NHL Playoff Picture: Clinching scenarios for Western Conference

Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk are trying to keep the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak going. (USATSI)
Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk are trying to keep the Detroit Red Wings' playoff streak alive. (USATSI)

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Heading into the final weekend of the NHL season, every playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is locked up. But in the West, we still have three teams fighting for two spots and it all comes down to Saturday night.

On the line is a 20-plus-year playoff streak in Detroit, an incredible comeback story in Columbus and the Minnesota Wild attempting to avoid a second consecutive late-season collapse coming off an embarrassing 6-1 loss at home to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

There is still seeding and first-round matchups to be settled in both conferences, but the three-way race at the bottom of the West is the one that we're looking at.

So here is what's at stake for all three teams and what it's going to take to get them in.


RedWingsThe Red Wings haven't missed the postseason since the 1989-90 season. In the 21 years since, the franchise has reached the Stanley Cup Final six times and won the whole thing four times.

It's an impressive run and one that's been in jeopardy for much of the season.

Before the 2013 campaign began, general manager Ken Holland said this could be the year that Detroit's playoff streak comes to an end. It seemed like a bit of a stretch even with the team's many defensive losses over the years, including the retirement of future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom last summer. Though Detroit is in complete control of its own destiny, there remains a chance the Red Wings could fall short of the playoffs.

It hasn't always been pretty for them this season, but they seem to be getting it together late in the year and enter Saturday's game at Dallas having won three in a row. And you know the playoffs are just around the corner when Johan Franzen starts scoring goals in bunches. He has seven goals in his past seven games.

The situation for the Red Wings is simple: Win and they're in. An overtime or shootout loss would also get them in, as would a regulation loss plus a regulation loss by Columbus.


MinnesotaWildWhile the Red Wings are trying to keep their playoff streak alive, the Wild are trying to end a four-year playoff drought. And they're making it very difficult on themselves.

Of all the teams fighting for the final spots in the Western Conference, Minnesota had what had to be one of the easiest schedules remaining. But it hasn't made much of a difference. The team has lost 10 of its past 15 games, including Friday night's debacle against Edmonton.

The Wild are in Colorado on Saturday.

The situation for the Wild: Win and they're in. If the Wild lose, whether it be in regulation or overtime, they would need Columbus to lose to Nashville to secure a playoff spot.

If the Wild end up falling short of the playoffs, that might be seen as a pretty large disappointment given the moves the team made in free agency by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the two best players available over the summer, and at the trade deadline to acquire Jason Pominville from the Buffalo Sabres.

Even with those moves, the Wild were still a highly flawed team. A No. 7 or 8 seed seemed to be their ceiling for this season. They still have some work in front of them to reach even that level.


ColumbusBlueJacketsAnd then we have the Blue Jackets. The Cinderella story that seemingly everyone in the NHL -- outside of Detroit and Minnesota, of course -- is rooting for.

The Blue Jackets overcame a miserable start to work their way back into playoff contention thanks in large part to the ridiculous play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. He's the reason they're even in a position to have a fighting chance for a playoff spot on Saturday night, and his performance this season has made him a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy and a potential candidate for the Hart Trophy.

It's a pretty unbelievable story, especially given how much he struggled last year in Philadelphia. He was one of only four goalies who qualified for the league lead in save percentage last season to finish with a mark below .900 (one of the others was Steve Mason, Columbus' starting goalie last year and its backup this season until he was sent to Philadelphia at the trade deadline). Now Bobrovsky is at the top of the league and almost single handedly keeping his team in the race.

The situation for Columbus isn't quite as easy as it is for Detroit or Minnesota. It not only needs to take care of its own business at home against Nashville but also needs some help.

The Blue Jackets have two possible paths to the playoffs: Beat the Predators and hope for Minnesota to lose to Colorado, either in regulation or overtime/shootout.

The other is a win against Nashville and a regulation loss from Detroit.

The Blue Jackets would also get in with an overtime/shootout loss and a regulation loss from Minnesota.

If Detroit, Minnesota and Columbus all lose in regulation, the Red Wings and Wild will claim the No. 7 and 8 seeds.

CBS Sports Writer

Adam Gretz has been writing about the NHL and taking an analytical approach to the game since the start of the 2008 season. A member of the PHWA since 2015, he has spent more than three years covering... Full Bio

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