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Drive to the Playoffs

Bruins win Northeast, Senators clinch playoff berth

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

John Kreiser - Columnist

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.

Karlsson, Spezza among reasons Sens are in

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 8:22 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

Back in October, few people expected the Ottawa Senators to be making anything more than vacation plans after the regular season ends on April 7 -- after all, the Senators were coming off a 13th-place finish and hadn't made any major upgrades.  Instead, Ottawa is headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason in 2011. The Senators assured themselves of a playoff berth on Sunday by whipping the New York Islanders 5-1 for their fourth win in a row.

Here's a look at six reasons why the Senators are headed back to the postseason:

Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 58 | PTS: 77
SOG: 249 | +/-: 18
1. King Karl: In his third NHL season, Erik Karlsson has become the NHL's best offensive defenseman. With 77 points in 78 games, he's all but assured of becoming only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to win the scoring race among blueliners by more than 20 points -- the others are Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin. His 58 assists are third in the NHL, and he's among the top 10 in the scoring race. But not only has Karlsson taken a huge leap forward offensively from 13 goals and 45 points last season, he's improved his two-way play -- going from minus-30 in 2010-11 to plus-18 this season.

2. Big Mac: General manager Bryan Murray changed coaches last summer, giving longtime Detroit assistant Paul MacLean his first shot at a top job. The owner of one of the NHL's best mustaches showed he'd learned a lot in six seasons in Hockeytown under Mike Babcock, keeping the Senators on an even keel by knowing when to get tough or back off. MacLean, now 54 is one of the oldest first-time coaching hires in recent NHL history -- but he says the job came at the right time, and that he might not have been able to handle it as well earlier in his career. 

Devils, Blackhawks clinch playoff berths

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

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

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.

Six reasons the Devils have clinched

Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 9:43 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

After a rare one-year hiatus, the New Jersey Devils are back where they usually are every April -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

David Clarkson
Right Wing - NJD
GOALS: 30 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 45
SOG: 226 | +/-: -9
New Jersey became the sixth team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff berth with Saturday night's 5-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. How did the Devils do it? We can think of at least six reasons:

1. Clarkson's breakout season: We always knew David Clarkson was a rugged forward who was capable of scoring 15-to-20 goals. But 30? After scoring 12 times in 82 games in 2010-11, Clarkson reached the 30-goal plateau in the opening period of Saturday's victory. He has played a huge role in New Jersey's success, with 23 of his tallies coming at even strength. 

Devils, Hawks can nab postseason bids

Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 12:42 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

Two more teams can join those who have reserved a place in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday, while two other clubs can claim a division title on a busy day of action in the NHL.

The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks can clinch postseason berths. New Jersey needs at least one point against Carolina or a loss of any kind by Washington or Buffalo.

Chicago seals a spot with at least one point against Nashville, of if one of following scenarios plays out: Los Angeles loses in any fashion to Minnesota, Phoenix loses in regulation to Anaheim, or the result of the Dallas-San Jose contest is not a Sharks victory in overtime or a shootout.

The St. Louis Blues can clinch the Central Division title and guarantee a top-two seed in the Western Conference if they collect at least one point against Columbus or if Nashville loses to Chicago in any fashion.

Boston can lock up the Northeast Division and a top-three seed in the East with a regulation or overtime victory against the New York Islanders and a regulation loss by Ottawa against Philadelphia.

With just eight days remaining in the season, eight playoff berths are still up for grabs. Five division titles, both conference titles and the Presidents’ Trophy also are still to be decided.

Kings reign again in Pacific

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

John Kreiser - Columnist

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.

Bruins' depth gets them back in, sets up repeat bid

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 10:12 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

The Boston Bruins are going to have a chance to defend their title after clinching a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is a look at some reasons why the Bruins will be back in the postseason, and have a chance to be the first team to repeat in 20 years.

1. The Bruins were one of the best teams in the history of the League for two months: Boston began the season 3-7-0 and plenty was written about a "Cup hangover." When the calendar turned to November, the Bruins went on a historic run. They went 23-3-1 from Nov. 1 to Jan. 5, outscoring the competition 114-43 (that's an average of 4.2 goals for, 1.6 against). Boston had seven shutouts during the streak, and won by four or more goals eight times. The Bruins are only 22-25-2 this season before and after that amazing two-month stretch.

Bruins, Hawks can clinch playoff berths but need help

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 11:17 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

In Boston, they'll be rooting loudly for the Penguins. And in Chicago, the city will turn into Oilers fans.

That's what happens when playoff spots are stake.

A Penguins regulation defeat of the red-hot Sabres would put the Bruins back in the playoffs, while an Oilers win against the Kings would hand the Blackhawks a playoff spot.

Those are just two of the games Friday that will have significant bearing on the playoff chase:

Idle Bruins, Hawks can earn playoff spots tonight

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 10:10 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

Two teams can join the playoff party Friday without touching a puck.

With nine days left in the regular season, nine playoff spots remain available, but the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks can knock that number down if a few things go their way.

The Bruins will have a chance to defend their Stanley Cup title if the Buffalo Sabres lose in regulation to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coyotes back in top eight after beating Sharks

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:43 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

Mike Smith's debut as a Phoenix Coyote came in San Jose on opening night, and it was a nightmare -- he was shredded for six goals in a 6-3 loss that looked to be a harbinger of a tough season in the desert.

Since then, however, it's been Smith and the Coyotes who've been giving the Sharks nightmares.

Smith stopped 38 shots on Thursday night to shut out the Sharks for the third time this season, helping the Coyotes to a 2-0 win that jumped them back into the top eight in the Western Conference playoff scramble -- and bumped the Sharks out. 
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