Sprint to the finish: Sizing up NHL playoff races

Less than a week ago, GM Ken Holland was just hoping for his Detroit Red Wings to play their way in the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 22nd straight season. They had done all they could through Thursday, but some work remains.

3 Western Conference teams remain in mix

Pavel Datsyuk celebrates with Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard after Thursday's win over Nashville. Detroit is clinging to a playoff position with Saturday's game at Dallas remaining. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Less than a week ago, Ken Holland was hoping for his Detroit Red Wings to be among the 16 teams to compete in the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, starting April 30.

"We control our fate and I think that's all you want to do in sports," Holland, who's in his 16th season as general manager of the NHL team, told Scott Oake and Craig Simpson on Hockey Night in Canada's After Hours segment last Saturday.

"You gotta get in [to the post-season]. You get in, you've got a chance. We're just looking to play our way in."

Through Thursday, the Red Wings had done all they could, but some work remained.

After picking up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss at Vancouver on April 20, Detroit has earned victories this week over Phoenix (4-0), Los Angeles (3-1) and Nashville (5-2) to move into seventh spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who will use their game in hand Friday against Edmonton. Columbus is ninth, also one point in arrears of the Red Wings with one game remaining.

Detroit only requires a point against the Stars in Dallas on Saturday to qualify for the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season, regardless of the Blue Jackets' outcome at home versus Nashville the same night.

Columbus, led by the spectacular goaltending of Philadelphia Flyers castoff Sergei Bobrovsky, has won seven of its past 10 games entering play Friday but is still looking for help from other teams to enhance its playoff chances.

Minnesota would lock up a playoff spot with a win over the Oilers.

The following is a breakdown of the three teams in the playoff mix in the West, featuring their success of late, players leading the playoff push and what remains in the final week of the regular season. The Eastern Conference was settled on Thursday with Ottawa and the New York Rangers clinching.

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings

  • Position: 7th
  • Games remaining: 1: Saturday at Dallas
  • Last 10: 5-2-3
  • Who’s hot: RW Johan Franzen (7 goals, 9 points in last 8 games); Centre Pavel Datsyuk (8 points in past 8 outings).
  • Who’s not: RW Daniel Cleary (zero goals in last 10 games).
  • The skinny: Red Wings need only a point against the Stars to extend run of consecutive playoff appearances to 22, which would rank fifth-longest in NHL history … Detroit has won three in a row to put heat on ninth-place Columbus …Detroit has averaged 2.53 goals per game this season, down from 2.95 a year ago, but has found its scoring touch this week with 12 goals in three starts … Red Wings were 9-3 in shootouts last season, but only 2-5 this season.

Minnesota Wild

  • Position: 8th
  • Games remaining: 2: 1 at home (Friday vs. Edmonton); 1 on road (Saturday at Colorado).
  • Last 10: 4-5-1
  • Who’s hot: RW Jason Pominville (3 G, 7 points in past 6 games); LW Zach Parise (2 goals, 5 points past 6).
  • Who’s not: C Matt Cullen (1 assist in last 6 games); RW Devin Setoguchi (zero goals in last 13 contests).
  • The skinny: With a win Friday night, the Wild would clinch their first post-season berth since 2008 … Minnesota might have to play Friday without winger Jason Pominville, who was elblowed in the face by Los Angeles' Dustin Brown on Tuesday … Winger Mike Rupp could return to the lineup Friday after missing four games with a lower-body injury … The Wild have lost five of past six on home ice but are 3-0 this season versus Edmonton.

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Position: 9th
  • Games remaining: 1: Saturday vs. Nashville
  • Last 10: 7-3-0
  • Who’s hot: D Fedor Tyutin (5 points in last 6 games); C Mark Letestu (3 goals, 4 points in past 2 games).
  • Who’s not: RW Marian Gaborik (1 assist last 6 starts).
  • The skinny: Blue Jackets could be out of playoff contention when the puck drops Saturday should Minnesota defeat Edmonton on Friday … Columbus could sew up just its second playoff spot in the team's 12-year existence with a win over Nashville and a Detroit loss in regulation at Dallas … Matt Calvert (broken finger) is out while fellow forward Artem Anisimov (concussion) could miss a sixth straight game Saturday. The status of defenceman Nikita Nikitin (lower body) also is unclear.