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Rangers wrap up the Eastern Conference

Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:18 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Rangers wrap up the Eastern Conference
The Rangers locked up the top spot in the East for the first time since their last Cup win by beating the Flyers 5-3 in Philadelphia.

The New York Rangers hope history repeats itself.

Eighteen years ago, the Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference on the way to winning the Presidents' Trophy and, ultimately, the 1994 Stanley Cup.

On Thursday, the Rangers locked up the top spot in the East for the first time since their last Cup win by beating the Flyers 5-3 in Philadelphia. The win also kept them on top in the race for the Presidents' Trophy -- New York and Vancouver both have 109 points, but the Rangers own the tiebreaker.

The Flyers never recovered after the Rangers hit them with a four-spot in the first period, including a pair of power-play goals in the final two minutes. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 37 shots despite injuring his right arm late in the second period.

"That's the best I've seen him play in a few weeks here," coach John Tortorella said. "It was a good game for him. He just looked confident, and it's the most confident I've seen him in a few weeks."

In the West, Phoenix beat Columbus 2-0 and San Jose won 5-2 in Dallas, keeping the Coyotes and Sharks on the heels of Los Angeles in the Pacific Division race and dealing a big blow to the Stars' playoff hopes.

Most of the NHL takes a breather on Wednesday, with only two games on the schedule. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up following the 10 games played Tuesday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (109 points after Tuesday's 5-3 win at Philadelphia) completed a sweep of the season series with the Flyers -- the first time they've swept Philadelphia since also going 6-0-0 in 1971-72. The Rangers, who entered the game 27th in the League on the power play at 15.1 percent, went 8-for-25 (32.0 percent) in their six games against the Flyers.

Boston (98 points after Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh) dropped its next-to-last home game but is locked into second place in the East.

Florida (92 points after Tuesday's 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg) moved one point closer to ending a playoff drought that dates to 2000. But the Panthers missed a chance to lock up the Southeast Division title when they couldn't hold a 3-0 lead. Tomas Kopecky's goal with 3:53 left in regulation gave Florida a point, but Andrew Ladd's second overtime goal in five days kept the Panthers from clinching.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (104 points after Tuesday's 5-3 win at Boston) moved three points ahead of Philadelphia for fourth in the East as Sidney Crosby scored twice and added an assist at TD Garden. The Penguins can lock up home ice in the first round with a win against the Rangers on Thursday or the Flyers on Saturday.

Philadelphia (101 points after Tuesday's 5-3 loss against the New York Rangers) never recovered from the Rangers' big first period despite dominating play for most of the final 40 minutes. Claude Giroux set up all three Philadelphia goals. The Flyers host Buffalo on Thursday.

New Jersey (98 points after Tuesday's 3-1 win against the New York Islanders) made life easy for goaltender Johan Hedberg by limiting the Isles to 20 shots. Travis Zajac's power-play goal early in the second period broke a 1-1 tie, and Ilya Kovalchuk hit the empty net. The Devils, who visit Detroit on Thursday, could still catch the Flyers for fifth.

Ottawa (92 points after Tuesday's 2-1 loss against Carolina) fired 39 shots at Cam Ward, but only managed to avert being shut out -- Jason Spezza finally got a shot past Ward with 11.5 seconds left in regulation. The Senators visit Boston on Thursday in a preview of a likely first-round matchup.

Washington (88 points) had the first of two off-days before Florida comes to Verizon Center on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (88 points after Tuesday's 6-5 overtime win against Toronto) played catch-up all night before beating the Leafs on Derek Roy's power-play goal in overtime. The Sabres trailed 3-0 after one period, then were down 4-2 and 5-3 in the third before rallying for a pair of goals late in regulation. The Sabres visit Philadelphia on Thursday.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

Vancouver (109 points after Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win against Anaheim) spotted the Ducks a 4-2 lead, but rallied to tie the game before the end of the second period on goals by Alexandre Burrows and Maxim Lapierre, then scored on all three shootout attempts to extend its winning streak to seven games. The Canucks visit Calgary on Thursday and host Edmonton in their season finale as they try to repeat as Western Conference champs and win a second straight Presidents' Trophy.

St. Louis (106 points) had a third straight day off before Detroit comes to Scottrade Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN2). The Blues, who dropped a 5-2 decision to Columbus on Saturday, haven't lost back-to-back games at home in more than a year.

Los Angeles (93 points) needs one point in its home-and-home series against the Sharks to clinch a playoff berth. Two regulation wins would guarantee a division title.

The next five:

Nashville (100 points after Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win against Minnesota) got a goal by Alexander Radulov in the tiebreaker to move back into fourth place in the West. Coach Barry Trotz gave Pekka Rinne the night off, and Anders Lindback stopped 25 shots through 65 minutes before winning a shootout for the first time in his career.

Detroit (99 points) will try to end a seven-game losing streak on the road in St. Louis, where they've list twice this season.

Chicago (98 points) is off until visiting Minnesota on Thursday, when defenseman Duncan Keith will return from a five-game suspension. The Hawks might have captain Jonathan Toews back as well; he practiced again Tuesday and said he hopes to play against the Wild -- but that no decision will be made until after the morning skate on Thursday.

Phoenix (93 points after Tuesday's 2-0 win against Columbus) finally found a way to beat the Blue Jackets -- but they needed 54 saves by Mike Smith to do it in their final regular-season home game. Boyd Gordon and Gilbert Brule scored 2:03 apart in the second period, and Smith did the rest by stopping the most shots in a shutout in the League this season. Smith has three consecutive shutouts and a scoreless streak of 219:59.

San Jose (92 points after Tuesday's 5-2 win at Dallas) got goals from five different players to take a giant step toward a playoff berth. The Sharks need a win to clinch a playoff berth and still have a chance to win the Pacific Division -- they finish their season with a home-and-home series against the Kings, beginning Thursday in San Jose.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (89 points after Tuesday's 5-2 loss to San Jose) dropped a game it had to win -- and the Stars now find themselves having to win twice and hope San Jose gets no more than one point or than Phoenix loses twice in regulation.

Colorado (88 points) will need a miracle. The Avs are off until Columbus comes to the Pepsi Center on Thursday; they need to win their last two games and hope San Jose loses twice without earning a point.

Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning