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What to watch for on Saturday: Division titles and home-ice advantage

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
Panthers

It's the final day of the 2011-12 regular season, and even though all 16 playoff teams are already determined, eliminating much of the drama that might have taken place with all 30 teams in action, there are still a few things left to decide.

1) The Southeast Division: The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers both clinched playoff berths on Thursday night, and both still have an opportunity to win the division. For the Panthers, it's pretty simple: a win against Carolina, or a loss in overtime/shootout, and they will be division champions for the first time in their franchise history. They also win with a loss if the Capitals lose to the Rangers.

For Washington, it's a little trickier. They not only need to beat New York, a team that's still fighting for the Presidents' Trophy, they also need Florida to lose in regulation to the Hurricanes.

Even though the Hurricanes are eliminated and out of the postseason, you can't pencil it in as a win for the Panthers as they've hit a pretty big slump down the home stretch of the season and appear to be the perfect example of a team that's backing into the playoffs. Florida has lost eight of its past nine games, and of the eight losses, six of them were against teams that are out of the playoffs, including a 3-1 loss to Carolina back in March.

2) The Pacific Division: The Pacific Division produced three playoff teams this season (Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles) and on the final day of the regular season all three teams still have a shot to win the division, so let's start with the easy one: the Coyotes. If they win at Minnesota, it's all over. They win, and it will be the first division title in franchise history, even if you go as far back as the days in Winnipeg.

If the Coyotes lose in Minnesota, that opens the door for the Sharks and Kings, who also happen to be playing each other in San Jose. The loser of this game will finish in eighth place in the Western Conference and begin the playoffs against either Vancouver or St. Louis in the first round.

The winner will finish either seventh or third, depending on the outcome of the Coyotes game at Minnesota, which will be over by the time this game starts.

3) Home-Ice Advantage in the West: The top-four seeds in the East are already set in stone, but the West could have some movement.

Let's start with Nashville, entering the day as the No. 4 spot in the West. If the Red Wings lose to Chicago, or if the Predators beat Colorado, they will finish with the fourth seed and open the playoffs at home, where they will play either Detroit or Chicago. If the Blackhawks beat Detroit in regulation, it will be Chicago. Otherwise, it's a first-round date with the Red Wings.

Detroit can take over the No. 4 spot with a win against Chicago and a Nashville lose, in regulation, at Colorado. It's also possible that the Red Wings, with a Phoenix win and a loss to Chicago in regulation, could open as the six seed and play the Coyotes in the first round for a third straight year.

At the top of the Western Conference the No. 1 seed still has to be determined. The Canucks open the day two points ahead of the Blues, and if Vancouver gains a single point, either with a win against Edmonton or a loss in overtime/shootout, the Canucks get the top seed. A Canucks loss in regulation, combined with a Blues win, gives the top spot to St. Louis.

4) First Round Preview in Pittsburgh: We know the Penguins and Flyers are playing in the first round. We know the Penguins will have home-ice advantage. We also know the last time the two teams played a week ago it ended with a line brawl and the coaches standing on top of the boards to scream at each other. Neither team has anything to gain in this game, as their playoff spots, seeds, matchups, etc. are all set.

The last time they played Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was unhappy with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma for putting his fourth line on the ice late in a game, so you can probably imagine how he feels now that the Penguins called up Steve MacIntyre from the American Hockey League ahead of Saturday's game.

MacIntyre has appeared in 11 games for the Penguins this season and played a total of 29 minutes. Just a couple of weeks ago during an American Hockey League game he did this.



I repeat: There is nothing to gain in this game. Can we all just agree to show up, put in the ice time, and go home without incident? No need for a gong show.

5) The Scoring Races Are Settled: Not only are there no playoff spots up for grabs on Saturday, the two big scoring races are also settled, barring an historic, record-setting day that doesn't even seem like a reasonable fantasy from somebody.

Evgeni Malkin, entering the day with 107 points, has an 11-point lead over Steven Stamkos for the Art Ross Trophy, while Stamkos, entering the day wit 59 goals, has a 10-goal lead over Malkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy. For Malkin, it's going to be the second Art Ross Trophy of his career, also winning it during the 2008-09 season, the same year he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Stamkos will lead the league in goals for the second time in his career, as well.

Malkin needs just one goal to record the first 50-goal season of his career, while Stamkos is one goal away from being just the second player in the past 16 years to score 60 goals in a single season (Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 was the other).

Photo: Getty Images

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