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The Chicago Blackhawks had a golden opportunity to clinch the final playoff berth as they played their final regular season game against their archrivals Detroit Red Wings. All the Blackhawks had to do was gain a single point in the game — even an overtime would have been enough — and the eighth seed was theirs for the taking. Unfortunately, they lost handilyin regulation to the Red Wings by a 4-3 score, and their playoff destiny was out of their hands.
The Dallas Stars had a golden opportunity. After leading the Pacific Division for the first half of the season, the Stars watched every other team pass them up, and their playoff hopes dimmed. Yet a final push put them into great positioning. With the Chicago loss, Dallas merely had to win their final game against the Minnesota Wild. A win would pull them into a tie with Chicago, and they held every tiebreaker. Yet the Stars came up short, losing their final matchup against the Wild, 5-3, and their late season playoff charge came up short.
With the Stars loss, Blackhawks fans can breathe easily. They were in danger of becoming the first defending champion to miss the playoffs the following season. Instead, they will get to defend their title against the unanimous top team in the league, the Vancouver Canucks, when the playoffs start later this week.
The Carolina Hurricanes were hot, having gone 8-1-1 in their previous ten games, and were a single win away from clinching the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had already locked up their playoff seeding. They had one of the most dominant postseason goalies of this era in net, former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward. And they were at home in front of a raucous crowd.
Three hours previous, the New York Rangers were fighting for their playoff lives against their rivals, the New Jersey Devils. After captain Chris Drury -- who had missed much of the season with a knee injury -- lit the lamp on his first shift, the Rangers fell behind on two Ilya Kovalchuk goals. But they fought back. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant in net, and the Rangers prevailed by a 5-2 margin, forcing Carolina to win their night game.
They choked. Just 13 minutes into the game, they were already down 3-0 as Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos put on a clinic. The Lightning dominated the game, 6-2, and the Hurricanes were sent home from the playoffs in the most humbling manner possible.
With that game, the Eastern Conference matchups are all set. But in the West, the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars are still fighting for the right to face the Vancouver Canucks. Dallas holds the tiebreakers, but trails Chicago by two points in the standings.
Dallas makes the playoffs if: Chicago loses in regulation, and Dallas wins in regulation, overtime, or shootout.
Chicago makes the playoffs if: they gain a single point. If the Blackhawks make it to overtime, they clinch the final spot. They can also make the playoffs if Dallas loses their game, whether in regulation, in overtime, or in shootout.
Since Chicago plays the early game today, the Stars will know if they've been eliminated before their game this evening against the Minnesota Wild.
It's pretty obvious, isn't it? Only two games matter.
Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, 10:30 a.m. MDT on NBC: The NBC game of the week could decide the final playoff spot, but Detroit isn't likely to let their archrivals walk into the playoffs.
Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild, 4:00 p.m. MDT: The Stars will know exactly what they have to do by the time the puck drops in this game, the final regular season game in the 2010-2011 NHL regular season.
It’s the final weekend of the NHL regular season, and multiple playoff races are going down to the wire. The most exciting race is for the eighth seed in the East, as both the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers are tied in points on the last day of their regular season. Both teams are in action today, and here’s how the final seed will be determined:
If one team wins, and the other loses, then the winning team is in. Simple.
If both teams win in regulation, the Carolina Hurricanes will claim the final seed due to their one game advantage in non-shootout wins for the season. The same would happen if both teams lose in regulation or in overtime.
Here is where it gets fun: if Carolina were to win in a shootout and the Rangers were to win in regulation or overtime, the Hurricanes would still make the final seed by virtue of their 6-4 point advantage in head to head matchups this season.
If you’re a Rangers fan, you better hope that your team finishes with a single point more than the Hurricanes, because Carolina holds all the tiebreakers.
Out west, a similar situation is brewing as the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks are all heading towards a three-team collision for the last two playoff spots. Chicago and Anaheim hold the advantage; if they win their final game, they’re in. If they even make it to overtime (win or lose), they are in the playoffs. But if either of them fail to gain a point, Dallas is right there with a victory in their final matchup. Here’s how the tiebreakers appear:
The Anaheim Ducks have 42 non-shootout victories this season, and would hold the tiebreakers over both clubs. Anaheim has clinched a playoff berth. If Dallas wins in regulation or overtime, they would tie Chicago with 38 non-shootout wins, but hold the head to head tiebreaker. If Dallas is forced into the shootout, they cannot make the playoffs.
If you’re a Blackhawks fan, it’s very simple. Gain a point, somehow.
Games To Watch Tonight:
Tampa Bay Lighting at Carolina Hurricanes: Season finale for both clubs, with the Hurricanes looking for a playoff berth.
New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers: Rangers are fighting for their playoff lives and MUST have a win against their rivals from across the border.
There were only four games played last night in the NHL, and only two with substantial playoff repercussions. The Dallas Stars continue their late-season advance after an easy 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, and have pulled with two points of both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks for the final playoff berth in the West. Dallas will face the lowly Avalanche again tonight, with a chance to force a three-way tie for seventh (should Chicago and Anaheim both lose their tough matchups).
The big surprise of the evening happened out east, as the New York Rangers -- one win away from locking up a playoff berth -- were shutout by the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-0, in front of the home crowd at Madison Square Garden. The Thrashers were 2-3 in their past five games and had absolutely nothing to play for, yet handily beat the Rangers.
This opens the door wide for the hard-charging Carolina Hurricanes, who only trail the Rangers by two points, and with a game in hand. Since the Rangers have the tiebreaker, they merely have to beat the New Jersey Devils in their season finale on Saturday. If Carolina beats the Thrashers tonight, they would move into a tie for eighth place heading into Saturday's action.
Most of the playoff bubble teams are in action this evening. Here are a few games to scoreboard watch.
Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks end their regular season with a home and home against their rivals from LA. They need at least one victory to put themselves in decent shape for the playoffs. A sweep would be optimal, since they don't hold a guaranteed tiebreaker over either Dallas or Chicago at this point.
Carolina Hurricanes at Atlanta Thrashers -- Atlanta has a chance to play spoiler for the second consecutive night. They damaged the Rangers' playoff aspirations last night, and can completely end Carolina's playoff dream with a victory tonight.
Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche -- Dallas needs to keep winning, and the Avalanche are just the team to play for two free points (at least since January). The Avs may be a tough draw tonight due to the retirement announcement of captain Adam Foote earlier in the day.
It's Corey Perry's world, and the rest of us are just living in it.
The Anaheim Ducks forward continued his torrent scoring streak on the rest of the NHL, as he scored a hat trick (with an assist) in last night's must-win game against the division rival San Jose Sharks. With the win, the Ducks keep pace in the Western Conference and remain tied for seventh.
In case you hadn't noticed, Perry has catapulted himself into a frontrunner role for the Hart MVP Trophy this year. He has 50 goals and 47 assists on the season -- both shattering his previous career highs -- and has scored 25 goals and 21 assists since February. His numbers have shot the Ducks from afterthought in the Pacific Division into legitimate playoff contender.
Perry wasn't alone, as Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla had a night to remember as well. His hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers gave the Flames an easy victory and gave Iginla 42 goals for the season. Unfortunately for Iginla, his Flames are simply running out of games. They trail the last playoff position by two points, and only have one game remaining. The best they can hope for? That Anaheim, the Chicago Blackhawks, and Dallas Stars all lose the remainder of their games. Unlikely, but at least there is still hope in Alberta.
Out east, the Carolina Hurricanes kept pace with an easy 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, but they still trail the New York Rangers for the final playoff berth. Since the Rangers hold the tiebreaker, Carolina has to hope that New York loses their final two games in regulation.
The Washington Capitals essentially sewed up the top overall seed in the East with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. The slumping Philadelphia Flyers no longer control home ice, and may lose the second seed to the Boston Bruins this final weekend.
Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars: This is the first game of a home and home for these two teams. If the Dallas Stars can take advantage of a weary Avalanche squad, they may have the inside track at the final playoff berth. They have a chance at making history; not only knocking out the defending Stanley Cup champs but by entering every member of the Pacific Division as a playoff team. Unknown territory.
Atlanta Thrashers at New York Rangers: The Rangers win, and they are in. Playing in front of the home crowd, and against a Thrashers team that's run out of steam in the second half of the season, there's no excuse for them not to clinch tonight.
The dream is finally over for the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the proudest franchises in the NHL continues their struggles in the modern era, as Toronto will not host a playoff game for the eighth straight season -- zero postseason appearances since the NHL salary cap was put into place.
There was hope in in Ontario, as the Leafs went 9-5-1 in March and placed themselves on the fringes of competition. Yet even before their 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals last night, they were officially eliminated from postseason contention because of Thomas Vanek. The Buffalo Sabres forward put a dagger through Toronto's collective heart with a hat trick in Buffalo's 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that victory, there was simply no way for Toronto to earn enough points in their last three games to overcome the deficit.
Out west, the race for the last two seeds has turned into a photo finish. The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks have the advantage with 93 points apiece, tied for seventh. But the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars are certainly making the race competitive. Both of those teams are lurking behind at 91 points, and may take over a playoff spot if Chicago or Anaheim slip up in their last two games. The Dallas Stars can actually finish the regular season tied with Chicago, even if both teams win their remaining games, as Dallas still has three games left on their schedule. With back to back games against the Colorado Avalanche, and a finale versus the Minnesota Wild, the Stars may hold the advantage.
If Dallas were to make the playoffs, it would be the first time that every member from a single division made the playoffs, provided the Anaheim Ducks can clinch a berth.
Phoenix Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings: This is a potential first round playoff matchup in the Western Conference. These two teams are built very similar, with stellar goaltending and scoring depth with no real top forward left on either roster. With the injury to Anze Kopitar, the Kings are lacking a true top forward. Deadline acquisition Dustin Penner has done very little in a purple and silver sweater. The Coyotes have depended on veterans Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata to provide the scoring. Expect a goalie battle here, with the Coyotes' superior depth giving them an advantage.
San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks: The Sharks have been rolling into the playoffs, and have their sights set on the #2 overall seed in the West. The Ducks are tied for seventh and need to win the remainder of their games to ensure a playoff berth. This is a battle of top offensive lines, as the Sharks' Marleau, Pavelski, and Joe Thornton match up against the Ducks' MVP candidate Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne. There should be tons of action in this game, with the Ducks being the more desperate team.
Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes: The Red Wings are battling the Sharks for a potential home-ice advantage in the second round. The Canes slim playoff hopes can stay alive with a win tonight. Goalie Cam Ward has been sparkling in net for Carolina, with a 7-2-1 record and a .933 SV% their past ten games. They'll need another quality start from him tonight to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Canes need to win their last three games and hope that the Rangers lose at least one of their remaining two contests.
The big game of the evening was a clash between the Bruins (essentially set in the East’s third seed) and the Rangers, who were barely hanging onto the eight seed in the East. After being completely outplayed the first half of the game — and trailing 3-0 midway through the second period — the Rangers came alive. Vinny Prospal scored twice in the final nine minutes of the second period, and the Rangers racked up three goals in the final four minutes of the game to steal the game, 5-3, and to essentially guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs.
With the victory, the Rangers passed up the Buffalo Sabres and slid into the seventh seed. It would take an epic collapse for New York to miss the playoffs.
On the west coast, two Pacific Division rivals collided, as the San Jose Sharks could clinch the division title with a victory. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings could officially clinch a playoff berth with a victory. The Sharks made this a non-issue, as they soundly beat the Kings 6-1, with six different Sharks players scoring a goal and goalie Antti Niemi stopping 31 of 32 shots. The San Jose Sharks have now won the Pacific Division title.
Plenty of action around the NHL this evening, but here a a few games with serious playoff implications.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres: With a win tonight, the Sabres can make their magic number for a playoff spot a single point over the Carolina Hurricanes. If they lose, then the last spot becomes open, especially since the Canes would have a game in hand. Tampa Bay also has an outside shot at the Southeast Division title, but would need a victory tonight.
Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens: This battle between two Original Six teams will be played with a sense of urgency, as both teams are currently in the playoff picture — but only by a single point. A Blackhawks loss would put in jeopardy of missing the postseason. A Canadiens loss would place them on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference.
Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto is holding onto a very slim playoff hope, as they have to win out and hope that Buffalo goes winless the rest of the season. A single point is all that stands between the Leafs and eight consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance — a painfully long period of time for one of the premier franchises in the league. Washington would like to stay in the race for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. A win would keep them in good position.
The Colorado Avalanche have quickly plunged their way out of the 2011 NHL Playoff chase and into the race for a top selection in this summer's draft. But that doesn't change the fact that the NHL playoffs are simply the best postseason in professional sports, and they start in a week.
In case you haven't been following closely, here's a quick primer on the teams that hope to make the second season:
Washington Capitals - Better depth and a stronger commitment to defense make the Capitals a strong contender this season than in years past, even though Alex Ovechkin is no longer lighting the lamp as frequently. Yet their goaltending remains a serious concern.
Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers boast the deepest team in the league, both offensively and defensively, and have a deadly special teams. But can they depend on a rookie goaltender to carry them through the playoffs?
Pittsburgh Penguins - This resilient Penguins team has survived the losses of top forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby -- and the suspension of agitator Matt Cooke -- to remain at the top of their division. But these losses can exploited in a long playoff series. Despite being a top three seed, Pittsburgh is an underdog to survive the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning - The Lightning have shocked everyone this season with an electric offense, led by Martin St. Louis and blossoming superstar Steven Stamkos. But can they depend on 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson to stay healthy through the long playoff season?
Boston Bruins - The Bruins have weathered the loss of Marc Savard to multiple concussions, and are depending on probable Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who has enjoyed a career year in net. Their tight defensive style is perfect for the playoffs.
Montreal Canadiens - Undersized offensively, but defensively sound, these Canadiens have made plenty of noise the past few postseasons. Led by goalie Carey Price, Montreal is a very tough draw for the first round.
Buffalo Sabres - They have Ryan Miller, the best goaltender on the planet. If they win a first round, they may get top scorer Derek Roy back. Don't sleep on this team; they are 11-4-3 since February and will only get stronger.
New York Rangers - The Rangers are limping towards the postseason (2-2-1 in their past five games), but have plenty of elite talent once they get there. Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik are veterans with plenty of postseason experience.
Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes likely need to win out (and get some help) to make the postseason this year. Goalie Cam Ward has had his standard spectacular season, Eric Stall has received some help from rookie Jeff Skinner, but that hasn't quite been enough. This team will be scary next season.
Vancouver Canucks - Tickets printed since January. Stanley Cup favorites and for good reason; they have no real weakness.
Detroit Red Wings - This veteran team has survived wave after wave of injuries to their top core. While not the strongest Red Wings team from recent years, they still boast players like Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Cleary. Dangerous team, though with some goaltending questions.
San Jose Sharks - They have one of hockey's top lines, and goalie Anti Niemi has been lights out since November. The other favorite in the West, aside from Vancouver.
Phoenix Coyotes - Even without a true top offensive player, the Coyotes have succeeded through failed sales -- and relocation discussion. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov led them to a deep playoff run last season, and looks primed to repeat his performance.
Los Angeles Kings - This team was my darkhorse favorite to win the Cup, at least until top forward Anze Kopitar broke his ankle against the Avalanche and will miss the entire postseason. Now, they are essentially a lame duck -- unless trade deadline acquisition Dustin Penner can carry the team on his back.
Nashville Predators - They have Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne in net and are the most solid defensive team in the Western Conference. If you're a top seed in the West, this is the team you want to avoid.
Anaheim Ducks - They have Corey Perry, who may end up winning the Hart Trophy based on his career year. They have Ryan Getzlaf and the ageless Teemu Selanne. If they have goalie Jonas Hiller, look for them to win their first series. Otherwise, they'll have to try and outshoot their opponent.
Chicago Blackhawks - The defending champs appear to be squeaking into the playoffs just barely. After cutting ties with some of the expensive pieces from their 2010 team, the Hawks simply aren't as good. They have good top-tier offense in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but question marks in goal and on the blue line.
Calgary Flames - The Flames are only one point out of the last playoff spot, and need to win out to give themselves a chance at the postseason. With only two games to play (compared to Chicago's four), Calgary needs to root for a collapse from the defending champs or the red-hot Ducks to have a shot. (Hint: It's unlikely to happen.)
There's only two games on the docket tonight, and both with serious playoff implications.
Boston Bruins at New York Rangers, 5:30 p.m. MDT: The New York Rangers are desperate to hold off the Carolina Hurricanes, and can go a long way towards guaranteeing themselves a playoff berth with a win tonight against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins still have their eye on a top three seed in the East, but those odds will dim with a loss.
Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks, 8:00 p.m. MDT: It's simple. The Kings clinch a playoff berth with a win. The Sharks clinch the Pacific Division title with a win. The Sharks have the talent advantage, but expect the Kings to play desperate.
Both games will be broadcast as a doubleheader on the Versus Network. Check your local listings.
Follow SBN Denver for daily updates on the 2011 NHL Playoff Race!