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Race for the playoffs: Flyers and Capitals hope to clinch divisions, Habs go for berth

Apr 5, 2011, 4:08 PM EDT

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Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs Getty Images

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.”

Eastern Conference

x-1. Philadelphia 103 pts (3 GR)
x-2. Washington – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (3 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 100 pts (3 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (3 GR)
6. Montreal – 91 pts (3 GR)
7. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
8. Buffalo – 90 pts (3 GR)
9. Carolina – 87 pts (3 GR)
10. Toronto – 84 pts (3 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Washington @ Toronto – 7:00 pm ET

The Capitals can clinch the Southeast Division in three different ways: a) a win, b) a point plus a Tampa Bay loss of any kind or c) the Lightning lose in regulation. Ultimately, it’s pretty much a matter of time for the Capitals to win their division, but they have plenty of motivation to keep pace with the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs’ slim playoff hopes hang in the balance, being that just one Sabres point would mathematically eliminate them. They need to win out while Buffalo needs to go without a point and the Hurricanes must also cooperate.

Tampa Bay @ Buffalo – 7:00 pm ET

The Sabres need this game more than the Lightning and will be forced to contain Tampa Bay’s talented forwards without Ryan Miller in net. Instead, it’s likely that Jhonas Enroth will be called upon to save the day once again.

While the Sabres hope to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, the Bolts are likely more focused on gaining the fourth seed from the Penguins than keeping whatever hopes of winning the Southeast alive. They only trail Pittsburgh by one point, so it’s certainly possible.

Philadelphia @ Ottawa – 7:30 pm ET

The Flyers can clinch the Atlantic Division title in two ways: 1) by beating Ottawa while the Penguins lose or 2) earning one point while Pittsburgh loses in regulation. In other words, the division title seems like a mere formality for Philly, so their sights are set on the No. 1 seed in the East.

New Jersey @ Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm ET

Much like Tampa Bay, the Penguins probably don’t expect to stick in their division title race, but must earn as many points as possible to earn at least one round of home ice advantage. The Devils aren’t particularly likely to roll over for them, though.

Chicago @ Montreal – 7:30 pm ET

The Canadiens can clinch a playoff spot with a win of any kind. They must not get too comfortable, though, as their sixth place spot isn’t particularly secure being that both the Habs and Rangers have 91 points. Sure, Montreal has the advantage with an extra game in hand, but a bad week could make them slip to a lower seed.

Obviously, it won’t be easy, as the Blackhawks are in a desperate fight for a playoff spot and face the sobering reality of a very difficult closing schedule. Montreal might be their best chance for easy points.

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