By Allan Muir
As of Monday morning, there were 55 games left on the NHL schedule, and almost as many questions to be answered as the regular season wraps up.
There's a Presidents' Trophy to be won, with the Bruins, Blues and Ducks vying for home ice as long as they remain alive. There are five teams still in the hunt for the two wild-card spots in the East, and two battling for the final berth in the West.
There's a Pacific Division title up for grabs, and home ice to be won in the Atlantic, Central and Metropolitan Division's first rounds.
With so much at stake, it's no surprise that 45 of the 55 games have playoff implications.
We know you can't watch 'em all, so here are five that we deem to be can't-miss.
UPDATED BRACKET: Matchups if playoffs started today
Tuesday, April 8: Coyotes at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EDT; FS-Arizona, FS-Ohio)
A pass on almost any other night, this game becomes a must-watch with two wild-card berths at stake. Columbus can essentially narrow its list of pursuers down to one -- the Devils -- with a win. Phoenix, currently trailing the Stars by one point in the West, needs to find a way to beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has two shutouts in his last three starts. The Coyotes were blanked 2-0 by Jackets backup Curtis McElhinney when the teams last met on Jan. 2.
Wednesday, April 9: Red Wings at Penguins (8 p.m. EDT; NBCSN, TSN2)
The second-ranked Pens are on a first-round collision course with the seventh-ranked Wings, a team that suddenly looks much more dangerous with Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup and young guns Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Jurco firing. These two teams have met twice in the playoffs in the last five seasons, each time with the Stanley Cup on the line, so this game is bound to include some residual animosity, as well as the usual statement-making ahead of a postseason meeting. Expect this game to be fast, aggressive and high scoring.
Wednesday, April 9: Sharks at Ducks (10:30 p.m. EDT; NBCSN, TSN2)
Don't change that channel! Both networks will switch over to this critical match as soon as the Penguins and the Red Wings are done slugging it out. At stake: first place in the Pacific Division. More importantly, the winner avoids a meeting with the very dangerous Kings in the opening round. Anaheim currently holds a one-point lead with a game in hand, but has also lost five of its last 10. San Jose is stumbling harder, losing six of 10. The Sharks will have just two games left after this one, so a three-point deficit is not an option. The potential return of rookie Tomas Hertl would make for an intriguing subplot.
Saturday, April 12: Flyers at Penguins (3 p.m. EDT; NBC)
Maybe this one will have playoff implications. Maybe it won't. Either way, these two teams always bring out the best, and worst, in each other, which makes their final showdown the perfect prelude to postseason hockey. Philadelphia entered the week struggling, having lost four of its last five, and is in serious danger of dropping into the wild card mix ... but that might not be a bad thing. The Flyers have struggled against the Rangers -- the team they'll play if they hold on to the third spot in the Metro Division -- but they've played well against the Pens, winning both of their previous two meetings.
Sunday, April 13: Stars at Coyotes (9 p.m. EDT; FS-Southwest, FS-Arizona)
Sure, the league's schedule makers deserved some of the complaints hurled at them this season, but let's take a moment instead to tip our hat to them for this one moment of prescience. The scales could tip one way or the other over the next six days, but if things stay tight between Dallas and Phoenix, then the table is set for a winner-take-all game for the final wild-card berth in the West. The two sides met twice in a five-day span back in early February, with the Stars winning both games. Goalie Kari Lehtonen
held the Coyotes to a single goal in each. It's rumored that this game will be picked up by the NHL Network in order to make it available to a national audience in the States if the wild card is still at stake.