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Canucks clinch Northwest, inch closer to top seed

by Brian Compton
The Vancouver Canucks had clinched the Northwest Division before they took the ice at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night. But their 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche shows that Alain Vigneault's club is aiming for more.

When Chris Higgins scored his second goal of the night at 1:40 of overtime, the Canucks moved within two points of the St. Louis Blues for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Vancouver has only seven games remaining on its regular-season schedule, but six of them will be played at Rogers Arena.

"We have our sights set on catching them," Higgins said of the Blues.

Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up entering Sunday's seven-game schedule:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (101 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win at Toronto) held off the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre and are now three points ahead of Pittsburgh atop the East and even with the Blues atop the overall standings. New York's three-game road trip continues Tuesday night at Minnesota.

Boston (89 points after Saturday's 4-2 win at Los Angeles) picked up a huge win on the West Coast to maintain a three-point lead on Ottawa in the Northeast Division. Boston's next stop will be in Anaheim on Sunday night.

Florida (86 points) was idle Saturday. The Panthers return to action on Sunday against the Islanders at BankAtlantic Center.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (98 points after Saturday's 8-4 loss at Ottawa) received a rough night from backup goaltender Brad Thiessen and was doubled up by the Senators at Scotiabank Place. Now three points behind the Rangers for the overall lead in the East, the Penguins host New Jersey on Sunday night.

Philadelphia (96 points after Saturday's 4-1 win against Montreal) officially qualified for the playoffs for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons by beating the Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center. Still alive in the race for the No. 1 seed, the Flyers host Tampa Bay on Monday night.

New Jersey (90 points) did not play Saturday. The Devils return to action Sunday night at Pittsburgh.

Ottawa (86 points after Saturday's 8-4 win against Pittsburgh) was firing on all cylinders Saturday night and picked up a much-needed victory on home ice against the Penguins. Now four points up in the race for a playoff spot, the Sens visit Winnipeg on Monday night.

Buffalo (84 points after Saturday's 3-1 win against Minnesota) now finds itself in playoff position following its 18th victory in its last 28 games. How long the Sabres will stay in eighth place remains to be seen, as No. 9 Washington is in action Sunday. Buffalo will face the Capitals on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (82 points) was idle Saturday and dropped into ninth place courtesy of Buffalo's victory. The Caps get their crack at the Wild on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

Winnipeg (78 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss at Nashville) concluded its three-game road trip in disappointing fashion with a loss to the Predators at Bridgestone Arena. The Jets, now six points out of eighth place, host the Senators at the MTS Centre on Monday.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (101 points) had the second of two welcome off-days after a back-to-back in Southern California. The Blues wrap up their seven-game trip Sunday in Phoenix.

Vancouver (99 points after Saturday's 3-2 overtime win at Colorado) got a huge effort from Chris Higgins, who erased a 2-1 deficit with 2:30 left in the second period and then notched the game-winner 1:40 into overtime as the Canucks beat the Avalanche and moved within two points of the No. 1 seed. Vancouver, which clinched the Northwest Division with the victory, hosts Los Angeles on Monday night.

Dallas (87 points after Saturday's 4-1 win against Calgary) honored former Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins before its matinee against Calgary and then did him proud with a solid effort at the American Airlines Center to move back into first place in the Pacific Division. The teams conclude a home-and-home series at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday night.

The next five:

Detroit (95 points after Saturday's 5-4 win against Carolina) got its captain back in the lineup as Nicklas Lidstrom returned after missing three weeks with an ankle injury. The Red Wings rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Hurricanes at Joe Louis Arena to end a six-game losing streak and remain one point up on No. 5 Nashville. The Red Wings host Columbus on Monday.

Nashville (94 points after Saturday's 3-1 win against Winnipeg) received another solid effort from Alexander Radulov and Pekka Rinne notched his 40th win of the season in a victory over the Jets at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators get right back at it on Sunday night in Chicago.

Chicago (92 points) did not play Saturday. The Hawks will play the first of five games without suspended defenseman Duncan Keith on Sunday against Nashville at the United Center.

Phoenix (87 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss at San Jose) went into a hostile environment and managed to come away with a point against the Sharks at HP Pavilion. Still very much alive in the Pacific Division race, the Coyotes host St. Louis on Sunday night, beginning a four-game homestand.

Los Angeles (86 points) saw its six-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Bruins at the Staples Center and dropped from third to eighth in the conference standings. The Kings will try to bounce back on Monday night at Vancouver, the first of a four-game road trip.

On the outside looking in:

San Jose (86 points after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win against Phoenix) picked up two critical points at the Shark Tank with a huge win against the relentless Coyotes. The Sharks host Colorado on Monday.

Colorado (86 points after Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver) was led 2-0 late in the second period but had to settle for one in an overtime loss to the Canucks. The Avs visit San Jose on Monday night.

Calgary (83 points after Saturday's 4-1 loss at Dallas) came up empty against the Stars and fell further out of the race. The Flames conclude their home-and-home series with Dallas on Monday night in Calgary.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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