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Bruins win Northeast, Senators clinch playoff berth

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 10:29 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Bruins win Northeast, Senators clinch playoff berth
The Sens clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, but they'll have to settle for second place in their division, as the Bruins took the Northeast crown.
The Ottawa Senators spent most of the season trying to catch the Boston Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division. They'll have to settle for second place -- but a playoff berth isn't a bad consolation prize.

The Bruins assured themselves of a second straight division title when they edged the New York Rangers 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron scored second-period goals for Boston. Tim Thomas made the lead stand up with 33 saves as the Bruins beat the Rangers for the first time in four tries this season.

Boston's win came about four hours after the Senators added their name to the list of playoff qualifiers by polishing off the New York Islanders 5-1. Kyle Turris scored twice and set up two goals for the Senators, who've won four in a row. Ottawa is likely to finish seventh in the East -- which would earn the Senators a first-round meeting with the Bruins.

Most of the NHL takes a breather on Monday, with only two games on the schedule. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up following the six games played Sunday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (107 points after Sunday's 2-1 loss to Boston) missed a chance to lock up first place in the East when they couldn't beat the Bruins at Madison Square Garden. Marian Gaborik's 40th goal of the season gave them an early lead, but New York didn't score again and allowed two goals in the second period. The Rangers can clinch the East with a point in any of their last three games.

Boston (98 points after Sunday's 2-1 win at New York Rangers) wrapped up a successful weekend trip to the New York area by beating the Rangers after winning on Long Island a day before. The Bruins are locked into the second seed in the East with three games left in their season.

Florida (91 points after Sunday's 2-1 shootout loss at Detroit) is edging toward the end of its playoff slump point-by-point. The Panthers couldn't hold a 1-0 third-period lead in Detroit, then lost for the 11th time in 17 shootouts. But the single point moved them three in front of Washington in the Southeast Division race and five ahead of ninth-place Buffalo with three games remaining.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points after Sunday's 6-4 loss to Philadelphia)
saw any hopes of catching the Rangers all but disappear when they couldn't beat the Flyers after taking a 2-0 lead. The Penguins' task now is to hold off the Flyers for fourth place and the extra home game in their first-round series.

Philadelphia (101 points after Sunday's 6-4 win at Pittsburgh) made it five wins in as many visits to the Consol Energy Center since the Penguins opened their new arena in 2010. The Flyers scored five unanswered goals after spotting Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 43 saves. Philadelphia has three games remaining, including another trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday that's likely to decide where their playoff series will start.

New Jersey (96 points) had the first of two off-days before the New York Islanders come to Newark on Tuesday. The Devils clinched a playoff berth on Saturday and are almost assured of finishing sixth.

Ottawa (92 points after Sunday's 5-1 win at New York Islanders) joined the list of teams that have locked up a playoff berth by beating the listless Islanders. Kyle Turris' four-point day more than made up for the absence of Daniel Alfredsson (flu) and Jason Spezza (childbirth). The Senators trail sixth-place New Jersey by four points and lead eighth-place Washington by four.

Washington (88 points) will try to ride goaltender Michal Neuvirth into the playoffs as they visit Tampa Bay on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN/TSN2/RDSI). With Tomas Vokoun (groin) likely to miss the rest of the season, Neuvirth will have a chance to assert himself as the go-to guy in goal. He was superb on Saturday, making 39 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Montreal.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (86 points)
has to beat Toronto at home on Tuesday to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

Vancouver (107 points) has the inside track on the top spot in the West. The Canucks play two of their last three at home and don't face a team that's going to the playoffs.

St. Louis (106 points) is off until Wednesday, when the Blues begin a tough season-ending stretch of three games in four nights by hosting Detroit. The Blues then play Phoenix at home on Friday and visit Dallas on Saturday.

Los Angeles (91 points) had a practice-free day off following a grueling four-game trip that ended with a 4-3 shootout loss in Minnesota on Saturday. The Kings catch Edmonton in the second half of a back-to-back on Monday before ending the season with a home-and-home against San Jose.

The next five:

Detroit (99 points after Sunday's 2-1 shootout win against Florida)
didn't generate a lot of offense against the Panthers but got the two points when Jiri Hudler scored the deciding goal in the shootout. The Wings have two days off before visiting St. Louis on Wednesday.

Nashville (98 points) is off until Minnesota comes to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.

Chicago (98 points after Sunday's 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota) saw the Wild spoil its regular-season home finale by winning the shootout after the Hawks had rallied from a 4-2 deficit on two goals by Patrick Kane. The Hawks pay a return visit to the Wild on Thursday before ending their season in Detroit on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NBC).

Phoenix (91 points) concludes its home schedule Tuesday against Columbus -- a team the Coyotes haven't beaten all season. Goaltender Mike Smith is coming off back-to-back shutouts against San Jose and Anaheim.

San Jose (90 points) didn't practice on Sunday, one day after blanking Dallas 3-0 at HP Pavilion to jump over the Stars into eighth place. The Sharks fly to Dallas on Monday for the return match Tuesday night.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (89 points)
was glad to be back home after ending a tough four-game trip with consecutive losses at Vancouver and San Jose. The Stars host the Sharks on Tuesday in the back end of the home-and-home; a loss would severely damage their playoff hopes.

Colorado (88 points) can only wait and hope. The Avs are off until Columbus comes to the Pepsi Center on Thursday.
Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres