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Canes can close within one point of playoff spot

by Corey Masisak
With 17 days left in the regular season, the playoff races in each conference simply are on fire. Almost every game has added significance, with points at such a premium, as teams jockey for positioning. is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about the games that directly can impact the playoff races.

Here is the installment for Friday, March 25:

CAROLINA HURRICANES (34-29-10, 78 points) at TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (39-23-11, 89 points)

Where they stand: Carolina is ninth in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is fifth in the East.

What's at stake: The Hurricanes could be one point from a playoff spot with a win and a regulation loss by the Sabres. The Lightning would be three points shy of fourth with a win and five behind Washington for first in the Southeast Division with a win and a Capitals loss in regulation.
How it's going: Carolina has won two straight one-goal games after dropping five of their six previous contests. Tampa Bay is winless in three straight and is just 2-5-4 in March.

Upcoming: These teams meet again Saturday night in Raleigh. The Hurricanes then have a back-to-back set against Washington and Montreal next week. The Lightning welcome Ottawa and Pittsburgh to St. Pete Times Forum and then play four of their final five games on the road.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS (34-35-2, 72 points) at PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (43-23-8, 94 points)

Where they stand: New Jersey is 12th in the East; Pittsburgh is fourth in the East.

What's at stake: The Devils probably need to win their final nine games and hope for some help to make the playoffs, but they'd be within seven points of eighth-place Buffalo with a win and a regulation loss by the Sabres. The Penguins can get within two points of Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division and the conference with a win. The Penguins can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a loss by Carolina or by claiming a point combined with a regulation loss by the Hurricanes.
How it's going: New Jersey has lost three of the past four after a remarkable surge to the fringe of playoff contention. Pittsburgh has won in Detroit and Philadelphia this week, which is part of five victories in their past seven games.
Upcoming: The Devils are in Buffalo on Saturday for a must-win-in-regulation game, and then they have three games at home, against the Islanders, Flyers and Canadiens. The Penguins play Florida and Philadelphia at home next week followed by a trip to Tampa Bay.

FLORIDA PANTHERS (29-35-10, 68 points) at BUFFALO SABRES (36-28-9, 81 points)

Where they stand: The Panthers are 14th in the East; the Sabres are eighth in the East.

What's at stake: Buffalo could move within two points of the Rangers for seventh and still have a game in hand with a win.
How it's going: The Sabres are 4-2-1 since a loss to Pittsburgh on March 8. They won 2-0 in Montreal on Tuesday.
Upcoming: Buffalo has critical games at home against New Jersey and the N.Y. Rangers and at Toronto in the next five days.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (48-17-9, 105 points) at ATLANTA THRASHERS (31-30-12, 74 points)

Where they stand: Vancouver is first in the Western Conference; Atlanta is 11th in the East.

What's at stake: The Canucks can push their lead in the West to 12 points and their advantage in the race for the Presidents' Trophy to nine with a victory. The Thrashers could be five points shy of eighth in the East with a win and a regulation loss by the Sabres.
How it's going: Vancouver has won eight of nine, including a 2-1 victory at second-place Detroit on Wednesday night. Atlanta has won two of three, but the loss was an 8-2 defeat by Buffalo, the team the Thrashers are chasing.
Upcoming: The Canucks finish their current four-game road trip with games in Columbus and Nashville. The Thrashers welcome Ottawa to Philips Arena on Sunday, followed by a five-game road trip to Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Nashville and the N.Y. Rangers

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (43-21-10, 96 points) at OTTAWA SENATORS (28-37-9, 65 points)

Where they stand: Washington is second in the East; Ottawa is 15th in the East.

What's at stake: The Capitals would be even in points with conference-leading Philadelphia with a win, but the Flyers will maintain their lead due to their two games in hand. Washington could have a commanding nine-point lead in the division with a win and a regulation loss by Tampa Bay.
How it's going: Washington has won 11 of 12, including a wild 5-4 shootout victory in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Upcoming: The Capitals will be in Montreal on Saturday, followed by home games against Carolina and Columbus next week.
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