Shane Doan, Shea Weber

Race for the playoffs: Preds and Coyotes can clinch; Ducks, Stars, and Hawks fight on

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

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

Rather than analyzing each of tonight’s games, the scenarios for teams in the West break down pretty easily to clinch. Here’s how it goes:

Nashville: Earning a point of any kind puts the Predators in the playoffs. 97 points isn’t good enough to get you in, but 98 points is as it puts them out of striking range of Dallas in ninth place. Dallas losing either in regulation or a shootout also puts Nashville in in case the Predators lose in regulation. Nashville plays at home tonight against Columbus and is in St. Louis tomorrow night.

Phoenix: Same scenario as the Predators. A point of any kind against San Jose puts the Coyotes into the playoffs. If/when they clinch then the juggle up and down the standings in the West can shake things up as far as matchups go, but the Coyotes would like to just lock it down for now. In the event of a regulation loss, a Dallas loss in regulation or overtime/shootout would also clinch a spot for the Coyotes. Phoenix closes their season with a home-and-home set with San Jose. They’ll play tonight in Phoenix and tomorrow night in San Jose.

Chicago: A win over Detroit coupled with a Dallas loss of any kind would put the Blackhawks into the postseason. Given that Dallas is facing Colorado, hoping for that to happen seems unlikely. Chicago going into their final two games against Detroit makes their quest all the more daunting as they can’t afford to lose when Dallas has such a weak schedule to close things out. The Blackhawks play tonight in Detroit and Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET in Chicago on NBC’s Game of the Week.

Anaheim: A win over Los Angeles paired up with a Dallas loss of any kind puts the Ducks in the playoffs. The Ducks are in a similar place to that of Chicago in that a loss puts them in instant danger should Dallas continue to win. The Ducks have one of the most dangerous lines in hockey and could get Jonas Hiller back for the playoffs. They’d be a very dangerous team to face in the playoffs for any of the top seeds. We’re pretty sure that most teams atop the West wouldn’t be too sad if Dallas found a way to force them out of the postseason. The Ducks are in Los Angeles tonight and at home in Honda Center against the Kings tomorrow night.

Dallas: Dallas has no option but to win. A loss in either of their remaining games puts them in immediate danger of being shutout of the playoffs as they’re two points back of both Anaheim and Chicago. Dallas has the easier path to victory compared to those teams, but they’ve got a much smaller window for mistakes. Dallas is in Denver tonight to take on the Avalanche and in Minnesota on Sunday night to take on the Wild.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal