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2011 NHL Playoffs: Several Playoff Spots Still Available

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:

Eastern Conference

Buy Your Playoff Tickets:

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.

Set Aside Money For Tickets, You're Likely In:

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.

Down To The Wire:

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.

Western Conference

Buy Your Playoff Tickets:

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.

Set Aside Money For Tickets, You're Likely In:

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.

Down To The Wire:

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.)

Games To Watch Tonight:

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!