THN.com Blog: Who will get into the playoffs – and who won't

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

As the NHL schedule heads into the final week of the regular season, The League That Parity Built has a logjam of teams vying for the final playoff berths in each conference.

And, yeah, sure, we could play out the remaining contests and see who gets in and who doesn't. Or, we could just take a peek at the schedule and the standings, do some new math and figure it out for ourselves.

Let's try that, and see what happens.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

It's a four-team battle for the final two playoff spots in the East, with the Canadiens and Rangers holding a slight advantage over the Panthers and Sabres heading into the final week of the regular season.

Here is what the playoff bubble teams in the East face in the final week:

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Standings story

The Canadiens sit seventh in the East, one point ahead of the Rangers and three points ahead of the Panthers. Montreal, with five games remaining, has a game in hand on both the Rangers and Panthers heading into Saturday's action.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Ottawa on Monday; vs. Pittsburgh next Saturday.

Road: at Toronto on Saturday; at NY Rangers on Tuesday; at Boston on Thursday..

In or out?

IN. The Habs appear to have stabilized following a two-month free fall that cost coach Guy Carbonneau his job and nearly ruined the franchise's 100th anniversary season. Montreal could deal a big blow to the Rangers' playoff hopes with a win in New York next Tuesday, although that game will be the second of back-to-back contests after the Habs host Ottawa on Monday.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Standings story

New York has steadily slid down the Eastern Conference standings and is clinging to a playoff spot with a week to go. The Rangers would be a lot further down if not for netminder Henrik Lundqvist, their runaway MVP this season.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Montreal on Tuesday; vs. Philadelphia on Thursday.

Road: at Boston on Saturday; at Philadelphia next Sunday.

In or out?

OUT. The Rangers had an uptick after adding Sean Avery and Nikolai Antropov, but that momentum has been lost and New York is limping to the finish. That, combined with a tough schedule in the final week, will result in the playoffs escaping from New York.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Standings story

Two points behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot, with two fewer victories, Florida is pushing hard for its first post-season appearance since 2000.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday; vs. Washington next Saturday.

Road: at Philadelphia on Tuesday; at Atlanta on Thursday.

In or out?

IN. Florida hasn't been in the playoffs for nine years and hasn't won a playoff round since that surprise run to the Stanley Cup final as third-year expansion franchise in 1996. It's time for a return.

BUFFALO SABRES

Standings story

The Sabres are four points out of a playoff spot and have to leapfrog two teams with five games left. They're a long shot.

Remaining games

Home: vs. New Jersey on Saturday; vs. Detroit on Monday; vs. Boston next Saturday.

Road: at Toronto on Wednesday; at Carolina on Thursday.

In or out?

OUT. Buffalo won't be able to overcome the long-term injury absences in the second half of the season to their top two stars, goalie Ryan Miller and sniper Thomas Vanek.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The West features six teams going for the final three playoff berths, with the Blue Jackets having the inside track on the No. 6 seed and the Ducks and Blues trying to hold off the Predators, as well as the Wild and Oilers, for the last two seeds.

Here is what the playoff bubble teams in the West face in the final week:

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Standings story

The Jackets have been in and out of a playoff spot throughout the 2008-09 season and desperately want to hold onto the No. 6 seed – and face Calgary or Vancouver in Round 1 rather than top seeds San Jose or Detroit. Sitting a couple of points ahead of Anaheim, St. Louis and Nashville, with a game in hand on those clubs, the Jackets control their own destiny.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Chicago on Sunday; vs. Minnesota next Saturday.

Road: at Nashville on Saturday; at Chicago on Wednesday; at St. Louis on Friday.

In or out?

IN. Columbus has a pair of back-to-back sets remaining – and have to travel between games in both situations – but a win over Nashville on Saturday or St. Louis next Friday would be huge. In any case, look for Rick Nash to power forward into his first NHL post-season.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Standings story

The Ducks hit the skids just prior to the trade deadline, prompting GM Bob Murray to unload some valuable veterans who played key roles in Anaheim's 2007 Cup run (Sami Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins). But after dipping down below the post-season cut-off line, Anaheim turned it around and climbed back into contention.

Remaining games

Home: vs. San Jose on Sunday; vs. Dallas on Friday.

Road: at San Jose on Saturday; at Phoenix next Saturday.

In or out?

IN. The Ducks have been one of the league's best teams over the past month and boast several proven stars (Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry). They have a pair of back-to-back sets to close out the season – including a home-and-home against rival San Jose – but they also have five days off before their final two games (against non-playoff teams Dallas and Phoenix).


ST. LOUIS BLUES

Standings story

The Blues have been one of the league's hottest teams in the second half of the season and look good to trade in their draft lottery ticket for a 1-in-16 chance at the Stanley Cup. They've overcome a No. 1 goalie who could no longer cut it (Manny Legace) and countless injuries to key players (Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson, for starters).

Remaining games

Home: vs. Columbus on Friday.

Road: at Dallas on Saturday; at Phoenix on Tuesday; at Colorado next Sunday.

In or out?

IN. With only four games remaining – including just one at home – there's little margin for error, but the Blues have been walking the tightrope since January. Even if they lose that crucial home game to visiting Columbus, their other three games are against non-playoff teams and St. Louis has at least two days off between each contest with the exception of the final game of the season.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Standings story

Never surrender, never say die. Despite being decimated by the departures of star players the past couple of years – and off-ice franchise instability – the Preds, as always, are in the playoff mix to the end. The No. 7 and 8 seeds will come down to a last-day dogfight between Nashville, Anaheim and St. Louis.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Columbus on Saturday; vs. Chicago on Tuesday.

Road: at Detroit on Thursday; at Minnesota on Friday.

In or out?

OUT. Top-liners Jason Arnott and Martin Erat were injury AWOLs down the stretch and Nashville doesn't have any offense to spare at the best of times. Give the Preds full credit for a furious finish and a work ethic that's second to none, but they'll be watching the post-season on TV just like you and me.

MINNESOTA WILD

Standings story

While Anaheim and St. Louis were storming up the standings the past month, the Wild went the other way. They've got two points to make up and two teams to climb over – and just four games to do it. Marian Gaborik might be back, but his return coincided with Mikko Koivu's injury exit.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Dallas on Tuesday; vs. Nashville on Friday.

Road: at Detroit on Sunday; at Columbus next Saturday.

In or out?

OUT. They need to win out to even have a prayer. Yes, Saint Niklas Backstrom, the patron saint of save percentage, is heavenly good – but he's not a miracle worker.

EDMONTON OILERS

Standings story

The architects of their own demise, the Oilers have struggled mightily in the final quarter of the season. Once looking good for the No. 7 or 8 seed, they'll probably finish 12th or 13th in the West. Again. Whatever you do, though, don't blame Dwayne Roloson.

Remaining games

Home: vs. Vancouver on Saturday; vs. Los Angeles on Tuesday; vs. Calgary on Friday.

Road: at Calgary next Saturday.

In or out?

OUT. Three home games are nice, but the opponents are not. A home-and-home versus Calgary to close out the season is fun for fans, but will likely be meaningless in the standings.

Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.

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