Playoff push sets up wild finish to regular season

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 07, 2014 4:15 PM

(Reuters) - The National Hockey League's regular season enters its final week with plenty at stake as six playoff spots, two division titles, a conference champion and the Presidents' Trophy still up for grabs.

The postseason picture is a bit clearer in the Eastern Conference where the Boston Bruins have clinched top spot along with the Atlantic Division title while the Pittsburgh Penguins have locked up first place in the Metropolitan Division.

But in the West, where the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings have all secured playoff spots, there is no such clarity with the both the Central Division and Pacific Division titles and the conference championship still undecided.

Much of the drama over the final week will revolve around the wild-card races in both conferences and it could come down to the final day of season in the West when the Dallas Stars visit the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Stars are clinging to the second wild-card spot with 87 points, one point clear of the Coyotes and both teams left with four games on their schedules.

The Minnesota Wild, with 92 points and four games to play, have a tight grip on the West's other wild card.

In the East, the Detroit Red Wings, bidding for their 23rd consecutive trip to the playoffs, and Columbus Blue Jackets have control of the two wild cards.

But both teams cannot afford any stumbles down the stretch with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals all in hot pursuit.

All five teams in the East wild-card race have four games to play except the Maple Leafs, who have three.

The Red Wings occupy the first wild-card position with 88 points followed by the Blue Jackets (87), Devils (84), Maple Leafs (84) and Capitals (83).

While those teams in the wild-card hunt are in a race for their playoff lives, the clubs ahead of them are seeking to secure home-ice advantage.

By taking the conference crown the Bruins have secured home ice right through to the Stanley Cup finals, should they get that far, while the Penguins have clinched the second seed and a first round meeting with a wild card.

But the red-hot Montreal Canadiens, winners of eight of their last 10, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are locked in a fight for second in the Atlantic and home ice advantage in what is shaping up as a first-round meeting between those two teams.

In the Metropolitan, the New York Rangers can clinch a post-season place on Monday if the Devils lose to the Calgary Flames.

With 111 points the Blues are closing in on the Western Conference crown and Central Division titles, which would earn St. Louis home ice through to the Cup finals.

The Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the best regular season record, is quickly boiling down to a two-way struggle between the Blues and Bruins.

Behind the Blues, the Blackhawks and Avalanche are waging a fierce battle for home ice in what will likely be another first-round matchup.

The Avalanche (107) hold a two point edge on the reigning Stanley Cup champions (105) and have a game in hand.

The battle for top spot in the Pacific Division is also likely to go down to the wire with the Ducks (108) holding a one-point advantage on Sharks.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)