Plenty at stake as regular season draws to a close
(Reuters) - The National Hockey League's regular season enters its final weekend with plenty at stake as the highly-coveted Presidents' Trophy, a top conference seed, division title and playoff berth all up for grabs.
The Eastern Conference's Boston Bruins lead the race for the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the NHL's best record and guaranteeing home-ice advantage during their journey through the playoffs, with only the Anaheim Ducks left as a threat.
The Bruins have a three-point lead over the Ducks and close out their season with games against two non-playoff teams while Anaheim plays the Los Angeles Kings and Central Division-leading Colorado Avalanche.
Top seed in the Western Conference, which guarantees home-ice advantage through at least the first three of four playoff rounds, has come down to a three-team race between Anaheim, Colorado and the St. Louis Blues.
The Avalanche and Blues are battling for the West's Central Division title, which gives the winner a more favorable first-round opponent. The teams both have 111 points with two games to play but Colorado owns the tiebreaker by virtue of having more non-shootout wins, 47-43.
One of the 16 playoff seeds, eight per conference, has yet to be decided but the Dallas Stars, looking to snap a five-year postseason drought, can wrap up the final playoff berth with a victory of any sort against St. Louis later on Friday.
The Phoenix Coyotes, the only team who can catch Dallas for the West's second and final wild-card playoff berth, gave the Stars a chance to clinch given their loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
The tight gap in the standings between several of the playoff-bound teams means the eight matchups for the first-round of the postseason, which begins on April 16, will likely not be determined until the regular season concludes on Sunday.
The NHL implemented a new format this season that gives the top three teams from each division automatic berths while the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, regardless of division, advance as wild cards.
The top ranked team in each conference will play the lowest wild card while the other division winner faces the higher-ranked wild card. The other matchups will have the second- and third-place teams in each division play each other.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry)