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Caps clinch division, Habs wrap up playoff berth

Tuesday, 04.05.2011 / 11:55 PM / Countdown to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Caps clinch division, Habs wrap up playoff berth
As it turned out, the Washington Capitals didn't even need a victory to wrap up their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title.

The Caps were in the final minutes of regulation at Toronto when the scoreboard showed that Buffalo had beaten Tampa Bay 4-2, officially giving the Caps another Southeast title. But with first place in the Eastern Conference still up for grabs, a win was still important -- and the Caps got one by beating the Leafs 3-2 in a shootout.

Combined with Philadelphia's 5-2 loss at Ottawa, the Caps now lead the Flyers by two points in the race for the top seed in the conference.

The number of teams in the East who've punched their playoff tickets grew to six when Montreal beat Chicago 2-1 in overtime at a raucous Bell Centre. Buffalo, the New York Rangers and Carolina are jockeying for the last two spots.

In the West, Nashville jumped from sixth place to fourth with a 6-3 win against Atlanta.
Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Tuesday night's games:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Washington (105 points after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win at Toronto) was already assured of the division title by the time it went to overtime against the Leafs. The Caps then moved two points up on Philadelphia for the top spot in the East when Mike Knuble zipped a shot past Toronto rookie James Reimer in the fourth round of the shootout. The Caps go right back to work Wednesday night at home against last-place Florida -- and they could have All-Star defenseman Mike Green back in the lineup. GM George McPhee says Green is expected to play either Wednesday or Saturday against the Panthers.

Philadelphia (103 points after Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Ottawa) continued its late-season slide. Mike Richards scored twice, but the Flyers didn't do much else offensively as they lost their fourth in a row and fifth in six games. They also missed a chance to lock up the Atlantic Division title; the Flyers lead Pittsburgh by just one point.

Boston (99 points) is all but locked into third place in the East as it prepares for Wednesday night's home game against the Islanders.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points after Tuesday's 4-2 home win against New Jersey) capped its first regular season in the Consol Energy Center by beating the Devils behind a pair of goals by Pascal Dupuis. The win leaves the Penguins just one point behind Philadelphia for first in the Atlantic Division -- and three points ahead of fifth-place Tampa Bay in the race for the last home-ice berth in the opening round of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay (99 points after Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Buffalo) is all but locked in to fifth place after having its five-game winning streak snapped by the revved-up Sabres. Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone scored for the Lightning, who are off until finishing the season with a home game against Florida on Friday and a visit to Carolina on Saturday.

Montreal (93 points after Tuesday's 2-1 home OT win against Chicago) got an overtime power-play goal by P.K. Subban to officially punch its ticket to the playoffs. The real hero was goaltender Carey Price, whose team-record 71st appearance was one of his best -- Price stopped 42 shots to earn his 37th victory.

Buffalo (92 points after Tuesday's 4-2 home win against Tampa Bay) spotted the Lightning an early lead, but roared back behind a hat trick by Thomas Vanek, whose empty-netter wrapped up the victory and moved the Sabres into seventh place, one point ahead of the Rangers.

New York Rangers (91 points) had Tuesday off but suffered a major loss nonetheless. The Rangers announced that forward Ryan Callahan is out indefinitely after fracturing his right leg blocking a shot in the final minutes of Monday's 5-3 come-from-behind win against Boston.

On the outside looking in
:

Carolina (87 points) starts a season-ending stretch of three games in four nights by hosting Detroit in a must-win game on Wednesday. The 'Canes have to win out and hope the Rangers lose to either Atlanta or New Jersey.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (113 points after Tuesday's 2-0 loss at Edmonton) was swept in a home-and-home series by the 30th-place Oilers. Edmonton scored both of its goals on the power play -- the Canucks allowed four power-play goals in the two losses, knocking them out of the top spot in the penalty-killing rankings. The Canucks, who've already locked up the Presidents' Trophy, have games remaining against Minnesota and Calgary before the playoffs start next week.

San Jose (103 points) could have two individuals reach milestones when it visits Anaheim on Wednesday. Captain Joe Thornton is one point away from 1,000 for his career, while a victory will give coach Todd McLellan 152 in his first three seasons with the Sharks, tying him with Mike Keenan for the most in the first three seasons by an NHL coach.

Detroit (102 points) is still chasing San Jose for the No. 2 seed as it prepares for a rare visit to Carolina -- the Wings will be at the RBC Center for just the third time since January 2004. They will be without defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who will miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury.

The next five:

Nashville (97 points after Tuesday's 6-3 home win against Atlanta) got a pair of goals each by Jordin Tootoo and Sergei Kostitsyn to move within one point of clinching a playoff berth. The Predators are off again until Friday, when Columbus comes to Bridgestone Arena.

Phoenix (96 points) finally gets back onto the ice Wednesday at Los Angeles. The Coyotes have been off since Friday's 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado. The Coyotes expect to have forwards Lauri Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt back in the lineup against the Kings.

Los Angeles (96 points) announced that Jonathan Quick would be in goal for Wednesday's home game against Phoenix. Quick was lifted after allowing four goals in Monday's 6-1 loss at San Jose and has allowed three or more goals in three of his four starts against the Coyotes.

Anaheim (93 points) faces a tough test when San Jose comes to Honda Center on Wednesday. The Ducks will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss at the Shark Tank on Saturday, a game that saw them blow a 2-0 lead.

Chicago (93 points after Tuesday's 2-1 OT loss at Montreal) bombarded the Canadiens' net with 44 shots, but the only one that beat Carey Price came from Patrick Kane in the second period. The Hawks have scored just four times in their last four games as they come back home to face St. Louis on Wednesday before their home-and-home weekend series with Detroit.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (91 points after Tuesday's 3-0 home win against Columbus) made a first-period goal by Steve Ott stand up until the final minute, when the Stars hit the empty net twice. The Stars have three games remaining, all against non-playoff teams -- while Chicago has a game against the Blues and a home-and-home this weekend against Detroit.

Calgary (91 points) faces another must-win when Edmonton comes to Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday.
Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis