NHL playoff race heats up in final days of regular season

Chris Ginley

Despite the NHL lockout this past off-season, a 48-game schedule was salvaged. With four days to go until the end of the regular season, both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference have two playoff spots to be filled. Few things in sports are as exciting as a down-to-the-wire dash for the playoffs at the end of the season. Will the Blue Jackets surprise hockey fans everywhere and make the playoffs? Will the Red Wings miss the postseason for the first time in 21 years? We will find out in the next four days. Here is a preview of each team in the race for the most exciting postseason in sports.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens have three games left, starting at Washington. They are 2-0 against the Capitals this season. Ottawa then head home for their final home game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. They have split the season series so far against the “Broad Street Bullies,” with each team taking one game. The Senators then round out their season in Boston against the Bruins on Sunday. The Sens have had a rough go this year against the Bruins, going 0-2-2 against them. Ottawa is in a position to get six points maximum, which would put them at 58, and well into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If the Senators win one game, they will secure themselves a playoff spot.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are tied with Ottawa in points with two games to play. The Rangers have the easiest road to the playoffs, as both of the teams they play have been eliminated from contention. New York hosts New Jersey in their regular-season finale on Saturday. The Rangers are a combined 4-1 against the Hurricanes and the Devils (2-0 against the ‘Canes and 2-1 against the Devils).

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets were in a must-win situation going into their final game against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday at the MTS Center in Winnipeg. The Canadiens have had a rough go as of late, having lost five of their last six coming into the game against the Jets, compared to the Jets’ winning six of their last eight. The Jets needed to beat the Canadiens, and they need either the Rangers to lose both of their final two games, or have the Senators lose two of their final three games to make it into the playoffs.

Minnesota Wild: Two games left for the Wild against two easy opponents. The Wild will square off against the Oilers Friday in their home finale at the XCEL Energy Center. Minnesota has had great luck against Edmonton this season with three wins against the Oilers. The Wild will end their season in Colorado Saturday as they face the basement dwellers of the Western Conference in the Avalanche.

Detroit Red Wings: Detroit has made the playoffs 21 straight years. They find themselves in jeopardy of breaking that streak if they falter in their last two games. The Wings end the 2012-2013 campaign Saturday night in Dallas against the Stars. Detroit has had Nashville’s number this year, going 2-1 against the Predators, while scoring 10 goals and allowing just four. Detroit has split the season series with Dallas, with their record against the Stars sitting at 1-1.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Who would have expected it? The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the thick of the playoff race at the end of the season. Most hockey pundits, myself included, expected Columbus to have a nice, cozy spot in the Western Conference basement this time of year. Instead, they have a chance to make the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. In the final game of a six-game, west coast swing, the Jackets visited the Stars. Columbus will end their season at Nationwide Arena Saturday against the Predators.

Dallas Stars: When the Stars traded Jaromir Jagr to the Bruins and Derek Roy to the Canucks, most people in the hockey world thought that Dallas would not be in a position to make the playoffs. Yet with two games to go and some help from other teams, the Stars could surprise the hockey world and make the postseason. Two home games await the Stars, on Thursday against the Blue Jackets and on Saturday against the Red Wings.

Contact Chris Ginley at [email protected].