The Eastern Conference's eight playoff teams have been set since Thursday night. Now all they need to do is figure out who's playing who. Over in the Western Conference, by the end of Saturday night we'll know all eight teams who will be playing postseason hockey, with three games deciding the final two spots.
Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cullen called it a "Game 7." It's do-or-die for the Wild who, after getting thrashed 6-1 by the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night, need to defeat the Colorado Avalanche or hope the Columbus Blue Jackets fall to the Nashville Predators in order to clinch a playoff berth.
The pressure is on for the Wild, especially when owner Craig Leipold was not pleased watching his team blow a chance to clinch in spectacular fashion on Friday night.
How bad did things get after the Wild gave up six goals on the first 11 shots?
A sickened Craig Leipold, the Wild owner, left his center-ice suite and watched much of the third period from General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s press-box booth.
This is not a normal occurrence. Leipold, who has one of the NHL’s highest payrolls and doled out $196 million in long-term contracts for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, could be seen pacing and shaking his head in disgust. Fletcher, incidentally, didn’t appear to be in the booth.
As for the Blue Jackets, they don't control their own destiny, but they will hope there's still a little bit more magic left in this season to remember. Columbus needs help to get into the postseason. They must beat the Predators and then hope the Wild or Detroit Red Wings falter. Columbus loses out on the ROW tiebreaker, which one might call the "Scott Howson Rule."
Whether or not they make it, there's a lot to look forward to for the Blue Jackets and their fans.
There was change: Exit Rick Nash and Scott Howson. Enter Marian Gaborik, Jarmo Kekäläinen and John Davidson. Mix in breakout seasons from Mark Letestu, Matt Calvert and, of course, Sergei Bobrovksy and things are looking very bright. Oh, and don't forget Kekäläinen will have three first round picks in June's draft, which can be used to further stock the prospect cupboard or make a deal or two to improve the NHL lineup.
Despite the poor start, once Howson was canned on Feb. 12, things began to change for good, and the Blue Jackets have played themselves into this moment.
Since Feb. 26, when they had the worst record in the NHL, the Jackets have lost fewer games (five) in regulation than any other team in the league. Over the same span, they have accrued more points (41) than any team save for Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago. It is crazy.
The team sitting most comfortably among the three are the Red Wings. Currently in seventh and one point ahead of both the Wild and Blue Jackets, Detroit needs at least a point to extend their record playoff streak to 22 seasons.
How long ago was it that the Red Wings failed to make the postseason? As MLive.com's Ansar Khan points out, defenseman Danny DeKeyser was just 20 days old the last time they were knocked out of contention.
Expect the streak to continue for Year 22.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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