Race for the Playoffs: Ducks could clinch for three teams, Stars and Flames must win

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
x-2. San Jose – 101 pts (4 GR)
x-3. Detroit – 100 pts (4 GR)
4. Los Angeles – 96 pts (4 GR)
5. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
6. Nashville – 95 pts (3 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (4 GR)
8. Chicago – 92 pts (5 GR)
9. Calgary – 89 pts (3 GR)
10. Dallas – 87 pts (5 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy and conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Minnesota @ Detroit – 5:00 pm ET

There are a few different scenarios that could clinch the Central Division for the Red Wings, but the simplest way would simply be to win against the Wild today. They could also leap by the San Jose Sharks for the second spot in the West, at least for a brief period of time. Minnesota has nothing but pride to play for, though, as they were officially eliminated from the playoff picture last night.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago – 7:00 pm ET

The Blackhawks wouldn’t clinch a playoff berth with a win tonight, but they could certainly put themselves in a great position to stay ahead of the Flames and Stars. Chicago still also has a decent chance of improving their seeding situation with a game or two in hand over teams in front of them, but making the playoffs remains their top concern.

Calgary @ Colorado – 8:00 pm ET

Calgary will absolutely need the Blackhawks and/or Ducks to stumble, since their maximum amount of points would be 95 with three games left. Maybe they wouldn’t be mathematically eliminated if they don’t win tonight, but let’s be serious, they probably need to win out and hope for some help to make the playoffs. Losing to the free-falling Avalanche would be a huge letdown for the Flames.

Dallas @ Anaheim – 8:00 pm ET

The Ducks are in an interesting spot from a playoff-clinching standpoint tonight. They would clinch their own playoff spot with a regulation win and do the same for their hated rivals the Los Angeles Kings to boot. A Ducks victory of any kind would also clinch a postseason berth for another one of their division rivals, the Phoenix Coyotes.

Dallas is fading out of the picture with a six-game losing streak, but would improve their chances of swiping the final spot from the Blackhawks with a win tonight. They are five points behind Chicago with five games left, so the Stars will obviously need some help, making them Lightning fans for a night.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.

Tortorella was irate after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand

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John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.

Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.

First, take a look at the hit:

Next, behold Tortorella’s anger:

Again, Columbus couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities, so that didn’t make things any better.

Right now, the Maple Leafs lead the Blue Jackets 3-2. If Toronto ends up winning, this will stand as one of the game’s pivotal moments.

It’s far from the only exciting moment, however, with these goals and big hits also standing out.

Video: Josh Ho-Sang’s creativity gives Islanders a shot in the arm

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Honestly, after 10 games, the question shouldn’t be “can Josh Ho-Sang stick with the Islanders full-time?” Instead, the feeling is … what took so long for him to get this chance?

For all the grumbling about Ho-Sang sporting number 66, he’s provided serious bursts of brilliance and creativity for the Islanders, whether he’s been supporting or even setting up John Tavares.

The video above is some really good stuff, as it walks through his confident comments – and undeniable uncertainty – during the night he was drafted, all the way through him getting his chance with the Isles this season. Some of the best stuff comes from Doug Weight, who raves that Ho-Sang is a “five out of five” from an offensive standpoint.

Leafs’ Nylander puts on show with breakaway goal, assist on Matthews’ 33rd

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This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

Hnnngmgghh indeed.

That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

Update: OK, so Nylander’s really stealing the show. This is stupendous.