NHL Playoff Push: Eastern Conference playoff field could be set tonight

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It is entirely possible that when Tuesday’s schedule of games is completed all eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference will be set.

At the moment there are still three spots up for grabs with four teams competing for them. All four teams are in action on Tuesday night and if the Florida Panthers are unable to defeat the Nashville Predators it opens the door for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils to all clinch spots in the playoffs.

Here is a look at the Eastern Conference standings entering the day.

So here is what is at stake for Tuesday.

  • If Columbus beats the Detroit Red Wings and the Panthers lose to the Predators then the Blue Jackets are in. If Columbus loses to Detroit in overtime or a shootout and the Panthers lose to the Predators in regulation that will also clinch a spot for the Blue Jackets. A Columbus win would also move it into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • The Flyers are facing the exact same scenario as the Blue Jackets. A win over the New York Islanders, combined with a Panthers loss, puts them in the playoffs. An overtime or shootout loss combined with a regulation Panthers loss does the same thing. A Flyers win combined with a Blue Jackets loss (or a Flyers point and the Blue Jackets getting no points) would also move them into a tie with Pittsburgh for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division.
  • The Devils need to beat the New York Rangers and get a loss from the Panthers in regulation.

The other big game in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night is of course the one in Tampa Bay where the Bruins have a chance to open up a four-point lead over the Lightning for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and for the top spot in the conference.

You can catch that game on NBCSN.

The big news for the Bruins on Tuesday is that they are getting Charlie McAvoy, one of their top defenseman, back in the lineup as they continue to get all of their top players back at just the right time of the season. Without him and Zdeno Chara over the past couple of weeks the Bruins still found a way to keep collecting points. With them in the lineup they have been nearly unstoppable.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the only clinching scenario in play relates to the Predators and their quest to wrap up the Central Division and the No. 1 seed in the West.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Here are the standings entering the night.

The Predators have three different paths to clinching the division.

A regulation win over the Panthers, or a regulation loss by the Winnipeg Jets to the Montreal Canadiens, or the Predators losing in overtime or a shootout combined with a Jets regulation loss would all produce the same result: A division title for the Predators.

A win will also clinch the top spot in the West. If they lose in regulation a Jets regulation loss combined with a Vegas Golden Knights loss to the Vancouver Canucks would also do the trick.

When it comes to the other playoff races in the Western Conference none of the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks are in action on Tuesday night.

The San Jose Sharks, however, could take another step toward securing home-ice advantage in the first-round with a win over the Dallas Stars. The Sharks enter the day two points ahead of the Kings and three points ahead of the Ducks.

If the Playoffs Started Today

Tuesday’s Important Games

New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Detroit Red Wings vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
Winnipeg Jets vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Dallas Stars vs. San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Tank Watch!

The Canucks and Red Wings have been trending in the wrong direction over the past week or so as it relates to improving their draft lottery odds. The Canucks enter Tuesday’s game against Vegas having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Red Wings are taking a three-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game against Columbus. The Canucks are currently sitting in 27th place in the NHL, two points back of the Red Wings. Montreal, hosting Winnipeg on Tuesday, is just behind them.

The other team that has been slowly climbing the standings recently has been the Arizona Coyotes, a team that has jumped out of the basement with a strong fourth quarter of the season. It is possible that they could find themselves tied with Vancouver after Tuesday’s game. The Coyotes are in Calgary on Tuesday night to play a Flames team that  has been tumbling down the standings for a couple of weeks now. That has been great news for the New York Islanders who own their first-and second-round picks as a result of the past summer’s Travis Hamonic trade.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.