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Stars and Kings take step toward playoffs

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:55 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Stars and Kings take step toward playoffs
The Stars and Kings both helped their playoff hopes with wins in Alberta on Wednesday night.
The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings are both spending the week in Western Canada. On Wednesday, the Pacific Division rivals both helped their playoff hopes with wins in Alberta.

The Stars jumped back into first place in the division and the third seed in the Western Conference by beating the Oilers 3-1 in Edmonton. The Stars' two "Mighty Mikes" -- Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro -- combined for all three goals and assisted on the other's tallies. The win, combined with San Jose's 3-1 loss in Anaheim, jumped the Stars back into the top spot.

Los Angeles leaped from ninth to seventh in the West by shutting down the Flames 3-0 in Calgary, as Jonathan Quick earned his team-record ninth shutout of the season.
 
The top four Pacific Division teams ended the night separated by just two points, with the Stars at 89, Los Angeles and San Jose with 88 and idle Phoenix ninth in the overall standings with 87. The Coyotes can jump back into the top eight by beating San Jose when the Sharks come to Jobing.com Arena on Thursday.

Wednesday was a night off for every potential playoff team in the East except the first-place Rangers. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up entering the seven games on Thursday's schedule:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:


New York Rangers (105 points after Wednesday's 4-2 win at Winnipeg) spotted the Jets a 2-0 lead before scoring four unanswered goals to complete a sweep of their three-game road trip and move back on top of the overall standings. Ryan Callahan led the rally with an assist and the game-tying goal in the second period before Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan scored in the third. The Rangers expanded their lead in the race for first place in the East to five points as they headed home to host Montreal on Friday.

Boston (93 points) was off on Wednesday. The Bruins take their first three-game winning streak since December into Thursday's home game against Washington (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US).

Florida (89 points)
continues its four-game road trip in Minnesota on Thursday, the first of three games in four nights. The Panthers lead the Southeast Division by five points.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (100 points) will get a second crack at the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum after losing 5-3 to the Isles at home on Tuesday -- a loss that damaged their hopes of catching the Rangers for first place. The Penguins still won't have defensemen Kris Letang or Matt Niskanen on Thursday -- but they will have goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who says he's fine after took a hit to the head from his own defenseman on the Isles' fifth goal Tuesday and didn't play the third period.

Philadelphia (96 points) will have Sergei Bobrovsky in goal for Thursday's game at Toronto while Ilya Bryzgalov deals with a chip fracture in his foot. It will be Bobrovsky's first start since March 11. His last win came against the Leafs on Feb. 9 in Philadelphia.

New Jersey (92 points) will be trying to revive its offense when Tampa Bay comes to Newark on Thursday night. New Jersey is 3-4-1 in its last eight games and has scored just 11 goals in that span. Coach Peter DeBoer gave his team the day off on Wednesday.

Ottawa (88 points) had the second of four off-days. The Senators don't play again until they visit Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

Buffalo (86 points) will be without defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for what coach Lindy Ruff called "a period of time" after leaving Tuesday's win in Washington with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Andrej Sekera (foot) and center Derek Roy (flu) skipped Wednesday's practice but are expected to play Friday against Pittsburgh.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (84 points) got some good news Wednesday when top-line center Nicklas Backstrom was cleared to play -- he's been out since suffering a concussion on Jan. 3. Coach Dale Hunter didn't indicate when Backstrom would return -- but did say it won't be Thursday night in Boston.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:


St. Louis (105 points) had the day off before visiting Chicago on Thursday night. The Blues then play their next three games at home, where they've won 30 of 38 games.

Vancouver (103 points after Wednesday's 1-0 win against Colorado) got just one goal for the second straight game -- and again made it stand up for a win. Chris Higgins' goal late in the first period was all the offense the Canucks could generate, but Cory Schneider stopped all 43 shots to shut out the Avs for the second time this season.

Dallas (89 points after Wednesday's 3-1 win at Edmonton) got two more goals from Michael Ryder, whose 35 for the season make him one of last summer's best free-agent signings. Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 shots as the Stars jumped back into the top spot in the Pacific Division.

The next five:

Detroit (97 points after Wednesday's 4-2 loss at Columbus) continues to have trouble winning away from home. After pummeling the last-place Blue Jackets in Detroit on Monday, the Wings were dominated for most of the return match at Columbus, managing only goals by Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall against a team starting a third-string goaltender who stopped 29 shots for his first NHL victory.

Nashville (96 points) clinched a playoff berth on the first of two days off before visiting Detroit on Friday night. A victory would be the 500th for coach Barry Trotz, the only bench boss in franchise history.

Chicago (93 points) had the day off before St. Louis comes to the United Center on Thursday night. The Hawks will again be without their best defenseman, Duncan Keith, who's still serving a five-game suspension.

Los Angeles (88 points after Wednesday's 3-0 win at Calgary) made life easy for Quick, who had to stop only 19 shots and was rarely tested. Willie Mitchell and Dustin Brown scored before Justin Williams put the puck into the empty net to ice the win and move the Kings up to seventh.

San Jose (88 points after Wednesday's 3-1 win at Anaheim) managed only one goal and lost to Anaheim for the fifth time in six games this season -- with all five losses in regulation. The Sharks get right back on the ice Thursday in Phoenix, then end the season with home-and-home series against division rivals Dallas and Los Angeles.

On the outside looking in:

Phoenix (87 points) had a third straight off-day before San Jose comes to the desert on Thursday. The good news for the Coyotes will be the return of captain Shane Doan, who has finished serving a three-game suspension.

Colorado (86 points after Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Vancouver) did everything but score in Vancouver -- the Avs outshot the Canucks 43-22 but couldn't put the puck in the net as Vancouver completed a six-game sweep this season. Colorado wraps up a Western Canada swing in Calgary on Friday, but then has six days off before finishing the season with two games at home -- and by then, it might be too late.

Calgary (85 points after Wednesday's 3-0 loss to Los Angeles) is also running out of time after failing to score against Los Angeles. The Flames had just 19 shots on goal -- just four in the third period.
Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery