NHL Playoff Death Watch: East race could end tonight; Kings, Sharks battle for Pacific

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals face off in DC on Thursday night in a game that could determine the Southeast Division champ as well as the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

If that wasn't enough drama, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports that Jose Theodore will make his first start in Washington since the team opted not to re-sign him in 2010.

From the Sun-Sentinel, the Panthers know they're entering a tough spot to win … but that they don't necessarily have to win to take the division:

With 92 points, the Panthers don't even have to win either of their last two games to capture their first-ever division title. Because the Capitals and ninth-place Sabres each have 88 points, the most they could end up with is 92 points. So the Panthers need just one point, meaning an overtime or shootout loss against the Caps Thursday or Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday would accomplish the task.

After all, that's been a Panthers' specialty all year, as they lead the league in shootout losses (11) and total overtime losses (18). That's not the route Panthers coach Kevin Dineen wants to take.

"We've known all along that Washington is a very well-respected opponent that's had a lot of good years and for us to have success we have to have success against this team,'' Dineen said. "I don't think there's an easy path in pro sports. You don't try a back door in any of them, you've got to bang your way through the front door, and that's our feeling.''

"Bang your way" ... "backdoor" ... love ya, hockey.

Capitals Insider has all the Washington clinching scenarios that Buffalo Sabres fans need to know about. Of course, they're completely irrelevant because Brooks Laich already vowed that the Caps are going to be a playoff team.

(By the way: The Associated Press coverage of Ryan Miller's retort to Laich made it seem like he defecated on Mama Laich's driveway instead of saying completely benign like "I don't think he's Mark Messier.")

Coming up, the playoff pictures for the East and West, as we shift the focus to playoff seeding. The full NHL standings and schedules can be found on Y! Sports.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here's the playoff picture for the Eastern Conference bubble:

Team (Games Remaining) Place/Pts/ROW Tragic # % Chance of Playoffs % Chance of 7th % Chance of 8th
Florida Panthers (2) 3rd/92/31 -- 99.5 -- 4
Washington Capitals (2) 8th/88/36 -- 72.2 2 65
Buffalo Sabres (2) 9th/88/32 4 28.2 -- 28

Again, from the Washington Post, the bubble scenario:

If the Capitals finish with:

— 92 points (2-0-0): Washington would be in the playoffs regardless of how other teams finish.

— 91 points (1-0-1): Buffalo would leapfrog Washington only by wining out and finishing with 92 points.

— 90 points (1-1-0 or 0-0-2): Buffalo would need three points (2-0-0 or 1-0-1) to leapfrog Washington.

— 89 points (0-1-1): Buffalo would only need two points (1-1-0 or 0-0-2) to leapfrog Washington.

— 88 points (0-2-0): Washington would need Buffalo to lose both games in regulation.

Buffalo is at the Philadelphia Flyers tonight and finish at the Boston Bruins. Yikes.

And while the focus has rightfully been on the bubble ... the Ottawa Senators can drop to the No. 8 seed with two losses and some other dominoes falling.

Meanwhile, the Flyers begin play three points in back of the Penguins for the No. 4 seed, with the Penguins hosting the New York Rangers and needing just a point to clinch.The Pens and Flyers end the season against each other in the 'Burgh.

Here's the Western Conference race:

Team (Games Remaining) Place/ Pts/ROW Tragic # % Chance of Playoffs % Chance of 7th % Chance of 8th
Los Angeles Kings (2) 3rd/93/34 -- 98.4 21 19
Phoenix Coyotes (2) 7th/93/34 -- 98.2 60 13
San Jose Sharks (2) 8th/92/33 -- 91.8 18 58
Dallas Stars (2) 9th/89/35 2 8.8 1 8
Colorado Avalanche (2) 10th/88/32 1 2.8 - 3

The Kings and Sharks begin their home and home in LA tonight. From Helene Elliott of the LA Times:

If the Kings earn one point against San Jose on Thursday — or if the Dallas Stars lose to the Nashville Predators in a game that should end at about the time the puck is dropped at Staples Center — the Kings will earn their third straight playoff berth. They could gain the Pacific Division title, No. 3 seeding and home-ice advantage in the first round by Friday if they win Thursday and the Phoenix Coyotes lose at St. Louis in regulation time Friday.

Here's the ESPN Dallas take on the bubble:

The Stars would only need to tie each team in the standings since they would own the first tiebreaker, which is regulation/overtime wins.

Los Angeles: The Stars would have to win both their final two games and the Kings would have to lose both their two remaining games against San Jose in regulation.

Phoenix: The Stars would have to win both their final two games and the Coyotes would have to lose their two remaining games, which are at St. Louis (Friday) and at Minnesota (Saturday).

San Jose: There are two ways to catch the Sharks. The Stars would have to win both their final games and the Sharks would have lose their remaining two games against the Kings and at least one of those losses would have to be in regulation. The second scenario is that the Stars go 1-0-1 in their remaining two games and the Sharks lose both their games against the Kings in regulation.

The Red Wings moved a point ahead of the Predators last night for home ice in Round 1 and face the Devils tonight before battling Chicago in the season finale. The Preds finish with Dallas at home and at Colorado. It was a huge extra point by the Wings against the Blues, considering that finale against the Blackhawks, who probably need two wins and help to surpass Detroit. Chicago is two points behind Nashville but loses the tie-breaker.

The Blues are two points behind both the Rangers and Canucks for the President's Trophy with two games to play. The Rangers hold the tie-breaker over Vancouver thanks to non-shootout wins.

If The Playoffs Started Today:

NY Rangers (1) vs. Washington (8)
Boston (2) vs. Ottawa (7)
Florida (3) vs. New Jersey (6)
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Philadelphia (5)

Vancouver (1) vs. San Jose (8)
St. Louis (2) vs. Phoenix (7)
Los Angeles (3) vs. Chicago (6)
Detroit (4) vs. Nashville (5)