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Sabres whip Caps to grab 8th place in East

Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:17 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Sabres whip Caps to grab 8th place in East
Less than six weeks after being left for dead in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Buffalo Sabres are the proud owners of eighth place.
Less than six weeks after being left for dead in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Buffalo Sabres are the proud owners of eighth place.

The Sabres moved into the top eight with a flourish, routing the Capitals 5-1 in Washington to move two points in front of the Caps with five games remaining for each team. Ryan Miller continued his hot streak in goal by stopping 44 of 45 shots, while the Sabres took advantage of a shaky night by rookie Braden Holtby, who was lifted after allowing three goals on just 18 shots.

Drew Stafford had a pair of goals for the Sabres, who have won five in a row and are 7-0-2 in their last nine games and 19-5-5 in their last 29.

Tuesday was a breather for teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones -- none of them took part in any of the eight games on the schedule. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up entering the six games on Wednesday's slate:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:


New York Rangers (103 points after Tuesday's 3-2 win at Minnesota) made it two wins in as many games on their current road trip by outlasting the pesky Wild. Ruslan Fedotenko's third-period goal broke a 2-2 tie and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots as the Rangers stretched their lead in the race for first place in the conference to three points. They visit Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Boston (93 points after Tuesday's 4-2 win against Tampa Bay) won its third in a row for the first time since December. Benoit Pouliot broke a 2-2 tie 11:34 into the third period, and Brad Marchand added an insurance goal. Boston dominated play for most of the night, outshooting Tampa Bay 38-18.

Florida (89 points after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win at Montreal) found a team that struggles in shootouts as much as it does and got the extra point by beating the Canadiens -- Montreal's eighth home shootout loss of the season. Wojtek Wolski scored in regulation and got the only goal of the tiebreaker as Florida stretched its lead in the Southeast Division to five points.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (100 points after Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders) got two goals by James Neal and two assists from Evgeni Malkin, but saw their 13-game home winning streak against the Islanders end despite outshooting the visitors 54-25. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed five goals in two periods before being lifted.

Philadelphia (96 points) had the day off -- and won't have starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov available for Thursday's game at Toronto. The Flyers said Tuesday that an MRI showed Bryzgalov suffered a chip fracture in warmups before Monday's 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay. GM Paul Holmgren said Bryzgalov could be back at practice by Friday; Jason Bacashihua was recalled from Adirondack of the AHL to back up Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey (92 points after Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win against Chicago) won for the 12th time in 16 shootouts when Travis Zajac scored in the fifth round of the tiebreaker. The Devil were outshot 38-22 through 65 minutes but got a 37-save performance by Martin Brodeur.

Ottawa (88 points) had the first of four off-days following Monday's 6-4 win at Winnipeg. The Senators don't play again until they visit Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

Buffalo (86 points after Tuesday's 5-1 win at Washington) rolled over the Capitals despite losing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff with a lower-body injury following a knee-on-knee collision in the second period. He'll have a couple of days to heal before the Sabres host Pittsburgh on Friday night. The Sabres are 14-2-3 since Feb. 19, when they were last in the East.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (84 points after Tuesday's 5-1 loss to Buffalo) managed only a second-period goal by Alexander Semin on 45 shots against Miller. The schedule doesn't get any easier -- the Caps visit Boston on Thursday night.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:


St. Louis (105 points after Tuesday's 3-0 win against Nashville) is riding another hot streak by goaltender Brian Elliott, who stopped 24 shots for his third consecutive shutout, tying a franchise mark set by Greg Millen in December 1988. His shutout streak is at 185:33, passing the previous Blues record held by Manny Legace.

Vancouver (101 points) had Tuesday off after beating Los Angeles 1-0 on Monday night. The Canucks host Colorado on Wednesday.

San Jose (88 points) spent the day atop the Pacific Division after beating Colorado 5-1 on Monday. The Sharks visit Anaheim on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Center Logan Couture was back at practice Tuesday after missing the final minutes of Monday's victory after being hit in the torso by a puck.

The next five:

Detroit (97 points) was off on Tuesday. The Wings try to sweep a home-and-home against the Blue Jackets when they visit Columbus on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Nashville (96 points after Tuesday's 3-0 loss at St. Louis) missed a chance to move back in front of Detroit for fourth place by losing in St. Louis. The Predators have two days off before visiting the Wings on Friday and hosting Chicago on Saturday.

Chicago (93 points after Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss at New Jersey) dominated the Devils for most of the night but managed only a third-period goal by Brent Seabrook and wound up having to settle for one point.

Dallas (87 points) continues its week on the road with a stop in Edmonton on Wednesday. The Stars fell out of first place in the Pacific Division by losing at Calgary on Monday.

Phoenix (87 points) is the only team in the NHL that plays just twice this week. The Coyotes are off until San Jose comes to the desert on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (86 points) had a "recovery day" in Calgary, as coach Darryl Sutter decided to call off practice and give his team a day of rest before the Kings continue their road trip by facing the Flames on Wednesday night.

Colorado (86 points) faces must-win games in Vancouver on Wednesday and Calgary on Friday -- after that, the Avs are off until the following Thursday.

Calgary (85 points) won one must-win game by beating Dallas on Monday. The Flames face another one when the Kings come to Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday night.
Quote of the Day

I think that’s the sign of a good team. When you don’t play well, and you don’t stay focused and you don’t do the intangibles that it takes, you still win the hockey game.

— New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano after their win vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday
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