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Kings reign again in Pacific

Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 1:35 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Kings reign again in Pacific
L.A. jumped into the top spot in the NHL's most tightly contested division on Friday, stifling the Oilers 4-1, while the Stars were losing.
It's the Los Angeles Kings' turn to be first in the Pacific Division, at least for a night.

L.A. jumped into the top spot in the NHL's most tightly contested division on Friday night by stifling the Oilers in a 4-1 win at Edmonton while the Dallas Stars were losing 5-2 at Vancouver.

Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist for the Kings, who won for the eighth time in 10 games. The Kings then watched as the Canucks rode a 28-save performance by emergency starter Cory Schneider to victory against the Stars.

The division rivals nearly flipped positions -- L.A. went from eighth in the West to third with 90 points, while the Stars dropped from third to seventh, pushing Phoenix into eighth. Both Dallas and the Coyotes have 89 points; the Stars have more non-overtime wins.

The Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers beat Montreal 4-1 to move atop the overall standings.

Saturday is a full day, with 12 games on the schedule. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up following the eight games on Friday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (107 points after Friday's 4-1 win against Montreal) cruised past the last-place Canadiens as defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored twice. The Rangers are now three points short of clinching first place in the East and begin the day ahead of the pack in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.

Boston (94 points) clinched a playoff berth when Buffalo lost on Friday. The Bruins won't have defenseman Adam McQuaid available for this weekend's road games against the Islanders and Rangers. But defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said the laceration on his left leg he suffered last Saturday is feeling better. He's listed as day-to-day.

Florida (90 points after Friday's 4-1 loss at Columbus) hit a pothole on the way to ending a playoff drought that extends back to 2000 when it couldn't beat the last-place Blue Jackets. The Panthers got only one of their 31 shots behind rookie goaltender Allen York and lost for the second time in two nights. Florida is 1-1-1 entering the finale of a four-game trip in Detroit on Sunday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points after Friday's 5-3 win at Buffalo)
rebounded after two poor efforts in losses to the Islanders as Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists. Crosby became the seventh-youngest player to reach the 600-point mark in his career -- and the youngest since Pierre Turgeon 18 years ago. The Penguins host Philadelphia on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Philadelphia (98 points) will probably be without starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for this weekend's games against Ottawa on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN-US; CBC, RDS2) and at Pittsburgh on Sunday due to a chip fracture in his foot -- though Bryzgalov did take part in Friday's practice. GM Paul Holmgren did say defenseman Kimmo Timonen should be ready to go against the Senators.

New Jersey (94 points) had a full practice on Friday before flying to Carolina for a game on Saturday night. Defenseman Adam Larsson, a healthy scratch for wins against Chicago and Tampa Bay, may be back in the lineup against the 'Canes.

Ottawa (88 points) will start Craig Anderson in goal at Philadelphia on Saturday. He's won his last two starts.

Washington (86 points) moved back into the top eight without lifting a finger thanks to Buffalo's loss. The Caps had an optional practice Friday before Saturday's visit by Montreal -- and among those on the ice was center Nicklas Backstrom, who may be ready to return against the Canadiens or against Tampa Bay on Monday. He's been out since Jan. 3 with a concussion.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (86 points after Friday's 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh)
came up short against Pittsburgh and fell out of the top eight. The Sabres never led, and Ryan Miller looked merely mortal while stopping 29 shots. The Sabres don't have any time to feel sorry for themselves; they are back in action Saturday night in Toronto.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

St. Louis (106 points) can clinch the Central Division title by beating Columbus at home on Saturday night.

Vancouver (105 points after Friday's 5-2 win against Dallas) had planned to play Roberto Luongo in goal against the Stars, but had to go with Cory Schneider when Luongo hurt his neck during warmups. Schneider was superb while stopping 28 shots, and the Canucks erupted for five goals after winning their previous two games 1-0.

Los Angeles (90 points after Friday's 4-1 win at Edmonton) completed a sweep of the two Alberta teams by limiting the Oilers to 14 shots, making life easy for Jonathan Quick. Something that isn't easy is the Kings' schedule -- they got on a plane right after the game to get to St. Paul, where they face the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.

The next five:

Nashville (98 points after Friday's 4-1 win in Detroit)
recorded the 500th victory in franchise history by beating the Wings at Joe Louis Arena. All 500 wins have come with Barry Trotz behind the bench and David Poile in the general manager's office. The Predators will go for No. 501 when Chicago comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.

Detroit (97 points after Friday's 4-1 loss to Nashville) never got anything going against the Predators and dropped to fifth place -- meaning that they would open their first playoff series on the road. Jiri Hudler's goal with 3:03 left in regulation was the only one of the Wings' 32 shots to beat Pekka Rinne. The Wings are off until Florida comes to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.

Chicago (95 points) takes a 12-5-2 record without captain Jonathan Toews into Saturday's game at Nashville. Toews has been out since Feb. 19 with a concussion but is close to returning -- though he won't play this weekend.

Dallas (89 points after Friday's 5-2 loss at Vancouver) got goals by Steve Ott and Jake Dowell, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep them in first place. Starting Kari Lehtonen was lifted after the Canucks made it 4-1 in the third period -- likely to give him some extra rest before the Stars complete a tough back-to-back in San Jose on Saturday night.

Phoenix (89 points) had Friday off before welcoming Anaheim to the desert on Saturday. Three of the Coyotes' last four games are against teams that will miss the playoffs.

On the outside looking in:

San Jose (88 points)
didn't practice Friday, as coach Todd McLellan canceled the workout because he felt his team needed rest rather than work during a stretch of 14 games in 24 days. The Sharks host Dallas on Saturday in the start of a home-and-home series and may have defenseman Douglas Murray (ankle) back in the lineup.

Colorado (88 points after Friday's 4-1 win at Calgary) got 38 saves by Semyon Varlamov to beat the Flames in a game that would all but assure the loser of an early vacation. The hard part for the Avs is that for the next six days, all they can do is watch and hope -- Colorado is off until Thursday, when Columbus comes to Pepsi Center. The Avs could be out by then.
Quote of the Day

When things aren't going well for us in this city [Toronto], I think there is a lot of overanalyzing going on. You've got the most passionate fans in the world here and a lot of (media) coverage, so you know there's going to be a lot of people giving their two cents worth on us.

— Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk after a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday
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