SPORTS

Sprint to finish: Sizing up NHL playoff races

04/22/2013 05:57 EDT | Updated 06/22/2013 05:12 EDT
How tough is it to secure a Stanley Cup playoff berth this season?

Well, the Winnipeg Jets didn’t lose in regulation (5-0-1) in their just-completed homestand and weren’t any closer to a playoff spot in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

In the West, the Columbus Blue Jackets, led by the spectacular goaltending of Philadelphia Flyers castoff Sergei Bobrovsky, had won six of seven entering play Tuesday and were hanging on to eighth and final playoff spot.

Four teams are battling for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West — Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit and Dallas — while five clubs remain in the hunt in the East including Washington, Ottawa, Winnipeg, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.

The following is a breakdown of the nine teams in the playoff mix featuring their success of late, players leading the playoff push and what lies ahead in the final week of the regular season.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals

- Position: 3rd

- Games remaining: 3 Home – Tuesday vs. Winnipeg, Thursday vs. Ottawa and Saturday vs. Boston

- Last 10: 9-1-0

- Who’s hot: RW Alex Ovechkin (4 goals, 7 points in past 3 games); C Mike Ribeiro (5-game points streak, one goal, eight assists); G Braden Holtby (7-1 in last 8 starts, .920 save percentage overall).

- Who’s not: RW Martin Erat (one goal past 12 games); C Marcus Johansson (3 points last 7 games); D Karl Alzner (minus-5 past 4 games.

- The skinny: Last three games are on home ice, where Washington is 13-8-0 this season … Holtby has played 16 of last 18 games and allowed more than two goals six times … D Mike Green back to offensive ways with 10 of his 21 points coming in April.

NY Islanders

- Position: 6th

- Games remaining: 3 Away (Tuesday at Carolina, Thursday at Philadelphia and Friday at Buffalo).

- Last 10: 8-0-2

- Who’s hot: C Frans Nielsen (10 points in 10 April games); D Mark Streit (5 points in past 5 games); RW Kyle Okposo (points in 4 of past 5 starts and 17 in past 25).

- Who's not: C Keith Aucoin (1 assist in last 11 games); Casey Cizikas (zero points in last 5).

- The skinny: Islanders better on road (14-5-2) than at home (10-11-3) … Have held opposition to 27 shots or less in seven of past 10 starts … Isles’ sixth-ranked power play has remained in the top 10 in percentage all season. Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Kyle Okposo unit has emerged as a solid second line.

Ottawa Senators

- Position: 7th

- Games remaining: 3: 1 home (Saturday vs. Philadelphia) 2 away (Thursday at Washington, Sunday at Boston).

- Last 10: 4-6-0

- Who’s hot: G Craig Anderson (3 wins, 2.12 GAA in past 5 starts); LW Milan Michalek (2 points, 18 shots last 4 games).

- Who’s not: RW Daniel Alfredsson (4 points in last 13 outings); D Sergei Gonchar (2 points in last 13)

- The skinny: Senators power play has converted only three of its last 44 chances and ranks 20th (16.6 per cent) … Ottawa has allowed 99 goals in 45 games. Chicago set the NHL record for fewest goals surrendered, yielding only 115 in the 48-game season in 1994-95.

NY Rangers

- Position: 8th

- Games remaining: 3: 2 on road (Tuesday at Florida, Thursday at Carolina) 1 at home (Saturday vs. New Jersey)

- Last 10: 7-2-1

- Who’s hot: C Derek Stepan (6 points in 4-game points streak, plus-4); C Brad Richards (3 goals, 7 points in past 3); RW Ryan Callahan (6 points last 4 games).

- Who’s not: D Michael Del Zotto (2 power-play points in last 8 games).

- The skinny: Rangers have 9-3-1 record against Southeast Division teams this season … New York has earned at least one point in 91 straight games when leading after the second period … Rangers power play is 8-for-36 (22.2 per cent) over the last 10 games compared to 14.3 per cent before April 3 trade deadline.

Winnipeg Jets

- Position: 9th

- Games remaining: 2: 1 on road (Tuesday at Washington) and 1 at home (Thursday vs. Montreal).

- Last 10: 5-4-1

- Who’s hot: LW Andrew Ladd (14 points last 8 games); RW Blake Wheeler and C Bryan Little. In last seven games, Wheeler has 6 goals, 11 points and Little 10 points including four multi-point efforts.

- Who's not: C Alexander Burmistrov (zero points in past 6 starts, 2 over past 12).

- The skinny: Jets fresh off 5-0-1 homestand but no closer to playoff spot than two weeks ago … Entered final week of regular season with slew of injuries including forwards Olli Jokinen and Nik Antropov, plus D-men Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom.

Western Conference

Minnesota Wild

- Position: 7th

- Games remaining: 3: 2 at home (Tuesday vs. Los Angeles, Friday vs. Edmonton); 1 on road (Saturday at Colorado).

- Last 10: 3-6-1

- Who’s hot: RW Jason Pominville (3 G, 7 points in past 5 games); LW Zach Parise (2 goals, 4 points past 5).

- Who’s not: C Matt Cullen (1 goal, 3 points in last 7 games); RW Devin Setoguchi (zero goals in last 12 contests).

- The skinny: Wild have lost five in a row on home ice … Saturday visit to Colorado could be must-win if Minnesota doesn’t win two home games to start week … Top line of Saku Koivu between Charlie Coyle and Parise playing well.

Columbus Blue Jackets

- Position: 8th

- Games remaining: 2 — Thursday at Dallas, Saturday vs. Nashville

- Last 10: 7-3-0

- Who’s hot: D Fedor Tyutin (5-game points streak, 5 points); LW Vinny Prospal (2 goals, 5 points past 5 outings).

- Who’s not: RW Marian Gaborik (1 assist last 5 starts).

- The skinny: Mark Letestu’s power-play goal on Sunday against San Jose was the Blue Jackets’ first with the man-advantage since April 4, a span of nine games … Forwards Matt Calvert and Artem Anisimov could both miss the final two games with injuries.

Detroit Red Wings

- Position: 9th

- Games remaining: 3: 2 at home (Wednesday vs. Los Angeles, Thursday vs. Nashville); 1 road (Saturday at Dallas).

- Last 10: 3-4-3

- Who’s hot: RW Johan Franzen (points in 8 of past 10 contests).

- Who’s not: RW Daniel Cleary (zero goals in last 8 games).

- The skinny: Red Wings’ run of 21 consecutive playoff appearances is tied for fifth-longest in NHL history … Detroit has averaged 2.47 goals per game this season, down from 2.95 a year ago … Red Wings were 9-3 in shootouts last season, but only 2-5 this season.

Dallas Stars

- Position: 10th

- Games remaining: 3: 2 at home (Thursday vs. Columbus, Saturday vs. Detroit); 1 on road (Tuesday at San Jose).

- Last 10: 6-3-1

- Who’s hot: C Jamie Benn (3 goals, 5 points in past 5 starts); LW Ray Whitney (5 points in last 5 contests).

- Who’s not: LW Erik Cole (3 points in last 12 games).

- The skinny: Dallas has lost three of four after winning five straight and is really missing the contributions of rookie winger Alex Chiasson, who had six points in five contests before injuring his shoulder on April 15.

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