NHL playoff picture: Big night for Central Division bubble teams

Christian Petersen

The Red Wings, Blues and Blue Jackets are all playing on the second leg of back-to-backs tonight, and all three could use two points.

The Eastern Conference playoff bubble somehow got weirder on Thursday night.

The Islanders got one point and the Devils got none, so the Isles are now your seventh seed, with the Devils in ninth. Washington took over the Southeast Division lead and are somehow now the third seed. Winnipeg is back in tenth. The Flyers, even more weirdly, are now within two points of a spot. Also, you can't really count out Carolina or Tampa Bay, as both are just four points away from the Southeast Division lead.

The Western Conference stayed weird, too. St. Louis won and moved back into the eighth seed after Edmonton got whitewashed by Vancouver. Columbus got a victory as well, tying the Oilers for ninth just one point back of a playoff spot. Oh, and they play St. Louis tonight (more in a moment). Detroit had an ugly loss in Phoenix, which puts them just two points away from the nine line. Nashville lost in 60 minutes, keeping them two points back of a playoff spot. Phoenix's win puts the Coyotes just two points away.

Here are the current playoff standings entering competition on Friday:

Eastern Conference

Currently in Playoff Position:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins, 56 points (38 games played)

2. Montreal Canadiens, 53 points (37 GP)

3. Washington Capitals, 38 points (37 GP)

4. Boston Bruins, 52 points (36 GP)

5. Ottawa Senators, 44 points (36 GP)

6. Toronto Maple Leafs, 44 points (37 GP)

7. New York Islanders, 40 points (38 GP)

8. New York Rangers, 39 points (36 GP)

On the Bubble:

9. New Jersey Devils, 39 points (37 GP)

10. Winnipeg Jets, 38 points (39 GP)

11. Philadelphia Flyers, 37 points (37 GP)

Western Conference

Currently in Playoff Position:

1. Chicago Blackhawks, 58 points (36 GP)

2. Anaheim Ducks, 55 points (37 GP)

3. Vancouver Canucks, 46 points (37 GP)

4. Los Angeles Kings, 45 points (37 GP)

5. San Jose Sharks, 44 points (36 GP)

6. Minnesota Wild, 44 points (37 GP)

7. Detroit Red Wings, 41 points (37 GP)

8. St. Louis Blues, 40 points (35 GP)

On the Bubble:

9. Edmonton Oilers, 39 points (37 GP)

10. Columbus Blue Jackets, 39 points (37 GP)

11. Phoenix Coyotes, 38 points (37 GP)

12. Nashville Predators, 38 points (38 GP)

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

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

Both teams could use a win here, for different reasons. For the Rangers, a win moves them back into seventh place and ahead of the Islanders, while a loss keeps them stuck with the Eastern Conference bubble teams, where anything could happen. The Penguins would just like to win, period, after getting spanked by the Rangers 6-1 on Wednesday night at the Garden. Their Atlantic Division title is secure, so they're just trying to be first to clinch a playoff spot and stick on top of the Eastern Conference. But a win right now would be nice.

Columbus vs. St. Louis, 8 p.m. ET

So this April game between the Blue Jackets and Blues is crazy large, and for the billionth time in this piece I use the word "somehow." The Blues take on the Blue Jackets and Red Wings this weekend, meaning two wins or two losses this weekend could -- but might not necessarily -- determine whether or not St. Louis makes the playoffs when all is said and done. A Columbus 60-minute win puts them in eighth and the Blues in ninth, so this is as close to must-win for the Blues as it gets with a visit to the Joe in line for Sunday.

Detroit vs. Colorado, 9 p.m. ET

Speaking of the denizens of the ol' Joe, the Red Wings could also really use two points tonight against the mostly dead Colorado Avalanche. A win gets the Wings away from the bubble for now, and back towards the fifth and sixth-place teams. A loss and well, they'll be in eighth no matter what happens in St. Louis tonight. Boy, that Red Wings-Blues NBC game on Sunday is shaping up to be massive.

Calgary vs. San Jose, 10:30 p.m. ET

Trivia Question: what NHL team has the fewest regulation losses at home this season? Would you believe me if I told you the answer was the San Jose Sharks? San Jose is 13-1-4 at home this year. Just to put it in perspective, Chicago is 13-3-2 and Pittsburgh is 15-5-0 at their home rinks. A win puts the Sharks, winners of six straight all of a sudden, in fourth place, ahead of the Kings and Wild. A loss moves them back to sixth, as Minnesota holds the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker.

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