Chicago won it all in 2010. Who will compete for the Stanley Cup in 2011? The playoffs are about to begin.

2011 NHL Playoffs: Blackhawks Back Into Final Playoff Spot

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2011 NHL Playoffs: Blackhawks Back Into Final Playoff Spot

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.


2011 NHL Playoffs: Rangers Roll, Canes Choke

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.

Games To Watch Today:

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.


2011 NHL Playoffs: Tiebreaker Scenarios For Stars, Blackhawks, Rangers, Hurricanes, Ducks

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.


2011 NHL Playoffs: It's A Corey Perry World

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.

Games To Watch Tonight:

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.


2011 NHL Playoffs: Maple Leafs Eliminated, Flames And Stars Making Push Out West

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.

Games To Watch Tonight:

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.


2011 NHL Playoffs: Rangers, Sharks Stake Their Claims

Two teams made statements last night, as both the San Jose Sharks and the New York Rangers increased their foothold on playoff positioning.

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.

Games To Watch Tonight:

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.

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