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Playoff Pulse: A look at the Eastern Conference

by John Kreiser / Tampa Bay Lightning
After watching the Toronto Maple Leafs win in his debut as coach on Saturday night in Montreal, Randy Carlyle got a good idea of the size of the task ahead of him in his second game behind the bench.

The Leafs' effort was there Tuesday night against Boston. But so were the defensive problems that helped make Ron Wilson an ex-coach. The Leafs blew numerous assignments in their own zone, often hanging goaltender Jonas Gustavsson out to dry in what turned into a 5-4 loss before a disappointed sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre.

Boston's first four goals all were scored from around the blue paint -- leaving Carlyle very unhappy.

"They can't continually give up quality scoring chances. Those are the things we have to correct as a group," Carlyle said. "That's all part of the process here with this hockey club. We got enough goals to win the hockey game; it's the defensive aspect of it that needs to be improved upon."

With just two games on the schedule Wednesday, here's a look at how the Eastern Conference race is shaping up after a hectic Tuesday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (91 points after Tuesday's 4-1 loss at New Jersey) paid the price for a sloppy performance against the Devils. Turnovers by Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi led directly to goals, and the Rangers managed to get just one puck past Martin Brodeur. They continue a three-game trip Thursday night in Ottawa.

Boston (81 points after Tuesday's 5-4 win at Toronto) got a pair of goals by Jordan Caron and Tyler Seguin but had to battle for the full 60 minutes to beat the Leafs for the fifth time this season. The Bruins have outscored Toronto 28-10 in the five victories.

Florida (74 points) had another day off and doesn't play again until visiting Philadelphia on Thursday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (83 points) tuned up for Wednesday's visit from Toronto by holding a practice at which captain Sidney Crosby was allowed to take contact. There's still no word when No. 87 will be back in uniform.

Philadelphia (81 points after Tuesday's 3-2 win against Detroit) retired Mark Howe's No. 2 before the game, then held off the Red Wings thanks to a big night by Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 37 saves, and Claude Giroux, who scored one goal and set up another with a shorthanded breakaway.

New Jersey (79 points after Tuesday's 4-1 win against the New York Rangers) avenged a 2-0 loss to their cross-river rival eight days ago thanks to a three-goal third period. David Clarkson scored the go-ahead goal and Ryan Carter added some insurance before Patrik Elias hit the empty net. The Devils begin a home-and-home series against the Islanders in Newark on Thursday.

Ottawa (78 points after Tuesday's 7-3 win at Tampa Bay) jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period and never trailed as the Senators completed a four-game sweep of the Lightning this season. Milan Michalek had a third-period power-play goal and two empty-netters for his second career hat trick.

Winnipeg (72 points) had the first of two off-days before beginning a two-game trip in Vancouver on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (70 points after Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina) couldn't hold a 2-0 lead against the 14th-place Hurricanes, forced overtime when Brooks Laich scored with less than three minutes left in regulation, but saw the extra point go to the Hurricanes when Justin Faulk scored with 1:22 left in OT.

Tampa Bay (68 points after Tuesday's 7-3 loss to Ottawa) hopes that two points was all it lost on Tuesday. Starting goaltender Mathieu Garon will have an MRI on Wednesday after leaving Tuesday's game early in the first period with a lower-body injury sustained after making a save. Backup Dwayne Roloson has struggled for much of the season and allowed five goals on 30 shots after Garon left.

Buffalo (68 points) had Tuesday off after a 3-1 loss at Winnipeg on Monday ended a 3-1-1 road trip. The Sabres are home to Carolina on Wednesday.

Toronto (67 points after Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Boston) showed plenty of energy and hustle in Carlyle's first home game as Leafs coach -- the team worked hard and scored four goals against the usually stingy Bruins. Carlyle won't get much time to try to fix the defensive problems he saw on Tuesday -- the Leafs visit Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

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