8/26/2021
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While the Predators headed into Saturday with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, a fully-equipped Hurricanes team gave the Stars some hope. It didn’t matter, though, as the Predators beat the Hurricanes in a tight game, clinching a playoff spot in the process.

With that, the Stars’ playoff hopes have been dashed. Let’s review a few of the key playoff/division title clinches from Saturday, from the Predators to the Penguins and Maple Leafs.

Predators clinch playoff spot

Heading into Saturday’s action, it was fair to wonder if the Hurricanes would dress their full fleet of skaters vs. the Predators. While the Predators were hoping to clinch a playoff spot, the Hurricanes already locked down a Central Division title.

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Carolina didn’t have anything to play for but pride — not even playoff seeding. (OK, you can stretch things and mention home-ice advantage once the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs extended beyond divisional brackets.)

Well, the Hurricanes didn’t exactly treat the Stars like the Philadelphia Eagles sandbagging the New York Giants. Maybe that’s why the Stars were “stanning” the Hurricanes?

It is time. #NewProfilePicpic.twitter.com/fke5NWHGTJ

— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) May 8, 2021

Well, it didn’t matter.

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So, now both Central Division playoff series are locked down: Hurricanes vs. Predators, and Panthers vs. Lightning. Maybe one or both of the Hurricanes and Predators will rest players in a final regular season that truly doesn’t have a lot at stake?

(Then again, hockey.)

If you’re wondering why some thought the Hurricanes might give the Stars a chance to steal that playoff berth from the Predators, well:

Confirmed: @Canes vs. @PredsNHL for the first time ever in the #StanleyCup Playoffs

Before we get there, Carolina and Nashville will meet for a second straight game on Monday – meaning up to nine consecutive games between the clubs by the end of the First Round. #NHLStatspic.twitter.com/Tgpz8jP15y

— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 9, 2021

As you can see, this will be the Hurricanes’ and Predators’ first head-to-head playoff series. No pressure, Juuse Saros.

Penguins clinch East Division title; Maple Leafs lock up top spot in North Division

In less do-or-die playoff clinching/division title notes:

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  • For the first time in 21 years, the Maple Leafs won a division title, locking up the top seed in the North Division. They also slowed down the Canadiens in their bid to clinch a playoff spot, and have been a thorn in Montreal’s side this season:

#LeafsForever clinch their first division title since 1999-00 & defeat the Canadiens 7 times in a season for the first time since 1965-66

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— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 9, 2021

  • Considering their lows earlier this season, this is hard to believe. It’s true, though: the Pittsburgh Penguins won the East Division title. It’s the Penguins’ first division title since 2013-14.

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It’s not yet clear who the Penguins will face in Round 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Either way, they’re resting until that starts, as they just played their 56th game of the season.

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Overall, teams clinched 15 of 16 spots in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ultimately, the Montreal Canadiens are most likely to be the last team to clinch a playoff spot, but we’ll see.

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James O’Brien is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at[email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.