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Northeast: Sabres take division, return to playoffs

Wednesday, 04.07.2010 / 12:27 PM / Division Notebooks

By James Murphy - NHL.com Correspondent

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Northeast: Sabres take division, return to playoffs
After two seasons on the sidelines, the Buffalo Sabres have won the Northeast Division and are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Buffalo Sabres clinched the Northeast Division, their sixth division title in team history, with a 5-2 win against the Rangers Tuesday night. After two straight non-playoff seasons, the Sabres are back in the postseason with either the second or, at worst, the third seed in the East.
 
"You don't play the season to finish second or third in your division," coach Lindy Ruff said. "You play to win your division, and they've got to take pride in that. They put in a lot of work. We surprised a few teams, but in the end I think we were deserving of where we were at."
 
The last time the Sabres won the Northeast Division was in 2007.
 
"It feels good," Vezina and Hart Trophy candidate Ryan Miller said. "It's something we were hoping to accomplish at the start of the season. It's one stop along the way."
 
Rookie Tyler Ennis paved the way against the Rangers with a goal and 2 assists.
 
Habs have to try again -- The Canadiens were 2:01 away from clinching a playoff spot Tuesday night, but the Islanders' Frans Nielsen decided to postpone the party. Nielsen tied the game with a late goal and then scored in the shootout for a 4-3 Islanders win. Now the Habs will have to wait to seal a spot in the playoffs, though it is highly unlikely they won't qualify. Still, Montreal players would like to get it done and not worry about scoreboard watching still.
 
"I was looking at the scoreboard in the third period," forward Tomas Plekanec admitted Tuesday. "I saw the Rangers were down (in Buffalo). But we were trying to focus on our game."
 
"It's just an empty feeling knowing that we let that extra point slip away," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We didn't play our best tonight, and that's the disappointing part. It's frustrating right now because that was a big extra point."
 
One of the reasons the Habs are in a position to clinch right now has been the play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. He was named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the second time this season after Halak became the first Canadiens goaltender in four years to post back-to-back shutouts when he blanked the Flyers 1-0 in Philadelphia Friday and then came right back with a 3-0 shutout of Buffalo Saturday. Halak is 9-2-1 in his last 12 starts, allowing just 20 goals during that stretch. He is 26-12-4 with a 2.32 goal-against average and .927 save percentage.
 
Bruins still battling -- The Bruins are still battling for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and one of the main reasons they could still finish as high as sixth place is rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week this past Monday after posting a 2-1-0 record with a 0.55 goals-against average, .977 save percentage and one shutout in four appearances. Rask is 20-12-5 with a League-leading 1.99 goals-against average and .930 save percentage to go with five shutouts.
 
The Finnish netminder is now getting Calder Trophy consideration, but as head coach Claude Julien pointed out, Rask is playing more like a seasoned veteran these days.
 
"What he has done for us has been unbelievable," Julien said. "For a guy who is considered a rookie, I think he is handling himself tremendously."
 
The Bruins will need Rask in this final push for the playoffs and the postseason because their defense is getting thinner and thinner. After losing Andrew Ference to groin and hernia problems, they lost Mark Stuart and Dennis Seidenberg for at least the remainder of the regular season, and Zdeno Chara is now playing with a broken nose. Stuart had surgery done on his finger that became infected with cellulitis and Seidenberg had surgery to repair a lacerated flexor carpi radialis tendon in his left forearm after being slashed by a skate during the Bruins' 2-1 overtime win at Toronto Saturday.
 
Gustavsson a Masterton nominee -- Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was nominated for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy.
 
Known as "The Monster," Gustavsson lost his mother and then underwent two heart surgeries as he tried to transition to the NHL and living in North America this season. The award is given by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to the player that exemplifies "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
 
"It's an honor to be nominated for the award," Gustavsson said after the morning skate before the Leafs-Flyers game Tuesday night. "It's not the award I grew up thinking I want to win. But to be able to play hockey, that's what I like. I don't need an award for that. It's fun to be appreciated. This is a sign of that. It's been (a season) of ups and downs, but you can't break down and feel sorry for yourself. You have to appreciate all the fun stuff you can do. I can do what I love most, which is to play hockey."
 
Around the Northeast -- The Sabres are still missing Tim Connolly (foot), Thomas Vanek (lower body) and Patrick Kaleta (thumb). Vanek is hoping to be back by the weekend while Connolly and Kaleta are aiming for the playoffs. ... Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek missed Tuesday's game and the previous two games with the flu, but is expected to be back for the Habs' game at Carolina Thursday. ... Ottawa forward Milan Michalek missed Tuesday's game with a knee injury and is day-to-day. Sens coach Cory Clouston said Michalek is likely to return on Thursday against Tampa Bay.



Quote of the Day

There's no discouragement in that room. There's no issues there at all to be honest with you. It's more about, 'Hey, it's opportunities for players.' And if we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club. So this is part of sports. It's part of hockey.

— Bruins coach Claude Julien on the loss of Zdeno Chara to injury
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