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.