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Devils, Blackhawks clinch playoff berths

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 1:30 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Devils, Blackhawks clinch playoff berths
The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks were formally invited to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday night.
The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks were formally invited to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday night.

Neither team backed its way in, either.

The Devils, who missed the postseason in 2011, are in for the 20th time in 22 seasons after Saturday's 5-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. David Clarkson scored his 30th goal of the season, while Martin Brodeur stopped all 22 shots he faced to help New Jersey clinch a playoff berth.

"I didn't think [missing the playoffs] was going to bother me because we were out for so long early in the season with the tough start we had," Brodeur said. "But when I started watching a little hockey in the second or third round, I was like, 'Wow, I'm really missing this atmosphere.'"

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are in for a fourth straight year after edging the Nashville Predators 5-4 at Bridgestone Arena. Chicago blew a 4-0 lead but managed to escape as Brent Seabrook broke the briefly-tied affair midway through the third period.

"I think it's great. This time, we don't have to wait for someone else to do it for us," forward Marian Hossa said. "We did it for ourselves. It's a huge win on Nashville ice."

Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up following the 12 games on Saturday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (107 points) were idle Saturday. The Blueshirts will host Boston on Sunday night.

Boston (96 points after Saturday's 6-3 win at N.Y. Islanders) found itself in a 2-2 game after 40 minutes but took over in the third to beat the Isles on Saturday afternoon. The Bruins headed from Long Island to Manhattan, where they'll face the Rangers on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN/TSN2).

Florida (90 points) did not play Saturday. The Panthers are 1-1-1 entering the finale of a four-game trip in Detroit on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points) was idle Saturday. The Penguins host Philadelphia on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Philadelphia (99 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa) managed only one point on home ice Saturday afternoon against the Senators. Still three points behind Pittsburgh for the No. 4 seed, the Flyers will visit the Steel City on Sunday.

New Jersey (96 points after Saturday's 5-0 win at Carolina) is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus after blowing out the Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Devils will host the Islanders on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.

Ottawa (90 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win at Philadelphia) picked up two big points at the Wells Fargo Center to start the weekend on a winning note. The Senators headed up Interstate 95 after the game; they'll visit the Islanders on Sunday afternoon.

Washington (88 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win against Montreal) blew a 2-0 lead against the last-place Habs but won the tiebreaker to move two points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo, which lost at Toronto. Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup for the Capitals, who will visit Tampa Bay on Monday.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (86 points after Saturday's 4-3 loss at Toronto)
is in the midst of a skid at the worst possible time, as it left Toronto without any points and fell two behind No. 8 Washington. The Sabres conclude their home-and-home series with the Leafs on Tuesday night in Buffalo.


Division leaders:

Vancouver (107 points after Saturday's 3-2 overtime win against Calgary) won its sixth straight and moved into first place as Andrew Ebbett scored in OT at Rogers Arena. The Canucks host Anaheim on Tuesday night.

St. Louis (106 points after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Columbus) clinched the Central Division title despite losing on home ice to the Blue Jackets, thanks to Chicago's win at Nashville. However, the Blues fell into second place in the conference thanks to Vancouver's win against Calgary. St. Louis is off until Wednesday, when it hosts Detroit.

Los Angeles (91 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss at Minnesota) managed only one point against the Wild as Niklas Backstrom bested Jonathan Bernier in the shootout at the Xcel Energy Center. The Kings return home to face Edmonton on Monday night.

The next five:

Nashville (98 points after Saturday's 5-4 loss to Chicago) rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game, but allowed the Hawks to score shortly after Shea Weber's tying goal as the Predators lost on home ice to the Blackhawks. The Predators return to action Tuesday night against Minnesota.

Detroit (97 points) was idle Saturday. The Red Wings host Florida at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.

Chicago (97 points after Saturday's 5-4 win at Nashville) blew a 4-0 lead but managed to leave Bridgestone Arena with two points thanks to a game-winning goal from Brent Seabrook. The Blackhawks, who learned that captain Jonathan Toews has been cleared for contact, host Minnesota on Sunday night.

Phoenix (91 points after Saturday's 4-0 win against Anaheim) received a sterling 44-save performance from Mike Smith and blanked the Ducks on Fan Appreciation Night at Jobing.com Arena. The Coyotes play their final home game Tuesday night against Columbus.

San Jose (90 points after Saturday's 3-0 win against Dallas) picked up two huge points on the Stars at HP Pavilion by winning the front end of a home-and-home series. The teams will face each other again on Tuesday night in Dallas.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (89 points after Saturday's 3-0 loss at San Jose) was shut out and fell to 1-11-2 in the second game of back-to-backs. Now in ninth place, the Stars will host the Sharks on Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.

Colorado (88 points) was idle Saturday. The Avs can nothing but sit and watch as they're off for another five days before hosting Columbus on Thursday night.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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