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Drive to the Playoffs

Playoff Pulse: Caps need win; Sharks-Coyotes for 8th

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:58 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals have a chance to pull themselves back into the playoff picture Thursday night, but they'll have to do it under difficult conditions.

The Caps will pay a visit to Boston to face the Bruins (7 p.m., NHLN), who have won three straight and five of six. With a win, the defending champions will clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In a showdown for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Capitals were throttled 5-1 at home by the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps could move into a tie with the Sabres with a win, but Buffalo would still be considered the eighth-place team by virtue of playing fewer games.

The Capitals have taken two of three from the Bruins this season, including a 4-3 victory at TD Garden on March 10.

Division title, 3 playoff spots at stake tonight

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:05 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

As we enter the final 10 days of the 2011-12 regular season, it seems every game is taking on epic proportions.

When the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks face off Thursday at the United Center, both teams will have something major to play for.

2011-2012 Standings

Western Conference
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted. For full standings tiebreakers, click here.
03/29/12 11:06AM
For the Blues, a regulation or overtime victory would give them their first Central Division title since the 1999-2000 season. They would join the Northwest Division-winning Vancouver Canucks as the only division champions this season.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, can become the fifth Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot. Chicago needs a win, as well as a Phoenix Coyotes regulation loss to the San Jose Sharks, to clinch.

The Blues, Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators already have clinched playoff spots.

Two more Eastern Conference teams can also punch their playoff tickets Thursday.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins need a victory at home against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m., NHLN-US) to have a chance to defend their title.

Stars and Kings take step toward playoffs

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:55 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings are both spending the week in Western Canada. On Wednesday, the Pacific Division rivals both helped their playoff hopes with wins in Alberta.

The Stars jumped back into first place in the division and the third seed in the Western Conference by beating the Oilers 3-1 in Edmonton. The Stars' two "Mighty Mikes" -- Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro -- combined for all three goals and assisted on the other's tallies. The win, combined with San Jose's 3-1 loss in Anaheim, jumped the Stars back into the top spot.

Los Angeles leaped from ninth to seventh in the West by shutting down the Flames 3-0 in Calgary, as Jonathan Quick earned his team-record ninth shutout of the season.

With Trotz guiding way, Predators back in playoffs

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:42 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

For the seventh time in eight seasons, the Nashville Predators find themselves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Barring something unforeseen, they will eclipse the 100-point mark for the fourth time in franchise history.

Here are six reasons why the Preds are back in the postseason:

1. Barry Trotz -- In his 13th season behind the bench, Trotz may have put forth his most masterful job. He didn't allow the contract situations of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to affect a team that lost several key veterans during the offseason. The Predators boast one of the youngest rosters in the League, but Trotz once again has his team in the playoffs. He likely will once again be passed over for the Jack Adams Award, but he deserves some type of recognition for the job he's done in Nashville.

Pacific Division teams keep one eye on the scoreboard

Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 6:11 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

Curtis Zupke - Correspondent

ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are times when San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle can't help but catch a glimpse of the scoreboard during intermission.

Sometimes it's on the arena's out-of-town board just before he heads to the locker room. Maybe it's on the crawl on the bottom of a television screen. Word spreads quickly in this information age.

"I think you do," Boyle said of catching a glimpse at the scoreboard during Sharks' games. "I think it's natural. You do. But most of the teams that are right behind are us are playing each other, so it's a lose-lose. Somebody's going to get two (points), and we've got to take care of our business."

Playoff Pulse: West could see Wednesday shakeup

Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 11:03 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

The Calgary Flames have been written off more times this season than charitable donations on income tax returns. Yet with 11 days left in the regular season, they can move into a three-way tie for seventh place with a victory against the Los Angeles Kings and losses by the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche.

Even if everything falls perfectly Wednesday night, the 11th-place Flames will still only rise as high as ninth in the Western Conference standings due to tiebreakers, but their 87 points would be tied for the seventh-most in the West with four games remaining.

The ninth-place Kings, who have 86 points, could jump to seventh with a victory at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames have taken two of three in the season series, but the Kings' one victory came in Calgary.

Once again, Sabres getting hot at the right time

Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 10:14 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- Derek Roy says it's about having a winning attitude. Drew Stafford points to the experience and character inside the dressing room. Coach Lindy Ruff credits good health and improved defense.

Check marks all around.

The Sabres, left for dead a little over a month ago, have used the aforementioned elements to resurrect their playoff hopes with five games left in the regular season. After Tuesday's thorough 5-1 defeat of the Capitals at Verizon Center, Buffalo has sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 19-5-5 record since Jan. 24, including 14-2-3 since they were 15th in the East on Feb. 19.

Sabres whip Caps to grab 8th place in East

Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:17 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

Less than six weeks after being left for dead in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Buffalo Sabres are the proud owners of eighth place.

The Sabres moved into the top eight with a flourish, routing the Capitals 5-1 in Washington to move two points in front of the Caps with five games remaining for each team. Ryan Miller continued his hot streak in goal by stopping 44 of 45 shots, while the Sabres took advantage of a shaky night by rookie Braden Holtby, who was lifted after allowing three goals on just 18 shots.

Drew Stafford had a pair of goals for the Sabres, who have won five in a row and are 7-0-2 in their last nine games and 19-5-5 in their last 29.

Playoff Pulse: Preds can clinch; Caps-Sabres pivotal

Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:06 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

The Nashville Predators didn't get the help they needed to clinch a playoff spot during Monday's night off, so they'll try to take care of it themselves against the NHL's top team Tuesday night.

By earning at least a point on the road against the St. Louis Blues, the Predators would become the fifth Western Conference team and eighth team overall to punch its ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the sixth and final matchup between the teams, and the Predators are 4-0-1 during the season series.

A win would push the Predators ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for fourth place in the West.

The game also carries meaning for the Blues, who are just two points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks for the top spot in the West. With six games remaining for each team, the Blues hold the tiebreaker advantage, but could use some breathing room against last year's Presidents' Trophy-winning club.

It's not Game 7, but plenty at stake for Caps, Sabres

Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 10:23 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

In Buffalo on Monday, you had Lindy Ruff talking as if Tuesday's game against the Capitals is just another big one in a season of 82, even though the veteran coach with 563 career victories knows that the Sabres' next game most definitely is not like the others.

At roughly the same time in Washington, you had Dale Hunter comparing Tuesday's showdown against the Sabres to Game 7 of a playoff series, even though the former NHLer and veteran of nine Game 7s knows nothing really compares to the winner-takes-all game in the postseason.

The true meaning of this clash between the Capitals and streaking Sabres lies somewhere in the middle of one-of-82 and Game 7, but considering each team is playing for the right to control its own playoff fate with only 12 days left in the season you can see why Hunter is trying to bring a slice of Game 7 drama into his club's dressing room.

Washington and Buffalo each have 84 points with six games remaining. The Capitals have six more non-shootout wins and therefore enter the day as the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference.

"It's a big game," Hunter told reporters at Capitals practice on Monday. "The players know it, we know it, so does the other team, and their coaches know it. It should be a heck of a game."

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