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Updated Look at Stanley Cup Playoff Race in Final Week of 2013 NHL Season

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IApril 22, 2013

Updated Look at Stanley Cup Playoff Race in Final Week of 2013 NHL Season

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    There is one more game remaining in the 2013 NHL regular season, and it will have a huge impact on the playoff matchups in the Eastern Conference.

    The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators will play at TD Garden on Sunday, and the outcome of this game will determine who gets the second, fourth, seventh and eighth seeds in the East. The only teams whose positions in the East standings won't change are the Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 1), Washington Capitals (No. 3) and New York Rangers (No. 6).

    Everything has been finalized in the Western Conference, and there are some fantastic first-round matchups for hockey fans to be excited about, including a rematch of a second-round series from last season.

    Let's look at an updated view of the playoff race in both conferences, along with final records and a list of projected and official first-round playoff matchups.

    This article will be updated at the conclusion of each day's games.

     

    Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston.

No. 1 Eastern Conference: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Final Record: 36-12-0

    Finish: 1st in East, 1st in Atlantic

    Projected First-Round Opponent: Ottawa Senators

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are the top seed in the conference for the first time since the 1992-93 season. They rank first in goals scored, 12th in goals against, second in power-play success and 26th in penalty-killing.

    The impressive part of this regular-season finish is the fact that Pittsburgh has dominated the rest of the East with its top forward Sidney Crosby and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang missing a quarter of the year because of injuries.

    Pittsburgh's regular season will be remembered for two things: the 15-game winning streak in March and the trade-deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen.

    General manager Ray Shero made a number of bold moves before the April 3 trade deadline to give his club its best chance to win the Stanley Cup. If the Penguins' goaltending is strong in the playoffs, it's hard to imagine this team failing to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Pittsburgh will not know its first-round opponent until after the Bruins and Senators play on Sunday.

No. 2 Eastern Conference: Boston Bruins

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    Projected Record: 29-13-6

    Projected Finish: 2nd in East, 1st in Northeast

    Projected First-Round Opponent: New York Islanders

    The Boston Bruins lost another third-period lead on Saturday in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. Boston has now lost seven games in which they led after 40 minutes, and their inability to close games is a growing concern going into the playoffs.

    The Bruins will play their final game of the regular season at home on Sunday versus the Senators. A victory in regulation would give Boston a first-round matchup with the New York Islanders. A Bruins win in overtime or a shootout would set up a first-round series with the Senators.

    A Bruins loss would result in them finishing fourth in the East with a first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boston has won nine of its last 10 games versus Toronto.

No. 3 Eastern Conference: Washington Capitals

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    Final Record: 26-19-3

    Finish: 3rd in East, 1st in Southeast

    First-Round Opponent: New York Rangers

    The Washington Capitals went 16-4-2 in their final 22 games to rise from the bottom of the East standings to the top of the Southeast Division. The Capitals clinched the division title and the No. 3 seed in the East playoffs with a victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

    Superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin scored 23 goals in his last 23 games, which will give his team a ton of confidence heading into the postseason.

    As long as young goaltender Braden Holtby plays well and keeps his team in the game, Washington will be a tough opponent in the playoffs because of its impressive offensive talent and scoring depth. The Capitals rank fifth in goals scored and first in power-play success.

    Washington will play the New York Rangers in the first round. These two teams have met in the playoffs in three of the last four years.

No. 4 Eastern Conference: Montreal Canadiens

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    Final Record: 29-14-5

    Projected Finish: 4th in East, 2nd in Northeast

    Projected First-Round Opponent: Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Canadiens finished the regular season with an impressive 4-1 victory over the rival Toronto Maple Leafs to take over first place in the Northeast Division.

    Montreal won't know its first-round opponent until the Bruins play the Senators on Sunday. If the Senators win, the Canadiens will be division champions and play Ottawa in the first round. A Bruins win would set up a historic first-round matchup between Montreal and Toronto.

No. 5 Eastern Conference: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Final Record: 26-17-5

    Finish: 5th in East, 3rd in Northeast

    Projected First-Round Opponent: Montreal Canadiens

    The Leafs ended their nine-year playoff drought on Saturday with an impressive 4-1 victory over the rival Ottawa Senators. However, they did lose two of their final three games following that victory in Ottawa.

    Toronto will play the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins in the first round. Even though they lost 4-1 to the Canadiens on Saturday in the two teams' final game of the regular season, Montreal is a better matchup for the Leafs. The Bruins have dominated the Leafs over the last two years with nine wins in their last 10 meetings, and they also have a lot more playoff experience than their division rivals.

No. 6 Eastern Conference: New York Rangers

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    Final Record: 26-18-4

    Final Finish: 6th in East, 2nd in Atlantic

    First-Round Opponent: Washington Capitals

    The Rangers have been one of the league's hottest teams since the trade deadline, which is when they acquired forwards Ryane Clowe, Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard, along with defenseman John Moore. These trades gave the Rangers more depth, toughness and defensive skill, which helped them finish the regular season with a 7-3 record in their last 10 games.

    Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist was fantastic in April with an 10-3-1 record, a .931 save percentage and a 1.81 GAA.

    New York is playing its best hockey of the season going into the playoffs, which will give this team a lot of confidence against the Capitals in the first round. The Blueshirts were 2-0-1 against Washington this season.

    Unlike last year's playoff series between these teams in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Capitals have the home-ice advantage.

No. 7 Eastern Conference: New York Islanders

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    Final Record: 24-17-7

    Projected Finish: 7th in East, 3rd in Atlantic

    Projected First-Round Opponent: Boston Bruins

    The New York Islanders are currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference standings and clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

    The Islanders finished their regular season schedule with a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, which put them in sixth place in the East. The New York Rangers' victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday moved the Islanders to the seventh spot, and it's still possible they could finish eighth.

    If the Bruins beat the Senators on Sunday, the Islanders will travel to Boston for Game 1 of the first round. A Senators win, or a loss in overtime would set up a first-round matchup between the Penguins and Islanders.

No. 8 Eastern Conference: Ottawa Senators

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    Projected Record: 24-18-6

    Projected Finish: 8th in East, 4th in Northeast

    Projected First-Round Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

    The Senators weren't expected to contend for a playoff spot when reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and top-line forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek went out of the lineup with injuries early in the season.

    To its credit, Ottawa has played well this season with very little scoring depth (28th in goals scored). The strength of this Senators team has been its goaltending (ranked second in goals against) and its penalty-killing unit, which has the second-best success rate (88.3 percent) in the league.

    The Senators will finish their regular season schedule on Sunday in Boston. If they beat the Bruins in regulation, their first-round opponent will be the Canadiens. A loss in regulation will give Ottawa a first-round series with the Penguins, while an overtime or a shootout loss sets up a matchup with Boston in round one.

No. 1 Western Conference: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Final Record: 37-6-5

    Final Finish: 1st in West, 1st in Central

    First-Round Opponent: Minnesota Wild

    Chicago started the year with a record 24-game point streak, which was a remarkable accomplishment in a shortened season that affords players fewer off days than a normal 82-game schedule.

    The Blackhawks are the only team in the NHL ranked in the top three in goals scored and GAA, which helps show how dominant this team has been at both ends of the ice. With a roster full of champions who are motivated to get past the first round for the first time in three seasons, expect Chicago to make a deep playoff run as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

    The Wild barely made the playoffs with a win against the Colorado Avalanche in their final regular season game. They earned the eighth seed thanks to a tiebreaker advantage over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Chicago won the season series against Minnesota with a 2-0-1 record.

No. 2 Western Conference: Anaheim Ducks

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    Final Record: 30-12-6

    Finish: 2nd in West, 1st in Pacific

    First-Round Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

    The Anaheim Ducks were not expected to finish second in the Western Conference this year, but with a 3-0 victory on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers, they clinched the Pacific Division title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. This is the first division title for Anaheim since its 2006-07 Stanley Cup winning season.

    Strong goaltending and a high-powered offense that ranks eighth in goals scored and seventh in power-play success have been the keys to Anaheim's success this season. Rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth has a 15-5-2 record this season and has formed a solid goaltending duo with veteran Jonas Hiller.

    Anaheim will play the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, who have now made the playoffs in 22 consecutive seasons. The Red Wings won the season series 2-1.

    This is the sixth playoff meeting between these two teams since 1997.

No. 3 Western Conference: Vancouver Canucks

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    Final Record: 26-15-7

    Finish: 3rd in West, 1st in Northwest

    First-Round Opponent: San Jose Sharks

    The Canucks clinched their fifth consecutive Northwest Division title on Monday with a 3-1 victory over the rival Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver struggled in the middle of the season, which allowed the Minnesota Wild to enter the division race, but a 13-4-1 record since March 18 has catapulted the Canucks back atop the Northwest.

    The emergence of Cory Schneider as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender for the playoffs should give the team and its fans plenty of confidence as the regular season concludes. He has a 5-2-1 record in his last eight starts and looks very comfortable in net.

    If Vancouver's top players stay healthy during the playoffs, especially second-line center Ryan Kesler, this team will make a deep playoff run and challenge the Blackhawks for the conference title.

    The Canucks will open the postseason with a first-round matchup against the San Jose Sharks. These two teams last met in the playoffs during the 2010-11 season when Vancouver defeated San Jose in the Western Conference Finals. The Sharks will be very confident about their chances of winning this series because they were 3-0 against the Canucks during the regular season.

No. 4 Western Conference: St. Louis Blues

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    Final Record: 29-17-2

    Finish: 4th in West, 2nd in Central

    First-Round Opponent: Los Angeles Kings

    The St. Louis Blues made two impactful moves at the trade deadline to acquire top-four defensemen Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester to strengthen the team's blue line. The results thus far have been positive—the Blues have clinched a playoff spot in the West.

    The Blues are 12-3 in April, and the improved play of backup goaltender Brian Elliott has contributed to this recent success. He's 10-2 in his last 12 starts and is rediscovering the form that made him an All-Star last season.

    St. Louis will play the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the first round with home-ice advantage. The Kings swept the Blues in the second round of last year's playoffs and won all three of their matchups in the regular season by two goals or more.

No. 5 Western Conference: Los Angeles Kings

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    Final Record: 27-16-5

    Finish: 5th in West, 2nd in Pacific

    First-Round Opponent: St. Louis Blues

    The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are flying a bit under the radar this season, but they are going to be a very tough opponent in the Western Conference playoffs.

    Los Angeles ranks 10th in goals scored, ninth in goals against, eighth in power-play success and 10th in penalty killing. This is a well-rounded and deep team with plenty of experience and two No. 1 goaltenders.

    The Kings finished the regular season with a 5-3-2 record in their last 10 games and will be one of the top contenders to win the West this season. However, repeating as Stanley Cup champions is one the toughest challenges in all of sports. No one has accomplished this since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

    Los Angeles will face the St. Louis Blues in the first round. Starting this series away from the Staples Center won't be an issue for the Kings because 10 of their 16 wins during last year's Stanley Cup run came on the road.

No. 6 Western Conference: San Jose Sharks

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    Final Record: 25-16-7

    Finish: 6th in West, 3rd in Pacific

    First-Round Opponent: Vancouver Canucks

    The San Jose Sharks started the season 8-0, at which time they were playing like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The team followed that impressive start with a terrible middle of the season (two wins in 12 games in February), but the Sharks have gone 12-4-1 in their last 16 games to climb back into a playoff spot.

    The most impressive part of the Sharks' season has been the play of goaltender Antti Niemi, who's a legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate with a 24-12-6 record, a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Niemi is one of the few Sharks players with a Stanley Cup ring, and if he performs at a high level in the playoffs, this team could make a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals.

    The Sharks will play the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs, who they beat three times in the regular season.

No. 7 Western Conference: Detroit Red Wings

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    Final Record: 24-16-8

    Finish: 7th in West, 3rd in Central

    First-Round Opponent: Anaheim Ducks

    The Detroit Red Wings clinched a playoff spot on Saturday with a 3-0 victory over the Dallas Stars. This is Detroit's 22nd consecutive postseason appearance, which represents one of the greatest streaks in sports history.

    The Red Wings will travel to Anaheim to take on the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. Detroit won two of its three regular season matchups with the Ducks, including both games played at the Honda Center.

No. 8 Western Conference: Minnesota Wild

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    Final Record: 26-19-3

    Finish: 8th in West, 2nd in Northwest

    First-Round Opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

    The Wild avoided an embarrassing end to their season by clinching a playoff spot with a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

    Minnesota finished tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot, but it won the first tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins).

    Minnesota enters the playoffs following a 5-8-1 finish to the regular season and will play the President's Trophy winning Blackhawks in round one. The Wild were 1-2 against Chicago during the regular season, but they do have the scoring depth and goaltending needed to give the Blackhawks a tough series.

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