DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings are holding onto the 1st Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference with 88 points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are right behind in the 2nd Wild Card position with 87 points. Both Detroit and Columbus have four games left on their regular season schedules.
Next in line are the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils who both have 84 points. They both have three games left.
Then it's the Washington Capitals with 83 points and four games left. The Ottawa Senators are now a long shot for making the playoffs with just 80 points and four games remaining.
View: NHL standings
So, how can the Red Wings clinch a playoff spot?
This is that time of the season when scoreboard watching becomes a nightly affair, at least for fans. Ask the Red Wings players and coach about it and they'll say they're just focused on their next game.
That's because the simple answer to the above question is by winning their last four games. As I discussed last week, the Red Wings did a lot of good work these past few weeks to put themselves in a "win-and-you're-in" position. They are in control of their own destiny. We can forget all of this if they just win the last four games (as they did last season) or at least three of four. More specifically, they need just 5 points. But it doesn't have to come down to the wire.
Let's say they don't win their last four games or even three of them, which are Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabers, Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. The Red Wings can clinch a spot if they win Tuesday night in Buffalo and the Leafs, Devils and Capitals all lose their next game in regulation.
Game preview: Red Wings vs. Sabres
On Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs play the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team the Wings could catch but would rather see beat the Leafs.
The Capitals play St. Louis on Tuesday and the Devils play Ottawa on Thursday.
Columbus plays the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday night, too.
How 'ROWs' come into play
Yep, regulation plus overtime wins (ROW) could come into play here, too. Remember, the Blue Jackets missed last year's playoffs even though they tied the Minnesota Wild with 55 points. The Wild had more ROWs -- 22 to Columbus' 19. It's not about wins, it's about points and ROWs.
This year, the Red Wings have 32 ROWs at this point. The Jackets have 35 and the Devils have 34. Toronto has 29 and the Caps have 25.
So even though the Red Wings have more wins and points than the Devils, if the Devils tie the Wings in points they could edge past them because they have more ROWs. You may already know all this stuff, but it's worth going over again.
Winning in regulation or in overtime is more important than ever.
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