The NHL season is coming to a close and that means the playoff race is coming to an end as well with teams beginning to clinch playoff spots. As teams begin to do this they can start preparing for their postseason by concentrating on their playoff seeding and trying to get into a groove before the playoffs start. This year there had been no teams to clinch a playoff spot with only a few weeks left in the season. That was until this week when the St. Louis Blues became the first team in the NL to clinch a playoff berth. For some teams clinching the first playoff berth is common practice but this was not the case for the Blues. This season for the Blues has been one of extreme lows and now extreme highs. The Blues season was off to a bad start when in the offseason it was announced that the team would be up for sale. This started the season off bad as the Blues became the latest team to see uncertainty in ownership. They tried to put that behind them though as they started the season and looked to get off to the good start. They fell short of a good start though as they started the season struggling and looked to be in for another terrible year. After a 6-7 start the season the Blues fired their head coach Davis Payne and brought in Ken Hitchcock. Since the change behind the bench the Blues have had a complete culture change on the team. With Hitchcock behind the bench the Blues began to turn things around. It would not be easy though as the Blues are in the toughest division in the NHL with the always good Detroit Red Wings and a reinvigorated Chicago Blackhawks team. The Blues pushed through though and they were able to begin to take control of the division and in the process saw their way to the top of the league. Then on Sunday the turnaround took another step as they were able to become the first team to clinch a playoff spot and the first team to crack 100 points. The Blue will now look to finish the season right by putting together a string of wins and win the division. Then the next goal will be to clinch the #1 spot in the Western Conference as they hope to host every playoff series. The Blues clinching represents the beginning of the end of the 2011-12 regular season as the next week promises to see even more teams look towards the playoffs.

As teams begin to clinch their spots in the playoffs there are a host of other teams that may need to wait a lot longer until they can find out if they will be making an appearance in the postseason. The biggest race every year before the playoffs is the battle for the last playoff spot in the conferences. The battle for 8th place is always one of the most thrilling as they come down to the last few weeks to figure out. This year is no different as both conferences are in the midst of very tight battles for the 8th place spot. The Eastern Conference has only one spot truly available as the #7 spot is taken by the Ottawa Senators who are 4 points ahead of the 8th spot. The Washington Capitals currently sit in the 8th spot with two teams directly behind them. The Winnipeg Jets are looking to make their first season a successful one as they sit two points away from the 8th spot. The Sabres are also 2 points way as they look to win the playoff race this year and take out the caps. In the Western Conference the race will be for the last two spots with the 7th and 8th spot still up for grabs. Colorado and San Jose currently sit in these two spots as they hope to keep the spots. Looking to unseat these two teams are a trio of teams all within three points of each other. The L.A. Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, and Calgary Flames are all sitting very close as any of them could earn the playoff spots. Both of these races are close and could mean a battle until the last day of the regular season for another thrilling end to the season.

NHL Playoff Picture

Eastern Conference:

1. *New York Rangers (95)

2. *Boston Bruins (85)

3. *Florida Panthers (83)

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (93)

5. Philadelphia Flyers (90)

6. New Jersey Devils (87)

7. Ottawa Senators (84)

8. Washington Capitals (78)

9. Winnipeg Jets (76)

10. Buffalo Sabres (76)

11. Toronto Maple Leafs (72)

12. Tampa Bay Lightning (71)

13. Carolina Hurricanes (71)

14. New York Islanders (69)

15. Montreal Canadiens (69)

Western Conference:

1. X-*St. Louis Blues (100)

2. *Vancouver Canucks (94)

3. *Dallas Stars (83)

4. Detroit Red Wings (92)

5. Nashville Predators (90)

6. Chicago Blackhawks (86)

7. Colorado Avalanche (83)

8. San Jose Sharks (82)

9. Los Angeles Kings (82)

10. Phoenix Coyotes (81)

11. Calgary Flames (80)

12. Anaheim Ducks (71)

13. Minnesota Wild (68)

14. Edmonton Oilers (63)

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (51)

X-Clinched Playoff Spot

*-Division Leader

Key Scores:

New York Rangers 4 – 3 New York Islanders

- The battle of New York became a little more important as the Rangers were hoping to stop their recent stumble as they beat their city rivals and tried to stop their slide at the end of the season before the playoffs

Calgary Flames 3 – 2 San Jose Sharks

- The battle for 8th place in the West continued as the Flames and Sharks faced off with the Flames winning and inching closer to the last playoff spot and the Sharks taking a hit in their hold of the 8th spot

Winnipeg Jets 3 – 2 Washington Capitals

- The Battle for the east saw the Caps and Jets face off in what looks to be the battle to watch coming to the end of the season as the Jets took the win and inched even closer to their goal of making the playoffs in their first season

St. Louis Blues 3 – 1 Tampa Bay Lightning

- The Blues continued to roll in a season that started terribly as they beat the Lightning and took 2 points that allowed them to become the first team to clinch a playoff spot this year as they can begin to work on their next goal to win the division

Next Week:

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers (March 19th; 7:30 pm)

- The Battle of the Hudson River takes a new meaning as the Rangers have started to falter down the stretch and the Devils look to strengthen their spot in the playoffs behind the rest of the Atlantic division

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings (March 20th; 10:30 pm)

- With so much on the line in the next few weeks every game becomes important and the California rivalry will be a very important game as both teams are looking to take the 8th spot with the Sharks in the final playoff spot and the Kings looking to get there

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks (March 21st; 8:00 pm)

- The rivalry continues as the Canucks and Blackhawks have created one of the best rivalries through their performances in the playoffs and this game will be a warmup for an intense playoffs as the Canucks and Blackhawks both look to the playoffs and hope to clinch a spot

Winnipeg Jets vs. Washington Capitals (March 23rd; 7:00 pm)

- In what could be the series to watch the Jets look to take a playoff spot in their first season back in Winnipeg while the Capitals look to fend off the Jets and salvage a playoff spot in a very disappointing season 

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Written by The Sport Addiction, Content Partner

Writes about all things sports at the blog, The Sport Addiction. Write about the NHL at FootBasket.com. Read more sports at our website!


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