Washington Capitals, 50 points (44 GP)

5. Toronto Maple Leafs, 53 points (44 GP)

6. Ottawa Senators, 52 points (43 GP)

7. New York Islanders, 51 points (44 GP)

8. New York Rangers, 50 points (44 GP)

On the Bubble:

9. Winnipeg Jets, 48 points (44 GP)

Here are the games on Saturday that could potentially affect playoff positioning

Pittsburgh vs. Boston, 12:30 p.m. ET

What should be an exhale of a game in Boston could actually have some legitimate seeding implications. The Penguins can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory or a Canadiens loss tonight. Meanwhile, a Bruins win and a Canadiens 60-minute loss puts the Bruins in first place in the Northeast Division (and second seed in the Eastern Conference) on the games played tiebreaker.

NY Islanders vs. Winnipeg, 3 p.m. ET

If I'd told you at the start of the season that, with seven days to go, the biggest game of the day would be Islanders vs. Jets, what would you think? A 60-minute victory would put the Islanders within a point of clinching their first post-season berth since 2007. It would also, momentarily, put them in a tie for fifth with the Maple Leafs, but the result of the Toronto-Ottawa game would necessitate them dropping a spot, one way or the other.

As for the Jets, a win keeps them alive. They need to keep pace with the Rangers after their win last night. Even a win doesn't put you back in the eighth seed, because the Rangers have taken care of business whenever there's been a game in hand. A sixth-straight win, however, keeps the Rangers looking over their shoulders.

Washington vs. Montreal, 7 p.m. ET

A Winnipeg win changes the urgency in this game before it even starts. If the Jets win in regulation or overtime tonight and the Capitals lose in 60 minutes, the Jets are returned to the third seed, while the Capitals would drop to ninth. A win and a Jets loss, however, puts Washington within two points of clinching the Southeast Division. Meanwhile, the Canadiens need to win to keep the Bruins away from the top spot in the Northeast Division.

Toronto vs. Ottawa, 7 p.m. ET

The Maple Leafs clinch a playoff spot with a point tonight, plain and simple. It would be Toronto's first post-season berth since 2004, and it would be really interesting and potentially entertaining to watch that city's reaction. The Senators cannot clinch with a win tonight, but a win (if the Islanders beat the Jets) means that they'd have to lose out and the Jets would have to win out for Ottawa to miss the post-season. The winner of this game will also have the fifth seed to themselves.

Detroit vs. Vancouver, 10 p.m. ET

The only real big Western Conference game tonight. Vancouver clinches a playoff spot with a point in this game. They also come within a couple points of clinching the Northwest Division crown. Remember when this looked in doubt due to the surging Wild? Meanwhile, the Red Wings can hop back into eighth with a win, as they'd own a game in hand -- and therefore, a tiebreaker -- on current eighth place Columbus.

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