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Caps clinch playoff berth by beating Flyers

Wednesday, 03.23.2011 / 1:07 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Caps clinch playoff berth by beating Flyers
Add the Washington Capitals to the list of teams that have punched their tickets for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Despite playing without injured captain Alex Ovechkin, the Caps assured themselves of a playoff berth with a 5-4 shootout win in Philadelphia. Washington led 3-0 early in the second period but allowed four unanswered goals before Marcus Johansson tied it late in regulation and Alexander Semin got the winner in the shootout.

The Caps, now 11-1-0 in their last 12 games, increased their Southeast Division lead over Tampa Bay to seven points and are just one point behind the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

In the Western Conference, Nashville jumped over Chicago into sixth place by beating Edmonton 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena. The surging Predators have won four in a row and five of their last six.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (97 points after Tuesday's 5-4 home shootout loss to Washington) could have been blown out after falling behind 3-0, could have won in regulation after rallying to go ahead 4-3 -- but would up settling for one point after losing in a shootout. The one point was good enough to keep the Flyers on top in the Eastern Conference.

Washington (96 points after Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win at Philadelphia) continued its late surge by beating the Flyers in Philadelphia despite playing without Alex Ovechkin, who's expected to miss a week or so with an undisclosed injury. The Caps blew a 3-0 lead and had to rally from a 4-3 deficit to force OT before going a perfect 3-for-3 in the shootout, capped by Alexander Semin's game-deciding backhander.

Boston (90 points after Tuesday's 4-1 home win against New Jersey) snapped out of a 1-3-3 slump with a solid final two periods against the Devils. Zdeno Chara's second-period power-play goal broke a 1-1 tie, and the Bruins increased their lead Northeast Division lead over second-place Montreal to three points. Milan Lucic reached the 30-goal mark for the Bruins, the first Boston player to do so since Phil Kessel in 2008-09.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (92 points) had the first of two days off before visiting Philadelphia on Thursday and hosting New Jersey the next night.

Tampa Bay (89 points after Tuesday's 5-2 home loss to the Islanders) got off to a fast start when Nate Thompson scored against his old team just 61 seconds into the game. But the Islanders scored the next four goals, while the Lightning went 1-for-7 on the power play and surrendered two shorthanded goals as they fell to 2-5-4 in March.

Montreal (87 points after Tuesday's 2-0 home loss to Buffalo) followed up on a season-high eight-goal night in Minnesota on Sunday by putting up a goose egg against the Sabres. The Canadiens outshot Buffalo 31-24 but didn't generate a lot of chances and now have alternated wins and losses in the last six games after a five-game winning streak.

New York Rangers (84 points after Tuesday's 1-0 home win against Florida) got a third-period goal by Brandon Dubinsky to break a scoreless tie and beat the pesky Panthers. Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves for his League-leading 10th shutout as the Rangers won their fifth in a row, a season-high.

Buffalo (81 points after Tuesday's 2-0 win at Montreal) got two goals from Nathan Gerbe and a 31-save performance by Ryan Miller to beat the Canadiens in regulation for the first time in six tries this season. Gerbe scored midway through the second period and added an empty-netter to keep the Sabres three points clear of Carolina for the final playoff berth.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (78 points after Tuesday's 4-3 home win against Ottawa) spotted the Senators an early 2-0 lead before rallying to win a game it couldn't afford to lose. The 'Canes scored twice in 25 seconds to tie it before the end of the first period and got the go-ahead goal by Chad LaRose in the second. Cam Ward made 36 saves to keep the 'Canes in the hunt.

Toronto (76 points after Tuesday's 3-0 win at Minnesota) kept its flickering hopes alive by blanking the Wild in Minnesota despite getting only 17 shots on goal. James Reimer stopped all 29 shots he faced, and the Leafs got goals by Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and Carl Gunnarsson to stay within five points of eighth-place Buffalo.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (103 points)
completed a four-day break before starting a road trip with a visit to Detroit on Wednesday. Forward Mikael Samuelsson missed practice Tuesday and isn't likely to play against the Wings; the Canucks recalled Viktor Oreskovich from AHL Manitoba -- but defenseman Kevin Bieksa is likely to return after missing 15 games with a broken foot.

Detroit (95 points) won't have Todd Bertuzzi for Wednesday's game against Vancouver. He's out with a bad back. He joins Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler among the walking wounded. The Wings will get back defenseman Ruslan Salei -- he's returned to the team after being away for the birth of his third child.

San Jose (92 points) enjoyed a third day off before Calgary comes to the Shark Tank on Wednesday. It's likely to be the 29th consecutive start for goaltender Antti Niemi. Rookie forward Logan Couture skated at Tuesday's practice for the first time since being injured in Saturday night's win against St. Louis and said "it felt fine." Coach Todd McLellan wouldn't say if Couture would be ready to face the Flames.

The next five:

Phoenix (91 points after Tuesday's 2-1 home win against St. Louis) overcame a dreadful first period to beat the Blues and move within one point of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead. Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski scored in the second period and Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves as the Coyotes reached the 40-win mark for the second straight season, the first time they’ve done that in franchise history.

Los Angeles (88 points) may have paid a big price for the two points it got in Monday's 2-1 shootout win against Calgary. Justin Williams, the Kings' No. 2 scorer with 57 points, dislocated his shoulder in the win against the Flames and is expected to miss at least 3-4 weeks. L.A. called up Oscar Moller from AHL Manchester to take his place on the roster.

Nashville (88 points after Tuesday's 3-1 home win against Edmonton) raced out to a three-goal lead against the Oilers and never looked back to extend its winning streak to four games. Pekka Rinne faced just 20 shots, allowing only a second-period power-play goal to Jordan Eberle. David Legwand continued his offensive surge with a goal and an assist.

Chicago (86 points) gets a break from the schedule-maker -- the Hawks, off since Sunday's 2-1 win at Phoenix, host Florida on Wednesday night with the Panthers coming off a game in New York on Tuesday. The Hawks also got some good news on the injury front: 34-goal scorer Patrick Sharp, who left the game in Phoenix with a lower-body injury, is expected back before the end of the regular season.

Anaheim (85 points) begins a tough four-day stretch Wednesday night in Dallas. The Ducks then go to Nashville on Thursday and Chicago two nights later. Among those making the trip was goaltender Jonas Hiller, who hasn't played in five weeks with vertigo-like symptoms. Coach Randy Carlyle said he'll skate Wednesday, but there's no word on when he might play again.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (85 points) went back to the future for some help on defense, recalling 34-year-old Brad Lukowich from Texas of the AHL. Lukowich was a member of the Stars' Stanley Cup-winning team in 1999 and won another Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. He should be in the lineup when Anaheim comes to town on Wednesday.

Calgary (85 points) completes a grueling three games in four days with a visit to San Jose on Wednesday. The Flames earned single points in each of the two games. Calgary, which didn't skate on Tuesday, called up 2008 first-rounder Greg Nemisz from AHL Abbotsford to replace Niklas Hagman, who may have sustained a concussion on Monday in Los Angeles.
Quote of the Day

It's a little different but it feels amazing. A new chapter in my life and I'm excited. It's been amazing. Better than I expected. The weather is great, the place is just amazing. I can't say enough good things about it. I'm glad to get the season going.

— Ryan Kesler on his transition to the Anaheim Ducks