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Birthday boy Callahan shoots down Wings

Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:55 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Birthday boy Callahan shoots down Wings
Ryan Callahan celebrated his 27th birthday by making 18,200 of his closest friends happy.
Ryan Callahan celebrated his 27th birthday by making 18,200 of his closest friends happy.

Callahan's goal 2:42 into overtime on Wednesday gave the New York Rangers a 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden -- and increased their lead over Pittsburgh in the race for first in the Eastern Conference to three points.

Callahan, the Rangers' captain, excelled at both ends of the ice. The game-winner was his eighth shot on goal; he also blocked two shots and chased down Pavel Datsyuk to break up a shorthanded breakaway.

"It's a great play by everyone involved," said Callahan, who had missed an open net in the second period.  "It was a good birthday gift. They tried to set me up in the second, but I missed a wide-open net. I had to respond back."

With eight games on Thursday's schedule, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after the five played on Wednesday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (99 points after Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win against Detroit) beat the Red Wings for the first time in six tries since 2003. Brad Richards had New York's lone goal in regulation and Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves for the Rangers, who finish a seven-game homestand Friday against Buffalo.

Boston (87 points) had a spirited 40-minute practice in San Jose on Wednesday, one day before beginning a three-game California swing against the Sharks. They headed West on a high note after pummeling Toronto 8-0 on Monday.

Florida (85 points after Wednesday's 3-1 loss at Carolina) saw its five-game winning streak come to an end in Raleigh despite Tomas Fleischmann's 23rd goal and 36 saves by Jose Theodore. The Panthers head home for weekend games against Edmonton and the Islanders after splitting a tough back-to-back with a win in Philadelphia and a loss to the 'Canes.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (96 points)
brings a 12-0-1 streak into Thursday's home game against Nashville (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). They've won eight in a row at Consol Energy Center and are 24-4-2 in their last 30 games.

Philadelphia (92 points) had an off-day before Washington comes to the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday. The Flyers announced that veteran defenseman Andrej Meszaros had back surgery and won't be back until May at the earliest. He's missed the last nine games.

New Jersey (89 points) had the first of two off-days before the struggling Maple Leafs visit Prudential Center on Friday night.

Ottawa (84 points) practiced without No. 1 center Jason Spezza, who missed Tuesday's 1-0 loss against New Jersey with an illness. Coach Paul MacLean is optimistic Spezza will be ready for Friday night's game at Montreal. Ottawa can use him -- the Senators have scored just three times in their last three games.

Washington (80 points) ends a five-game road trip in Philadelphia on Thursday before returning home to host Winnipeg on Friday.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (80 points after Wednesday's 3-0 win against Montreal)
pulled even in points with Washington as Ryan Miller stopped 34 shots for his sixth shutout of the season. Cody Hodgson scored his first two goals since being acquired by the Sabres at the trade deadline. The Sabres have played one more game than the Caps and have just three home games remaining.

Winnipeg (76 points) had the first of two off-days. The Jets have their biggest game of the season at Washington on Friday.

Carolina (75 points after Wednesday's 3-1 win against Florida) won its season-high fourth in a row and moved within five points of eighth place by knocking off the Panthers behind a pair of goals by Eric Staal and 30 saves by Cam Ward. The 'Canes have a day off before an inter-conference back-to-back with visits to Columbus on Friday and Detroit on Saturday.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

St. Louis (100 points after Wednesday's 4-3 loss at Anaheim) had three one-goal leads but couldn't hold off the Ducks, who scored twice after David Perron's goal 4:47 into the third period put the Blues ahead 3-2. St. Louis lost in regulation for the first time in 39 games this season when scoring three or more goals. The Blues continue their road trip Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Vancouver (95 points after Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss at Chicago) continues to struggle to put the puck in the net. Jannik Hansen's goal 27 seconds into the game gave the Canucks an early lead, but they were unable to score again and were outshot 37-24 -- Roberto Luongo's 35 saves earned them a point. The Canucks play the second half of a back-to-back at Dallas on Thursday.

Dallas (85 points) had the day off before Vancouver comes to the American Airlines Center on Thursday. The Stars signed 2007 draft pick Austin Smith, the NCAA's leader this season with 36 goals and a Hobey Baker Award finalist, to a contract after his college career at Colgate ended.

The next five:

Detroit (93 points after Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss at the New York Rangers)
got an early goal by Henrik Zetterberg but couldn't score again and lost to the Rangers for the first time since 2003. Ty Conklin, filling in for injured starter Jimmy Howard and backup Joey MacDonald, stopped 32 shots just hours after clearing waivers and returning from the AHL.

Nashville (92 points) spent its day off welcoming back Alexander Radulov, who left the Predators in 2008 to play in Russia. He skated at practice on the left of a line with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist. Radulov will travel with the team to Pittsburgh for Thursday's game, though GM David Poile wouldn't say if he'll play.

Chicago (92 points after Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win against Vancouver) won its fifth in a row when Andrew Shaw got a piece of Johnny Oduya's shot and deflected it into the net for the winner. Corey Crawford made 23 saves and has been the winning goaltender in all five games.

Colorado (85 points) visits Phoenix on Thursday -- after which the Avs have only six games remaining, the fewest of any Western playoff contender.

Los Angeles (84 points) puts its five-game winning streak on the line when the League-leading Blues come to Staples Center on Thursday. L.A. has won two of three this season against St. Louis after losing seven in a row.

On the outside looking in:

Phoenix (84 points)
will be without captain Shane Doan for Thursday's game with Colorado. Doan drew a three-game suspension from the NHL for a hit on Dallas' Jamie Benn in Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars.

San Jose (82 points) had a complete day off on Wednesday -- with nine games in 15 days, coach Todd McLellan decided rest was more important than practice for his slumping team, which hosts Boston on Thursday. The Sharks could have injured forwards Tommy Wingels and Michal Handzus back in the lineup against the Bruins.

Calgary (82 points) faces a must-win game at Minnesota on Thursday. The Flames are 0-1-2 in their last three games and have scored just once in each game.

Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals