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Predicting In or Out for Every NHL Team Still Fighting for a Playoff Spot

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IIApril 22, 2013

Predicting In or Out for Every NHL Team Still Fighting for a Playoff Spot

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    The start of the 2013 NHL playoffs is upon us with four teams battling for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and six teams going after the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference.

    This is going to be one crazy final week of action, with almost every game having some sort of implications on the final standings. If this past weekend was any indication of what is in store, we are in for some doozies.

    A typical 82-game season might feature one or two dramatic races for the eighth seed, but as it stands now, we could still see some large shifts throughout both conferences. Most teams still have three or four games to play, which is just enough time to go on a hot streak or a cold streak to impact what things look like come playoff time.

    (All standings are accurate through April 21 and take into consideration games through Sunday.)

Washington Capitals: Third in the East

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: Alexander Ovechkin and Adam Oates.

    The acquisition of Martin Erat gave the Washington Capitals one of the most formidable secondary-scoring units in the NHL, but the resurgence in D.C. began with Ovie and his settling in on the right wing.

    Oates has found a way to coach an "un-coachable" mess of a team into shape, bringing his offensive mindset to the locker room after several failed attempts to turn Washington into the New York Rangers.

    Trusting the rookie coach has paid off, and the Caps are once again one of the most formidable offensive teams in the NHL.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: A runaway locomotive has to derail at some point, right?

    The Capitals have only lost once over their last 10 games and don't appear to be slowing down. They manhandled the Montreal Canadiens on Friday and have a big game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

    If Ovie and Co. find a way to win that game too, it most likely will return the team to the playoffs as a third seed and the winner of the Southeast Division.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    Washington has been too good and way too fired up of late to suddenly have the wheels fall off during the final week of the season. The playoffs could be a different story, but there's really no reason to believe they won't at least be there.

New York Islanders: Sixth in the East

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: John Tavares has been arguably the best player in the NHL this season and has posted nine points over his last 10 games. Seven of those points came in three multi-point outings though, showing that the New York Islanders are finding ways to win when even when their best player isn't producing.

    An offense that is heating up, paired with a resurgent Evgeni Nabokov in goal, bodes well for the Islanders.

    After being pulled from a game in the middle of March, the netminder has been outstanding. In his 16 starts since, Nabokov has allowed more than two goals only four times, allowed one goal five times and has posted two shutouts.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: New York is 8-0-2 over their last 10 games and showed no signs of slowing down against a desperate Winnipeg Jets team on Saturday.

    Still, anything can happen. If the Islanders cool off and drop their next three games, things could get hectic.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    Anyone who watched the Islanders fight off the Jets this weekend in a wildly entertaining game saw what this team is capable of doing. They are heating up at the right time and finding different ways to win on different nights.

    Is anyone really willing to bet that Tavares is going to bring New York this close to the postseason, only to let it slip away?

Ottawa Senators: Seventh in the East

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: The Ottawa Senators have played themselves into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference despite missing their best player at every position for a majority of the season.

    Craig Anderson returned on April 7 against the Florida Panthers and picked up right where he left off prior to his injury. Erik Karlsson has also resumed skating with the Senators. (per The Globe and Mail.). Although the defending Norris Trophy-winner's return isn't imminent, this is obviously a great sign for the young defender.

    The Senators also have a game in hand on every team that could possibly catch them and a three-point cushion between them and the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets. Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be huge.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: It would take a lot of shaking and moving to knock Ottawa out at this point. They have a game in hand and had won four straight before losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, April 20.

    In or Out Prediction: In.

    The Senators have battled through major injuries all season to get to this point and they are heating up as the playoffs draw near.

New York Rangers: Eighth in the East

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: The New York Rangers find themselves in eighth in the Eastern Conference, gazing up at the New York Islanders in sixth and over at the Columbus Blue Jackets who are currently eighth in the Western Conference.

    If that doesn't provide the motivation needed to make a big push through the last three games of the regular season, then the Rangers might want to have their collective heart checked.

    New York was considered by many to be among the Stanley Cup favorites heading into the shortened 2013 season with the likes of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist all on board.

    Now those same faces are the reason that the Blue Shirts could very well squeak into the postseason, looking to do their best impersonation of the L.A. Kings as they play out of the last seed in the conference.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: If the Rangers fail to make the playoffs it will be because they found a way to shoot themselves in the foot over the last week of the regular season.

    They play three non-playoff teams over the last three games, including bouts with the bottom-feeding Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    It'll be by the hair on their chinny-chin-chins, but the Rangers should find a way to hang on to the eighth, and final, playoff seed in the East. There are too many gamers here to bet on them dropping huge games to the New Jersey Devils, Hurricanes and Panthers.

Winnipeg Jets: Ninth in the East

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: The trio of Bryan Little, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd has been finding ways to get it done all season long despite the lack of media coverage in the U.S.

    They've been as deadly as any other offensive unit in the NHL at times and could still overtake the Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

    They are three points behind the seventh-place Ottawa Senators, eighth-place New York Rangers and the division-leading Washington Capitals. It's starting to look like whoever wins the Southeast Division will make the dance, while the second-place finisher will just barely miss out.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: Dropping the extra point to the New York Islanders on Saturday hurt. Grabbing one point beats a blank, but Winnipeg is starting to run out of time to catch either the Rangers or the Capitals.

    It all could come down to Tuesday's game against Washington, which has gone 9-1 over its last 10 games.

    In or Out Prediction: Out

    The Jets may not make it, mostly because Washington has dominated in divisional play, and has been just about unbeatable over the last few weeks. No one would be shocked if the Jets downed the Caps and found a way into the playoffs, but the money has to go with Washington at this point.

St. Louis Blues: Sixth in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: The built-for-the-playoffs St. Louis Blues failed to clinch a postseason birth against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, but should be able to avenge that loss quickly as they face the Avs again on Monday.

    If the Blues can't defeat Colorado for the second time in two nights, things could get a little interesting in St. Louis, which faces the suddenly dangerous Calgary Flames on Thursday.

    It'd take a mighty fall from grace over the next week to drop the Blues all the way from sixth to ninth, but it is still mathematically possible.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: St. Louis is 7-3 over its last 10 games, so it'd be pretty unforeseen for them to drop three straight. Still, stranger things have happened to this Blues team this season. They've lost three in a row or more on two separate occasions in 2013.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    David Backes is finally rounding into offensive form and coach Ken Hitchcock isn't about to allow his squad to lose four in a row to round out 2013. That's what it would take for the Blues to miss the playoffs, along with some other teams winning elsewhere along the way.

Minnesota Wild: Seventh in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: There's a lot of talent here. A lot of veteran leadership lacing up skates for the Minnesota Wild  probably aren't too keen on the idea of missing the playoffs after a crazy offseason.

    Ownership and management didn't bring in the likes of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as free agents and then make a steep deal for Jason Pominville at the trade deadline in order to miss the postseason.

    The team has upcoming games against the L.A. Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. At least two of those games are very winnable, and the Wild need to dig deep to find a way to win them.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: April has not been very kind to Minnesota. While the Wild were once snugly positioned as a playoff team, an up-and-down final month has really hurt their chances.

    They've gone 3-8 since April 1, and have gone from a team with control of its own playoff fate to a team needing a little bit of help to make the postseason. They are  in a tie with the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets, but have one game in hand on them.

    In or Out Prediction: Out

    After watching the Wild get spanked on Sunday by a Calgary Flames squad that was boasting half of an AHL roster and Joey MacDonald between the pipes, it's hard to believe that this is a true playoff team.

    As a whole, they've taken the last month off and have done nothing but tread water through the last couple of weeks. Time is running out for Minnesota to put the pieces together and they may have blown one too many chances to secure their place in the final eight in the West.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Eighth in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: A never-surrender attitude can get a team pretty far in the NHL these days. The Columbus Blue Jackets are out to prove that they aren't just afterthoughts following the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, and they are doing a bang-up job of it so far.

    Everyone is playing with a chip on his shoulder, as evidenced Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks. The Jackets dominated long stretches of play throughout the evening and didn't hesitate to fire a dagger when San Jose found a way back into the game.

    This Columbus team is more than just Sergei Bobrovsky, despite what you might have read, and looks like a squad aching to get into the playoffs. That is more than can be said for several of the teams they are fighting.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: The Detroit Red Wings have played two fewer games than the Jackets, and every other team that could knock them out of the final spot in the West has played one less.

    They are off until Thursday when they face the Dallas Stars—a team that currently sits three points behind the Jackets in the standings. After that, they close out the season against the Nashville Predators.

    Both games, for all intents and purposes, are must-win games for Columbus—much like Sunday's contest was against the Sharks.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    Columbus has looked like a team that refuses to die over the last month or so, and fans shouldn't bank on them suddenly keeling over. They'll need some mathematical help along the way, but the Jackets are playing much better hockey than everyone else that is gunning for the eighth seed in the West.

Detroit Red Wings: Ninth in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: After witnessing the abysmal game against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, it's hard to imagine the Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs once again.

    Yet this is still the same Red Wings team that has found a way to get things done over the course of a postseason streak that has extended over two consecutive decades.

    They have two games in hand on the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets and one game in hand on the collapsing Minnesota Wild.

    The Wings will look to put the Phoenix Coyotes out of playoff contention with a victory on Monday night, followed by tough games against the L.A. Kings and Nashville Predators before closing out the season against the Dallas Stars next Saturday.

    If Detroit can't find a way to take care of business earlier in the week and sees their games in hand padding vaporize, the game in Dallas could turn out to be a win-or-go-home scenario for the Wings.

    How long has it been since Detroit has faced one of those in the regular season?

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: The shootout.

    If the Wings can't find a way to win in regulation, recent history suggests that they are in big trouble. They've lost their last five games that have gone to the skills contest, including Saturday night's heartbreaker in Vancouver.

    In or Out Prediction: In

    There's too much veteran leadership for Detroit this season to barely slip away. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg know what's at stake and Jimmy Howard has to win a shootout game eventually.

    Right?

Dallas Stars: 10th in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: Maybe the Dallas Stars should unload guys like Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy more often.

    The underdog Stars have gone 6-3-1 over their last 10 games and have refused to fade into the bottom ranks of the Western Conference.

    They managed to grab one point on Sunday night in an incredibly hard-fought, playoff-like game against the L.A. Kings. The overtime loss put them in a tie with the Detroit Red Wings for ninth in the West with upcoming games against the San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Red Wings this week.

    They'll most likely need to win all three to have a chance at making the playoffs.

    What They Could Make the Playoffs: The teams clamoring for the final spots in the Western Conference have their destiny in their own hands.

    If Dallas drops Tuesday's game against the Sharks, it will be up against a wall. If the Stars lose either game against the Jackets or Wings it will most likely be the end of the road for them.

    In or Out Prediction: Out

    Someone is going to have to miss the playoffs in the Western Conference, devastating as that is. The Jackets have looked phenomenal lately, and the tried-and-true Red Wings still have a game in hand on Dallas.

    To say the final game of the season between the two squads could be paramount is an understatement.

Phoenix Coyotes: 11th in the West

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    Why They Could Make the Playoffs: The Phoenix Coyotes downed the nearly unbeatable Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday to remain mathematically alive in the playoff race.

    Like the Detroit Red Wings, the Coyotes have only played 44 games this season, giving them four contests this week to try and gain ground. They'll need to do nothing but win if they hope to leapfrog the Wings and Dallas Stars to snag the eighth seed from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Why They Could Miss the Playoffs: Dropping three straight games before finally snapping out of their slide against Chicago really hurt the Coyotes' chances of playoff hockey in 2013. They have a must-win game against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night before taking on the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks to finish out the year.

    None of these contests will be easily winnable.

    The Red Wings are desperate for points as they try to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons, and the Avalanche have been playing much better hockey lately. Toss in match-ups against the Sharks and the Cup-contending Ducks, and this is a steep mountain to climb for the Coyotes.

    In or Out Prediction: Out

    If the Coyotes hadn't dropped three in a row to the Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues before downing the Blackhawks, their chances would be much better.

    Phoenix just needs too much help from other teams to make the postseason in 2013.

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