NHL playoff picture: East all clinched up, West still uncertain


The Islanders and Wild can help themselves tonight, but most of the post-season party will be determined Saturday.

Every playoff spot has been clinched in the Eastern Conference, but a lot is yet to be determined in the Western Conference.

Thursday night, the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers officially filled up the East's dance card. Not only that, but with a loss by the New York Islanders to the Philadelphia Flyers, the two teams jumped to sixth and seventh place, respectively. Toronto beat Florida last night, which means that with a win over Montreal on Saturday, we will get Maple Leafs-Canadiens in the Conference Quarterfinals. Boston won, confirming that the Habs must win on Saturday to have a chance at avoiding that.

The Detroit Red Wings pushed themselves inches from a post-season berth with a win over Nashville. The Columbus Blue Jackets, however, stayed alive by beating Dallas, which means the Jackets will still be alive on Saturday, when 28 of the 30 teams end the season. The Stars were officially eliminated. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues jumped into fourth place in the Western Conference Thursday night with a win over Calgary. They now control their own destiny in terms of getting that last home-ice advantage slot.

We're going to try something a bit different tonight. Instead of just posting the standings in the Eastern Conference, since all of the spots are clinched, let's show what the matchups would be like if we ended the season right now. The Western Conference playoff picture will be the same ol' standings.

Eastern Conference

Matchups if the Playoffs Started Today:

8. New York Islanders vs. 1. Pittsburgh Penguins

7. New York Rangers vs. 2. Boston Bruins

6. Ottawa Senators vs. 3. Washington Capitals

5. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 4. Montreal Canadiens

Western Conference

Clinched a Playoff Spot:

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (46 GP)

2. Anaheim Ducks, 66 points (47 GP)

3. Vancouver Canucks, 59 points (47 GP)

4. St. Louis Blues, 58 points (47 GP)

5. Los Angeles Kings, 57 points (47 GP, 24 ROW)

6. San Jose Sharks, 57 points (47 GP, 17 ROW)

7. Detroit Red Wings, 54 points (47 GP)

8. Minnesota Wild, 53 points (46 GP, 21 ROW)

On the Bubble:

9. Columbus Blue Jackets, 53 points (47 GP, 18 ROW)

Here are Friday night's games that could affect playoff positioning.

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

The Isles end their regular season this evening and have little control over their destiny, so tonight will be about setting themselves up in case the Rangers lose on Saturday or the Senators screw up both of their final two games. A win will have them sitting in sixth place. A regulation win would be key, since it would force the Senators to get a regulation win, rather than just any two points this weekend, to put them ahead of New York. The Blueshirts, however, can pass the Islanders (presuming they beat Buffalo) with any victory.

Edmonton vs. Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET

The Wild struggled down the stretch, but the Oilers have been a downright patsy the past couple of weeks, so Minnesota may have caught a break here. It's pretty simple: win and you're in for the Wild. Lose and you can complete a spectacular collapse on Saturday if you lose to the Avalanche and the Jackets figure out a way to get a point. A point, incidentally, is also no good. A win clinches it for them and nothing else.

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