Race for the playoffs: Inside the stretch run for Anaheim, Chicago and Dallas

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 playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (2 GR)
4. Nashville – 97 pts (2 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 98 pts (2 GR)
6. Phoenix – 97 pts (2 GR)
7. Anaheim – 95 pts (2 GR)
8. Chicago – 95 pts (2 GR)
e-9. Calgary – 93 pts (1 GR)
10. Dallas – 91 pts (3 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
e- eliminated from playoffs

Colorado @ Dallas – 7:00 pm ET

Being that it’s plainly obvious the Stars need to win this game and no other West teams play in important games (the Canucks play against the Wild), let’s instead take a look at the stretch run for the Stars, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. To keep it reasonable, we’ll go in order of highest record to lowest.

7. Anaheim Ducks (45-30-5 for 95 pts with two games left)

Home vs. Los Angeles (Friday) and away vs. Los Angeles (Saturday).

Thoughts: All the Ducks need is two points – not even a win – to clinch a playoff spot because they already hold six more non-shootout wins than the Stars. The Kings will be slightly less motivated having already clinched a spot, although their final two games should have a big impact on their playoff seed.

Besides, they hate their division rivals, and spite is often a solid motivator. Back-to-back games will make this tough for the Ducks, although it will also encourage the Kings to take it easy and possibly even rest a player or two.

8. Chicago Blackhawks (43-28-9 for 95 pts with two games left)

Away game vs. Detroit Red Wings (Friday), then a home game against Detroit in the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday.

Thoughts: It’s exciting to see that both the Blackhawks and Ducks must make the playoffs by beating their hated division rivals. Much like the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference, the ‘Hawks could clinch a playoff spot by earning three points.

Then again, Chicago could also clinch the spot with one non-shootout win. One more would leave them with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 44 overall, while the Stars can only max out with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 43 overall.

If the ‘Hawks lose tomorrow – especially in regulation – and the Stars take care of business, then Chicago’s last game of the season might really be their first “playoff” game.

The ninth place Calgary Flames have been eliminated.

10. Dallas Stars (40-28-11 for 91 points with three games left)

Home vs. Colorado today, away against Colorado on Friday and away against Minnesota on Sunday.

Thoughts: On paper, this is a a pretty manageable group of games, but three games in four days isn’t exactly an effortless draw. It’s an interesting scheduling quirk that the Stars also face a home-and-home series against a hated rival, with back-to-back games against Colorado today or tomorrow. They might not be division rivals, but they don’t like each other either.

Again, Dallas needs to win every game (probably in regulation or overtime) and get some help from Detroit and/or Los Angeles to make a breathtaking gallop to the playoffs.

Obviously, the odds are against the Stars, but a late run remains possible. We’ll keep you informed as the last days of the season determine who will make the playoffs and who gets an early vacation.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.