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Drive to the Playoffs

Flyers can clinch postseason spot Friday

Friday, 03.23.2012 / 12:32 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

The Philadelphia Flyers can become the third member of the Atlantic Division to qualify for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday.

Philadelphia does not play, but the Flyers will clinch a postseason berth if the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres lose in regulation. Both teams are on the road -- Winnipeg is at Washington while Buffalo is in Manhattan to face the New York Rangers.

The Flyers would be the third team from their division -- and the third team in Eastern Conference -- to clinch. No team in the Western Conference will be able to join them Friday night. More than 90 percent of the NHL season is already complete (1,109 or 1,230 games) and only three teams -- St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Rangers -- have clinched a playoff berth.

Playoff Pulse: Jets, Sabres face crucial tests Friday

Friday, 03.23.2012 / 11:46 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

One day after the battle for the final spots in the Western Conference were in the spotlight, the focus shifts east Friday. The three teams chasing Washington for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference are all in action away from home, and one of them could do all three a favor by defeating the Capitals.

The Philadelphia Flyers are the only team that can clinch a playoff berth Friday night. Philadelphia is idle, but the Flyers officially earn a spot in the postseason if Buffalo and Winnipeg lose in regulation.

Winnipeg Jets at Washington Capitals: It is close to now-or-never time for the Jets away from MTS Centre. They have lost all three road games this month and yielded 16 goals in the process. They've been suspect away from home all season (11-20-4). The Jets trail the Capitals by five points with only nine games to play -- and six of them are on the road. Even with a game in hand, a loss Friday severely damages Winnipeg's hopes of making the playoffs.

Malkin's MVP-caliber season keys Pens' clinch

Friday, 03.23.2012 / 10:17 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Penguins salted away a playoff berth with 5-1 victory against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. It's been an injury-filled season for the Penguins, but they found a way to overcome the adversity.

How did the Penguins get themselves to the postseason? Here are six reasons:

1. Evgeni Malkin -- He probably could be five of the six reasons. With Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang missing for lengthy stretches, Malkin threw the Penguins on his back and has delivered a Hart Trophy-worthy season. He leads the NHL in points despite missing seven games with a knee injury early in the season. In the 40 games that followed Crosby leaving the lineup with a recurrence of concussion symptoms Dec. 9, Malkin posted 29 goals and 31 assists.

Kings take their turn at the top of the Pacific Division

Friday, 03.23.2012 / 2:15 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

First place in the Pacific Division had three owners in the course of a couple of hours.

The Dallas Stars began the day in the top spot, but gave their pursuers a chance to catch them by losing 2-1 to the visiting Vancouver Canucks. Not long afterward, the Phoenix Coyotes completed a 3-2 win against Colorado to leap over the Stars and into first place.

But before the Coyotes could even think about being back in first place, they were supplanted by the Los Angeles Kings, who got shootout goals by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to beat the League-leading St. Louis Blues 1-0 for their sixth consecutive win.

At the end of the day, the Kings found themselves in first place with 86 points, the same as the Coyotes, who've played one more game. Dallas dropped from third to eighth with 85 -- the same number as Colorado, which has played two more games.

Lurking right behind them all is San Jose, which beat Boston 2-1 and has 84 points.

Bounty of playoff implications on Thursday slate

Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:35 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

A critical contest between teams vying for one of the final spots in the Western Conference and two intriguing Interconference matchups highlight an important evening of games in the NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks can clinch playoff berths, while seven of the eight contests on the docket have postseason implications.

Colorado Avalanche at Phoenix Coyotes: The Avalanche are in seventh place in the West, but all three teams immediately below them in the standings can pass them just by winning their games in hand. Well, here's a chance for Colorado to not only collect much-needed points, but also remove the Coyotes from that previously mentioned group. Colorado has one more point than Phoenix, but the Coyotes have a game in hand. If the Avalanche win in regulation, the Coyotes will need help at a later date to pass them.

Birthday boy Callahan shoots down Wings

Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:55 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

Ryan Callahan celebrated his 27th birthday by making 18,200 of his closest friends happy.

Callahan's goal 2:42 into overtime on Wednesday gave the New York Rangers a 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden -- and increased their lead over Pittsburgh in the race for first in the Eastern Conference to three points.

Callahan, the Rangers' captain, excelled at both ends of the ice. The game-winner was his eighth shot on goal; he also blocked two shots and chased down Pavel Datsyuk to break up a shorthanded breakaway.

"It's a great play by everyone involved," said Callahan, who had missed an open net in the second period.  "It was a good birthday gift. They tried to set me up in the second, but I missed a wide-open net. I had to respond back."

Playoff Pulse: Pens can clinch without even playing

Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 11:25 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

The biggest beneficiary of Wednesday's games could be a team that's not even playing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins can clinch a playoff spot while spending the night at home, as a Buffalo Sabres loss or shootout win against the Montreal Canadiens would make the Pens the second Eastern Conference team to qualify for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All five games Wednesday's schedule has playoff implications:

Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres -- A Sabres win would give them 80 points, the same as the eighth-place Washington Capitals. A win in regulation or overtime would be even better, as the Sabres' 27 regulation/overtime wins are the third-fewest in the conference.

March of the Penguins continues vs. Jets

Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 1:50 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

John Kreiser - Columnist

How good can the Pittsburgh Penguins be with a healthy Sidney Crosby? Good enough that a four-assist night by the Penguins' captain doesn't even get top billing.

Crosby had four assists Thursday night, giving him nine points in four games since return from a 3 1/2-month absence due to concussion symptoms. But he was overshadowed by teammates Evgeni Malkin (two goals, three assists) and James Neal (three goals and an assist) as the Penguins improved to 12-0-1 in their last 13 games by routing the Winnipeg Jets 8-4 on Tuesday night.

The Penguins are 3-0-1 since Crosby's return. He has nine assists in the four games -- and 21 in 12 games this season.

Playoff Pulse: Cats look to build on division lead

Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 11:18 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

As the sun rose on another day of hockey Tuesday, six teams in the Western Conference, all separated by two points, were battling for three playoff spots.

Those six teams will be in action Tuesday, and a major shakeup could be coming.

Those are just three of the eight games with massive playoff implications Tuesday:

Florida Panthers at Philadelphia Flyers -- The Panthers have won four straight to open a three-point cushion on Washington atop the Southeast Division standings, but with 11 games still to go, there's no time for a let-up. The Capitals won Monday; now is the Panthers' chance to return serve. The Flyers are coming off a weekend that saw them rally from a pair of 2-0 deficits to pick up three of a possible four points against the Bruins and Penguins. A win combined with a Penguins loss would give the teams 94 points, and leave Philadelphia just three points behind the conference-leading Rangers.

Playoff Pulse: Rangers first in East to clinch berth

Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:44 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

Last season, the New York Rangers needed to win and receive help on the very last day in order to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But with three weeks still to play in the 2011-12 regular season, the Blueshirts are already in.

Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan each had a goal and an assist as the Rangers became the first team in the Eastern Conference to qualify for the postseason with a 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

"It's pretty cool," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "It's our first time since I've been here, in six years, that we clinched this early. It's nice. It's a nice feeling knowing you'll be in the playoffs, but now it's a matter of staying up top and trying to create some space up top. It's a different feeling for us. We have to handle it the right way."
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