Playoff Push: Wild Western Conference showdown

From left: Marian Gaborik, Ryan Reaves, Mikko Koivu, Ray Whitney.
April 21, 2013, 2:34 PM

With the NHL playoff race heating up, we track the teams impacted by last night’s results and which of tonight’s games will affect the playoff picture.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

If the season ended today…

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (1) vs. NEW YORK RANGERS (8)

MONTREAL CANADIENS (2) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS (7)

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (3) vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (6)

BOSTON BRUINS (4) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (5)

Who’s already clinched? Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs

Who can clinch tonight? No teams in the East can clinch.

What’d I miss? For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot as they picked up a 4-1 win over the Senators and the Winnipeg Jets lost in a shootout to the New York Islanders. There is concern in Leafs Nation about the team consistently being outshot, often by wide margins, but for now fans are rejoicing.

The Penguins locked up first in the East with a 3-2 win in Boston, while Washington continued its torrid pace with a 5-1 beatdown of the Canadiens, who have lost four of their last five.

With their loss to the Islanders, the Jets are in a difficult spot with just three games remaining and now one point behind the New York Rangers, who have a game in hand on them.

Sunday’s game to watch:

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

The Rangers are rolling and could move three points ahead of the ninth-place Jets with a win at Madison Square Garden.

Having won four of five and scoring 14 goals in their last two outings, it might be a good time for the Rangers to run into a Devils team that only recently snapped a ten-game losing streak.

With a regulation loss the Devils would be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

Tonight’s sked:

Florida Panthers vs. Boston Bruins – The Bruins have lost four straight and haven’t won since the deadly bombings that occurred last Monday. A win over the Panthers would certainly boost the team’s and the city’s moral.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – A battle of two bottom-dwellers.

Fun fact: Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has stopped 63 of 65 shots he’s faced against the Panthers this season and in his career against Florida boasts a record of 6-1-0 with a 0.98 GAA and .969 save percentage.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

If the season ended today…

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (1) vs. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (8)

ANAHEIM DUCKS (2) vs. MINNESOTA WILD (7)

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3) vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES (6)

LOS ANGELES KINGS (4) vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS (5)

Who’s already clinched? Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings

Who can clinch tonight? The San Jose Sharks can clinch if they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets or pick up a point if they lose in overtime or in a shootout. If the St. Louis Blues earn a win over the Colorado Avalanche they’ll also clinch.

What’d I miss? The Detroit Red Wings failed to catch up to the Blue Jackets after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks and still sit in ninth. Luckily for them, since they have a game in hand over the Blue Jackets, they control their own destiny if they can win their remaining four games.

The Canucks’ win over the Red Wings clinched them a playoff spot; it also happened to lock up a post-season berth for the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Saturday’s game to watch:

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. San Jose Sharks

The Blue Jackets need to win to remain a half step ahead of the Wings, while the Sharks could potentially move past the Kings for fourth in the West.

Although the Sharks are playing well right now, having won three in a row, they have struggled against the Blue Jackets this season. On Feb. 11 they were blasted 6-2 and on April 9 they were shut out 4-0.

Tonight’s sked:

Calgary Flames vs. Minnesota Wild – Even though they’re alone in seventh, the Wild can’t afford a loss to the 13th-place Flames because the Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars are hot on their heels. Fans can watch this game on Sportsnet West with coverage starting at 3:30pm MT.

St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche – The Blues can clinch with a win; the Avs have lost three of four.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers – The second-place Ducks are looking to avoid a fifth straight lost.

Dallas Stars vs. Los Angeles Kings – Lots of playoff implications in this game as the Stars can potentially leapfrog the Blue Jackets for eighth and the Kings can move to within three points of the faltering Ducks for the Pacific Division lead.

Fun fact: The Sharks have gone to more shootouts than any other team in the NHL this season. They have a record of 8-4 when overtime can’t solve it.

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