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Pens, Habs, Caps and Stars help themselves

Sunday, 02.27.2011 / 1:31 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Pens, Habs, Caps and Stars help themselves
With six weeks to go in the regular season and only about 24 hours to go before the trade deadline, the NHL playoff races just keep getting closer.
The NHL regular season ends six weeks from today, and 25 of the 30 teams are within nine points of a playoff berth.

The trade deadline is just over 24 hours away, and the outcome of Sunday's eight games will no doubt have a hand in determining which teams plan to be buyers and sellers before the deadline passes at 3 p.m. ET on Monday.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Saturday night's games:

Eastern Conference


Division leaders:

Philadelphia (86 points after Saturday's 4-1 loss at Ottawa) is probably glad there are no more trips to Scotiabank Place on the schedule. The last-place Senators, playing with a pieced-together lineup due to injuries and trades, got 30 saves by Craig Anderson and handed the Flyers their sixth consecutive loss in Ottawa. The Flyers played without star defenseman Chris Pronger, who injured his hand Thursday night.

Tampa Bay (79 points) hits the road for the first time in more than a month. The Lightning start a three-game trip Sunday afternoon in New York. They are 3-0-0 against the Rangers.

Boston (77 points after a 3-1 win at Vancouver) continues to shine on the road. The victory at Vancouver was their fourth in as many games on their current trip. Vancouver native Milan Lucic had a pair of assists and the game-winning goal in his hometown. The Bruins visit Edmonton on Sunday and Ottawa on Tuesday before heading home.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (80 points after Saturday's 6-5 shootout win at Toronto) continues to find ways to get enough goals and points to stay within hailing distance of the Flyers in the Atlantic Division and hold onto fourth in the East. The Penguins, playing the second half of a back-to-back, overcame four one-goal deficits in Toronto and won in a shootout. Newcomer Alex Kovalev had a goal during regulation and the shootout winner.

Washington (76 points after Saturday's 3-2 road win against the Islanders) looked like it was going to be run out of the Nassau Coliseum before rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Islanders. Brooks Laich led the comeback with a goal and an assist -- and Michal Neuvirth made it possible with a superb 29-save performance that gave the Caps a chance to come back.

Montreal
(73 points after Saturday's 4-3 home win against Carolina) was able to go home with two points despite having to give starting goaltender Carey Price the night off due to the flu. Alex Auld, who was yanked on Thursday after allowing three goals on nine shots in a loss to Toronto, held off the 'Canes until Andrei Kostitsyn scored with 3:53 remaining to break a 3-3 tie.

New York Rangers
(70 points) spent their day off adding help on the blue line. The Rangers brought in 35-year-old Bryan McCabe from Florida in a deal that cost them only minor-league forward Tim Kennedy and a draft pick. McCabe should give the Rangers additional offense and experience on the blue line.

Carolina
(67 points after Saturday's 4-3 loss at Montreal) nearly got a point in Montreal despite playing without captain and top scorer Eric Staal, who didn't make the trip after leaving Friday with an upper-body injury. Bigger than the loss is the question of when Staal will be able to return -- coach Paul Maurice hopes he'll be back Tuesday, when Florida comes to the RBC Center.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (65 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss at home to Detroit) let one get away in the finale of what turned out to be a disappointing six-game homestand. The Sabres led 2-0 midway through the game and 2-1 entering the final minute, only to allow the tying goal and lose in the shootout, capping a 2-3-1 homestand. Buffalo, which has two games in hand on Carolina, starts a seven-game trip Tuesday in New York.

Toronto (62 points after a 6-5 shootout loss at home to Pittsburgh) paid the price for sloppy work in its own zone, twice letting leads slip away in the third period against a team playing without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and several other top forwards. The Leafs gave rookie goalie James Reimer little help. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has served as Reimer's backup in the last two games; with the tight schedule, it's not impossible he could play Sunday in Atlanta.

Atlanta (61 points) has to take advantage of its home games to get back into the top eight -- and the Thrashers will never have a better chance than Sunday, when Toronto comes to town for a 5 p.m. ET start after a grueling home loss to Pittsburgh.

Florida (59 points) will be minus just-traded captain Bryan McCabe when New Jersey comes to the BankAtlantic Center on Sunday. The result of that game could help determine how much wheeling and dealing GM Dale Tallon does before Monday's trade deadline.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (87 points after Saturday's 3-1 home loss to Boston) has hit something of a lull. The Canucks have been alternating wins and losses for the past couple of weeks, and they couldn't find the extra gear they needed against the feisty Bruins. Vancouver is still cruising in the Northwest Division, but will have to step it up to stay on top in the West and the overall standings.

Detroit (82 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win at Buffalo) showed the mettle of a champion by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win at Buffalo. Pavel Datsyuk made it 2-1, Jiri Hudler tied it with 58 seconds left in regulation and both players scored against Ryan Miller in the shootout as the Wings got two points behind backup goalie Joey MacDonald.

San Jose (78 points) has the weekend off and doesn't play again until Tuesday. The Sharks are home for their next six games and 13 of their last 19.

The next five:


Phoenix (75 points) had a much-needed day off before Sunday's visit to Chicago (NHL Network-U.S., 7 p.m. ET). The usually reliable Coyotes defense has been riddled for 13 goals in back-to-back losses at Tampa Bay and Columbus.

Los Angeles (74 points after Saturday's 4-3 home win against Colorado) nearly wasted a 4-0 third-period lead against the struggling Avs. L.A. looked to be cruising before running into late penalty trouble and nearly blowing what looked like a safe lead. The Kings play their next four at home, including Monday night against Detroit.

Minnesota (72 points) flew home after Friday's 3-2 OT win at Anaheim gave them a split in  Southern California. The Wild is off until Chicago comes to the Xcel Energy Center on Monday, then go right back on the road.

Dallas (72 points after Saturday's 3-2 home win against Nashville) may have put the wheels back. The Stars have won back-to-back games after a 1-8-1 slide dropped them out of the top eight in the West. Newcomer Alex Goligoski scored the tying goal and set up the game-winner as the Stars rallied from a 2-1 deficit after two periods.

Calgary (71 points) completes a five-game homestand by hosting St. Louis on Sunday. The Flames then head to the Midwest for games in St. Louis on Tuesday and Chicago on Wednesday.

On the outside looking in:


Chicago (70 points) starts a busy week when Phoenix comes to the United Center on Sunday. The Hawks have five games in seven days, including two sets of back-to-backs.

Nashville (70 points after Saturday's 3-2 loss at Dallas) is a prime example of what can happen when you have a bad week. The Predators, seemingly safe in the top eight, are down to 10th after losing their last four games. Saturday's loss was especially painful -- Nashville led 2-1 after 40 minutes but couldn’t close out the Stars. The Preds host Columbus on Sunday afternoon.

Anaheim (69 points) faces a huge game at home against Colorado on Sunday. The Ducks have dropped out of the top eight by losing five in a row, and the point they got in Friday's 3-2 OT loss to Minnesota wasn't much consolation.

Columbus (68 points) is heating up at the right time. But the Jackets (8-1-1 in their last 10) better stay hot -- they start a five-game trip Sunday in Nashville, then head to Western Canada for the next three.

St. Louis (65 points) split the first two games of its swing through Western Canada and helped itself hugely with a 5-0 win at Edmonton on Friday. The Blues, who play Sunday at Calgary, can't afford many more losses -- not with four teams between them and eighth place.

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players