This is the real, real home stretch of the NHL season. No team has more than 10 games left. As such, this weekend preview will be combined with a look at the standings and the playoffs race. Here's what things look like, and how this weekend will impact them.
In the East, Boston is the only team that has clinched a playoff spot, and they have essentially clinched the top seed in the conference. So they can just relax. Pittsburgh hasn't officially clinched yet, but their division is all but theirs. Montreal and Tampa are save, and the Rangers probably are too, but they are all still fighting for playoff positioning. The Canadiens visit the Panthers, so they have a good chance at earning a couple of points. Tampa has two games. First, they play Buffalo, which should be a win, and then they have a big game Sunday against the Red Wings. That's huge for both teams, particularly Detroit.
Then, we have the teams still in the fight for a playoff spot: Philly, Detroit, Toronto, Columbus, Washington, and I guess New Jersey. The Flyers have 83 points, the middle four all have 80, while the Devils have 76, so they are just hanging on. They visit the Islanders on Saturday, so they should stay alive.
Philadelphia has it tough, because they take on the Bruins, but they also have leeway. Washington also plays Boston, but they also play Nashville, which should be a win. Columbus is in Carolina. Then, there's Detroit and Toronto. I already mentioned the Wings face the Lightning on Sunday, but on Saturday Detroit and Toronto square off. This is the biggest game of the weekend in terms of playoff implications. I think the winner of this one probably ends up making the playoffs. Or, at the very least, the loser won't make it.
OK, now we head out West. St. Louis, San Jose, and Anaheim have all clinched. The Blues pretty much have their division locked down, but they are still fighting the Sharks and Ducks for the best record in the conference. The Blues host the Stars on Saturday. San Jose and Anaheim are both on the road Saturday. The Sharks are in Colorado, while the Ducks are in Vancouver. That's much easier for Anaheim. Speaking of Colorado, they are safely in the playoffs.
Chicago and Los Angeles are both also safe, and both won't finish worse than third in their divisions, avoiding having to play a top seed. The Blackhawks are vying with the Avalanche for home-ice, though, and Chicago has to take on the Penguins.
Honestly, I think the eight playoff teams in the Western Conference are set. Minnesota has 85, Phoenix has 84, and then Dallas and Vancouver have 79. The difference? The Stars have played 72 games, the Canucks 75. Dallas is the only team really left in this race. As mentioned, they have to play the Blues. The Wild and Coyotes face one another. Whoever wins is probably safe, especially if it's Minnesota.
So that's where things stand, and where they are going. Enjoy the games.