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Ryan Lambert

What We Learned: Your guide to crazy final days of playoff races

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

There are seven days left in the NHL season. There are four spots up for grabs. There are, in actual practice, seven teams playing for them.

The question, then, is "Who has the juice to get them?"

The most secure team of the seven is Montreal, four points clear of the drop zone in the East with 86 points and three games to play. Those games are against the Islanders, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs. Pretty safe to count two of those as probable wins. They haven't technically locked up a spot, but they've locked up a spot.

So that's down to two spots in the East, being contested by Boston and Philadelphia, tied for seventh with 84 points and trying furiously to hold off the Rangers (82) and Thrashers (81).

We'll start with the Thrashers, since there's no way they'll sneak into the playoffs. They host New Jersey, visit Washington, then host Pittsburgh. Season's over. Good night.

Of the teams that can actually win it, Boston does have the advantage over Philly.

(Coming Up: Struggles for Olympians; the Marty Turco(notes) goodbye; Lappy turtles; Umberger retreats; a dubious playoff record for Panthers; the Guillaume Latendresse(notes) conundrum; Kovalchuk heats up; Guerin says 'get off my lawn, Jim Slater';(notes) Shane O'Brien(notes) repents; Ian White's(notes) solid tally; Saku's big weekend; and how the Blackhawks could acquire Ovechkin.)

The Bruins have four games remaining to the Flyers' three. But those four games aren't exactly a cakewalk. They're at Washington on Monday night, by no means an easy game, then are off until Thursday and things get crazy. Host Buffalo, host Carolina Saturday, then visit Washington for an afternoon game. The Bruins lost their first two games to the Caps this year by 4-1 scores.

As for the two teams from the Atlantic, after the Flyers visit Toronto on Tuesday night, they play a home-and-home against the Rangers on Friday and Sunday. The Rangers also visit Buffalo Tuesday before returning home to host Toronto the next night.

The big, big factor here is obviously that Flyers/Rangers home-and-home. Whoever has the better go of things in those games is pretty much guaranteed to make the playoffs and if there are overtimes, both teams could sneak in if Boston slips up even a little bit.

Lots of factors to consider there.

How many points can the Bruins realistically take from Buffalo, Carolina and Washington twice? The Rangers are 2-0-1 against Toronto this season, and they've been .500 against both Buffalo and Philadelphia. The Flyers have taken four of six points from Toronto but got smoked in their only game north of the border.

This is going to be a crazy week in the East, but out west, things are slightly saner.

Only Colorado and Calgary really remain in the hunt, separated by two points. Anaheim and St. Louis are six points back so let's just call 'em out of it and move on.

Colorado almost suffered an astonishing collapse against San Jose on Sunday night, but pulled out an OT win, and looked determined in both that game and their showdown with Calgary on Friday. Problem for the Avs is they don't have an easy four-game schedule to close the season. At Vancouver and Edmonton back-to-back, then they host Chicago and LA on Friday and Sunday.

Calgary, on the other hand, hosts San Jose and Minnesota on Tuesday and Thursday then travel to Vancouver on Saturday to close the season. But the combination of Colorado's game in-hand and an easy two points outta Edmonton will probably be too much to overcome, regardless of how well the Flames have played the past few games.

This week is going to be absolutely nutso no matter what happens, but I don't think anything will be decided until Sunday. Which is how it should be.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan(notes) hasn't scored a goal in eight games, but it's not like he's not trying. He's 0-fer on his last 29 shots.

Atlanta Thrashers: Colby Armstrong(notes) was suspended two games for his elbow on Mathieu Perrault, for some reason. Oh I know the reason: Colin Campbell has no idea what he's doing.

Boston Bruins: Asked if Boston is a little lacking in confidence after it eked out a 2-1 OT win over the lowly Leafs, David Krejci(notes) got his snark on, saying, "You should ask Toronto. We're in a playoff spot right now." Then he looked over his shoulder to see if anyone from the Rangers was nearby and laughed nervously.

Buffalo Sabres: So Max Lapierre turtled like a punk the second Steve Montador(notes) expressed an interest in fighting? The hell you say!?

Calgary Flames: Everyone on the Flames is carrying the water down this remarkably important final stretch. Everyone, that is, except Jarome Iginla(notes), who has been held off the scoresheet in nine of 16 games since the Olympic break, and only has one goal in his last 12. If the Flames don't make the playoffs, that's probably the biggest reason.

Carolina Hurricanes: They made a valiant effort after a dismal start, but the Canes won't be around to suckerpunch anyone in the playoffs this year. Let that be a lesson to you kids: This is what happens when you go winless in 14 straight in October.

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago strolled past Calgary 4-1 to clinch its first division title in 17 years. Last time the Black Hawks won it, Patrick Kane(notes) was young enough to consider 20 cents a lot of money.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs made a double-dip at Boston University this weekend, signing junior defensemen Colby Cohen and Kevin Shattenkirk. Colorado really likes BU's set-up apparently. Joe Sacco played at BU in the late ‘80s, Brandon Yip(notes) won a national title with BU last season, they signed free agent Zach Cohen from BU last month, drafted the Terriers' starting goalie Kieran Millan, and hired then-BU associate head coach Dave Quinn to coach their AHL team.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Because no one is allowed to have an opinion, RJ Umberger(notes) backed off his 100 percent correct thoughts on the Caps' inability to compete against even decent Western Conference teams over a seven-game series. "I was just giving my opinion. ... The West has been great all year, and there are teams in the West I think can frustrate them and can compete with them. But I could be wrong." Just when I was starting to like this kid.

Dallas Stars: Hold onto yer socks, gang. The Stars are unlikely to re-sign Marty Turco. Which NHL team will take a flyer on him and terrorize its fans for an entire season, or maybe more?

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Detroit Red Wings: Darren Helm(notes) was hit five seconds into his first shift on Sunday and broke his nose. He played another 11:30 in the game and scored a goal. Hockey player, that kid.

Edmonton Oilers: The Edmonton Oilers have won just one road game in the last 113 days. The good news is they wrap the season at LA and Anaheim so there's a chance they ... no, I'm just kidding, they're not going to win another one until at least next season.

Florida Panthers: A 4-0 loss to the Rangers ensured that the Panthers would miss the postseason for the 10th straight year, which is an NHL record. There is good news, though. Because of the lockout, it's only the ninth straight season, and that merely ties the NHL record.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are now guaranteed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. In typical Kings fashion, they backed in after losing to Anaheim in a shootout the night before actually clinching.

Minnesota Wild: What to do with Guillaume Latendresse, who has scored at a 39-goal pace since being traded from Montreal? Sign him short-term and hope the price tag doesn't skyrocket? Sign him long-term and hope he doesn't prove to be a one-season wonder? Decisions, decisions.

Montreal Canadiens: I don't know if you were aware of this, but Client Jaroslav Halak(notes) is pretty freakin' good. He's got a 144:01 shutout streak going.

Nashville Predators: Headline says, "Expect Nashville to perform better in playoffs." Well yeah, they have six playoff wins in franchise history. They can't do much worse.

New Jersey Devils: With 4-7-11 in his last seven games, Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) has been playing fairly well of late. And now he is about to make his first return to Atlanta since being traded. Because he needed the motivation.

New York Islanders: I've verified this as many ways as I possibly can and I'm still not sure I believe it, but the Islanders are 7-3-1 in their last 11.

New York Rangers: Nick Montemagno at Blueshirt Banter makes an impassioned plea for Ranger fans to not just assume the team will stink the rest of the season and in the playoffs if they just happen to make it. This plea was not well-received.

Ottawa Senators: Matt Carkner(notes) sure got his lunch handed to him by Trevor Gillies(notes) on Saturday afternoon. This fight was slightly more entertaining than the one between — if you can believe it — Nick Foligno(notes) and Sean Bergenheim(notes).

Philadelphia Flyers: Granted this article was written before the Flyers pulled off a good win over the Red Wings, but still, it presents a scary stat. The Flyers had 79 points on March 19, and they have 84 right now. Five points in 17 days. Yikes.

Phoenix Coyotes: You wanna hear a crazy-ass stat? The Coyotes have played 12 back-to-backs this year, and they've taken 32 of 48 points from them. That's a lot!

Pittsburgh Penguins: At 62 years old, Bill Guerin(notes) got in a fight. And beat the hell out of Jim Slater.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton(notes) returned to the Sharks' lineup Sunday night, just in time to infuse the Sharks with his customary style of play for the month of April and beyond. They came out flat as a board and suffered a 5-4 OT loss to Colorado.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues' home record is an ugly, ugly 16-18-5. But that's after starting the season 6-13-3 under Andy Murray. They're10-5-2 at home under David Payne.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I'm sure it's all Glen Sather winding up Larry Brooks for his own amusement (and, incidentally, ours as well), but this report here says the Bolts almost traded Steven Stamkos(notes) to the Rangers last season. That would've made Ranger fans 100 percent more insufferable.

Toronto Maple Leafs: At one point this season, Tomas Kaberle(notes) led the NHL in assists. Now he just stinks and he won't be in Toronto next season. Maybe Burke should've traded him to Boston after all.

Vancouver Canucks: Shane O'Brien is back practicing with the team after "a long look in the mirror." I just hope, for his sake, he didn't also take a long look at the pictures of him that we all saw.

Washington Capitals: With that Sharks OT loss, the Caps are officially the President's Trophy winners. RJ Umberger, The President's Trophy Curse, and I wish them luck in the playoffs.

Play of the Weekend

Pretty nice goal from Ian White considering he's a defenseman.

Gold Star Award

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Saku Koivu(notes) had an excellent weekend. Three goals and an assist, plus a shootout winner as the Ducks picked up three points in back-to-back games.

Minus of the Weekend

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The New York Rangers did not face the stiffest goaltending competition this weekend. They won two games by a combined score of 9-1 despite being outshot by their opponents 50-49.

Mike Smith(notes) gave up four goals on seven shots, Anterro Niitykmaki gave up one on 15, Scott Clemmensen(notes) gave up three on 26, and the empty net gave up one on one.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "surferdude99" wants to shake up two successful organizations. I'm not quite sure why:

To Chicago:

Alex Ovechkin(notes)

To Washigton:

Jonathan Toews(notes)

Akim Aliu(notes)

Duncan Keith(notes)

1st rounder in 2011

It's the inclusion of Akim Aliu of all people that really makes this one for me.

Signoff

I deceived you. "Tricked" makes it sound like we have a playful relationship.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness pretty much every day over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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