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Playoff spots, hardware and milestones on the line as NHL season winds down

Los Angeles Kings' Willie Mitchell, left, celebrates his goal with teammates Anze Kopitar, centre, from Slovenia, and Justin Williams during first period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 28, 2012.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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Los Angeles Kings' Willie Mitchell, left, celebrates his goal with teammates Anze Kopitar, centre, from Slovenia, and Justin Williams during first period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 28, 2012.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Time is ticking on those left with work to do before the end of the NHL's regular season.

All 30 teams close out their schedule with games on Saturday and there is plenty still at stake before that happens, from playoff spots to year-end awards to personal milestones.

Here's a closer look at what to keep an eye on in the coming days:

PLAYOFF RACES

The Western Conference race is almost too tight to handicap.

With Calgary being eliminated over the weekend, five teams were left fighting for three spots—Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Dallas and Colorado. A home-and-home series between the Sharks and Kings to end the season looms particularly large, with final seedings unlikely to be determined until the final day.

In the Eastern Conference, Buffalo is on life support after consecutive losses. The ninth-place Sabres sit two points back of Washington with a game in hand. They'll likely need to win all three remaining games since the Capitals hold the tiebreaker between the teams.

The most interesting battle involves rivals on a crash course to face one another in the first round. Pittsburgh enters the week one point up on Philadelphia and a season-ending meeting between them on Saturday will likely determine whether their series starts at Consol Energy Center or Wells Fargo Center.

Both the Penguins and Flyers fancy themselves as Stanley Cup contenders. And they're far from alone.

"I think any team going into the playoffs can win the Stanley Cup, there's no question about it," said veteran Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr. "History proves it, even if you're the last team in the playoffs. ... Anything can happen, anybody can win.

"Why not us?"

It's the kind of rhetorical question that will be raised in dressing rooms all over the continent at the end of the week.

AWARDS

Will the Presidents' Trophy go to Vancouver, the Rangers or St. Louis?

The Canucks are looking to become the NHL's first back-to-back regular-season champions since the lockout and enter the week tied with New York at 107 points, one ahead of the Blues. They each have three games to play.

For all intents and purposes, the major star-based individual hardware has already been claimed.

Pittsburgh Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin is a virtual lock to win his second Art Ross Trophy for leading the scoring chart while Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has already started engraving his name on the Rocket Richard Trophy for a second time after lapping his competitors in goal-scoring.

Malkin holds a nine-point lead over Stamkos with three games remaining. However, Stamkos had the edge in goals by 10.

Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson is down to three games to bolster his already-strong case for the Norris Trophy. His 77 points are 25 ahead of the next best blue-liner, Zdeno Chara, and he sports a plus-18 rating.

A trio of players are still fighting for the rookie scoring lead, which could affect how members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association vote on the Calder Trophy. Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog entered Monday one point ahead of New Jersey's Adam Henrique.

The Blues goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are certain to claim the Williams M. Jennings Trophy for having allowed the fewest goals against.

MILESTONES

Stamkos has developed into the game's best sniper and is looking to put an exclamation mark on his season by hitting 60 goals.

After scoring twice against Washington on Monday night, he needed two goals in his final three games to reach the mark. And he's made no secret of his desire to get there.

"It definitely would be nice because you never know if you are every going to be this close again in your career," Stamkos told the Tampa Tribune.

Alex Ovechkin is the only NHLer to hit the mark in the last 15 years (he scored 65 in 2007-08).

With a number of players around the league chasing personal milestones, here's a sample of some significant ones within reach:

—Malkin is two points shy of matching his career-best total of 106.

—Karlsson is three points from becoming just the second NHL defenceman since the lockout to hit 80 points.

—John Tavares of the Islanders is two points from hitting 80 for the first time in his NHL career.

—Coyotes forward Ray Whitney, at age 39, is two points behind his career-high of 77.

—Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is one win shy of hitting 30 for the 14th time.

A number of players have a chance to join Stamkos, Malkin and Marian Gaborik at the 40-goal plateau. Penguins forward James Neal has 39, Phil Kessel of the Maple Leafs has 37—"It would be really nice for Phil Kessel to get 40 goals," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Saturday—and Ovechkin, Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell and Anaheim's Corey Perry sit at 36.

And finally, Brian Elliott's storybook season is only days away from an incredible close. Playing on a two-way contract, the Blues goalie has a .943 save percentage with three games remaining—leaving him an excellent chance to surpass Tim Thomas' modern-day record of . 938, set last season.

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