The Chicago Blackhawks
had gone from battling for first place in the West to fearing that they could drop out of the top eight -- that's what a nine-game losing streak can do to you.
But on Thursday night, the Hawks reverted to the team that looked like a title contender. In the eighth game of a nine-game trip, the Blackhawks went into Madison Square Garden, scored four times in the first 9:38 and beat the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers
' scored on a penalty shot 65 seconds after the opening faceoff, and Nick Leddy
, Patrick Sharp
and Marian Hossa
added goals to give the Hawks plenty of cushion. Corey Crawford
faced only 24 shots.
The Hawks (67 points) are now alone in sixth place, two points ahead of Phoenix and Los Angeles (65 points) as they prepare to wrap up their trip Saturday afternoon in Columbus.
In the East, Philadelphia moved into fourth place with a 7-2 win against the slumping Buffalo Sabres
thanks to a five-assist night by Claude Giroux
Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Thursday night's games:
New York Rangers (79 points after Thursday's 4-2 loss to Chicago)
paid the price for a bad start and saw their four-game winning streak end. New York, playing its seventh game in 12 days, got goals by Marc Staal
and Carl Hagelin
but was unable to dig out of the four-goal hole they fell into in the first half of the first period.
Boston (72 points)
headed for Winnipeg and Friday's game against the Jets, the second stop on a six-game trip. The Bruins left Montreal without forward Rich Peverley
, who was sent home for evaluation after a collision with Montreal's Hal Gill
in Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win.
Florida (65 points)
can help itself mightily by beating Washington when the Caps come to the BankAtlantic Center on Friday night.
The next five:
Philadelphia (71 points after Thursday's 7-2 win against Buffalo)
spotted the Sabres a 2-0 lead before finding its skating legs. Giroux matched the NHL's single-game season high with his five assists, and Wayne Simmonds
survived a puck to the face during warmups to score twice in the Flyers' four-goal second period -- while wearing a full cage to protect a 25-stitch cut. The Flyers also made a deal, bringing in defenseman Nicklas Grossman
from Dallas to help on the blue line.
Pittsburgh (69 points)
had the first of two days off before weekend visits to Philadelphia on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday.
New Jersey (68 points)
gets a rare visit from Anaheim on Friday -- the teams haven't met since Oct. 29, 2010, and the Ducks are coming to New Jersey for just the third time since Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.
Ottawa (68 points)
has to sit and hope that everyone else in the East doesn't pile up too many points over the weekend. The Senators, the first team in the NHL to reach 60 games played, are off until they visit the Islanders on Monday afternoon.
Toronto (64 points)
enjoyed an off-day in Vancouver after Wednesday's 4-3 overtime win gave the Leafs a split of two games in Alberta. They're off again Friday.
On the outside looking in:
Washington (61 points)
faces a big test when they visit Florida on Friday. The Caps have lost both previous visits to the BankAtlantic Center this season and bring a three-game losing streak into the opener of a four-game trip.
Winnipeg (60 points after Thursday's 4-3 shootout win at Minnesota)
doesn't get much of an opportunity to enjoy its victory against the Wild -- the Jets are back in action on Friday night as Boston comes to the MTS Centre for the first of eight straight home games.
Tampa Bay (56 points after a 6-5 overtime win against San Jose)
kept its flickering playoff hopes alive when Martin St. Louis
scored on the Bolts' lone shot on goal in overtime. Steven Stamkos
had two goals, giving him a League-leading 39, as the Lightning survived a 50-shot barrage by the Sharks.
New York Islanders (56 points after a 5-1 loss at St. Louis)
grabbed the lead 59 seconds into the game on a goal by Frans Nielsen
. But the Isles couldn't beat Brian Elliott
again, and the Blues overwhelmed the Islanders the rest of the way, ending New York's four-game winning streak on the road.
Montreal (56 points)
had Thursday off before visiting Buffalo on Friday. The Habs are 0-3-0 against the Sabres this season, with all three losses at home.
Detroit (80 points)
will try to extend its NHL record for consecutive home wins to 22 when Nashville comes to Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.
Vancouver (78 points)
had Thursday off after beating Colorado 3-1 at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night. As usual , the Canucks scored first in that game -- they've opened the scoring 38 times and are a League-best 31-6-1 when they do.
San Jose (69 points after Thursday's 6-5 overtime loss at Tampa Bay)
bombarded the Lightning with 50 shots and beat Dwayne Roloson
five times, but it wasn't enough on a night when both the defense and goaltender Antti Niemi
struggled. The Sharks are now 1-1-1 on their nine-game trip and visit Carolina on Friday -- when they'll likely have newcomer Dominic Moore
, who was acquired from the Lightning minutes before Thursday's faceoff.
The next five:
St. Louis (77 points after a 5-1 win against the Islanders)
continued its dominance of Eastern Conference teams. The Blues are 12-0-2 against the East this season and 13-0-2 since a loss on Long Island last March. Though the score wouldn't indicate it, Brian Elliott
had to be sharp in a 26-save performance that drew plaudits from his coach.
Nashville (72 points)
plays the first of two games on the road this weekend when it visits Detroit. The Predators were the Red Wings' sixth victim during their 21-game home winning streak, losing 4-1 on Nov. 26.
Chicago (67 points after Thursday's 4-2 win at the New York Rangers)
coasted after grabbing its 4-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old. It was the Hawks' first win in nearly four weeks -- they hadn't won since beating Florida 3-1 at home on Jan. 20, and had been winless on the road since winning 4-3 in Minnesota on Dec. 14.
Phoenix (65 points after Thursday's 1-0 win at Los Angeles)
leap-frogged the Kings thanks to 28 saves by Mike Smith
and Radim Vrbata
's power-play goal. The Coyotes went 1-0-1 on the road this week and are 6-0-1 in their last seven games as they head home to host Dallas on Saturday.
Los Angeles (65 points after Thursday's 1-0 loss to Phoenix)
continues to struggle to score. Jonathan Quick
allowed just one goal on 21 shots, but not even a late 6-on-4 advantage during a power play was enough to help the NHL's weakest offense turn on the red light.
On the outside looking in:
Calgary (63 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss at Dallas)
got a point against the Stars when Michael Cammalleri
scored late in the third period to force overtime, but had to settle for a single point with the OT loss. The Flames continue their road trip Saturday in Los Angeles.
Dallas (61 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime win against Calgary)
got one of the most spectacular goals of the season when Mike Ribeiro
scored 2:01 into overtime to beat Calgary. But there was a price: All-Star center Jamie Benn
left with a second-period leg injury and may not be able to play Saturday in Phoenix.
Colorado (60 points)
had to watch most of their rivals in the West add to their points totals on Thursday, making Friday's visit to Edmonton all the more important to the struggling Avs.
Minnesota (59 points after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss Winnipeg)
got two goals by Devin Setoguchi
but had to settle for one point when Nicklas Backstrom
was beaten twice in four tries in the shootout. The Wild are tied with New Jersey and Vancouver for the most shootouts played (12), but are just 5-7 in the tiebreaker.
Anaheim (57 points)
continues its eight-game trip Friday with a rare visit to New Jersey. The Ducks are 3-0-1 on the first half of their eight-game trip and come to Newark after a day off following back-to-back 2-1 wins at Minnesota and Pittsburgh.