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NHL Playoffs 2011: Western Conference Playoff Picture Still Murky

The 2010-11 NHL regular season comes to a close on Sunday, but the Western Conference playoff picture is far from settled. As it stands going into Tuesday's games, only three Western Conference teams have clinched a spot in the 2011 NHL playoffs. Five teams from the Eastern Conference have clinched a playoff spot, leaving only three spots up for grabs. The Western Conference has five spots up for grabs.

Here is a look at the current NHL standings for the Western Conference (point totals are in parentheses):

1. Vancouver Canucks (113)
2. San Jose Sharks (103)
3. Detroit Red Wings (102)
4. Phoenix Coyotes (96)
5. Los Angeles Kings (96)
6. Nashville Predators (95)
7. Anaheim Ducks (93)
8. Chicago Blackhawks (92)
9. Calgary Flames (91)
10. Dallas Stars (89)

(Note: Canucks, Sharks and Red Wings have clinched their divisions. Teams below 10th in the standings have been eliminated from playoff contention.)

If the season had ended last night, the Red Wings would open the 2011 NHL playoffs against division foe Nashville. Although most teams have three games or less to go at this point, that matchup could change many times by the end of the week. The Red Wings and Sharks, which are battling for the second seed, are separated by only one point, and seeds four through eight have teams that are within four points of each other.

For the Red Wings, they will be at least the No. 3 seed. If they finish strong and San Jose stumbles, the Wings could move up to the No. 2 seed. One could legitimately ask, however, "Is it more important to rest key players than try to improve your standing by a single seed?" I don't think getting to the No. 2 seed is a big deal, but since two of Detroit's final three games are against Chicago, I do think wins to close the season would be nice. Detroit could potentially keep Chicago out of the playoffs, whereas losing to them could potentially set up a first-round matchup with the Blackhawks. I would much rather see the Wings keep Chicago out of the postseason and finish the regular season with a couple of victories.