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Canucks keep rolling, Bruins clinch

by Brian Hunter
The Vancouver Canucks kept up their stranglehold on the Presidents' Trophy lead on Sunday, while the Boston Bruins became the fifth NHL team -- and the fourth from the Eastern Conference -- to clinch a postseason berth.

The Canucks got 39 saves from backup goalie Corey Schneider and a couple goals from trade-deadline acquisition Chris Higgins in their 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets. They now have a franchise-record 50 wins and 109 points this season. They're nine up on the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Flyers fell 2-1 at home to the Bruins, who will be part of the postseason picture for the fourth straight season and increased their Northeast Division lead over the idle Canadiens to seven points. Brad Marchand scored the go-ahead goal with 3:43 remaining and Tim Thomas made 27 saves.

The Pittsburgh Penguins closed to within two points of the Flyers for the lead in the East and the Atlantic Division with their 2-1 shootout win over the Florida Panthers earlier Sunday. Alex Kovalev and James Neal scored in the penalty-shot tiebreaker -- Neal had the shootout winner on Friday in a 1-0 triumph over New Jersey. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 37 saves.

The Atlanta Thrashers, still mathematically alive, also won in a shootout on home ice, 5-4 over the Ottawa Senators.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Sunday's games:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (100 points after Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Bruins) missed out on a chance to gain two points on idle Washington and maintain a four-point lead over Pittsburgh. The Flyers took the early lead on a Kris Versteeg goal but couldn't solve Thomas after that. They still have a game in hand on both the Capitals and Penguins, and play their Pennsylvania rival in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Washington (98 points) sent goaltender Braden Holtby back to AHL Hershey on Sunday after the rookie stepped in and stopped all 18 shots he faced for his second NHL shutout over Montreal on Saturday. With the 2-0 win, the Capitals finished their six-game trip with a 4-2-0 mark, and now return home for a game against Southeast Division rival Carolina on Tuesday.

Boston (94 points after Sunday's 2-1 win at Philadelphia) rebounded from a shutout loss on home ice Saturday afternoon at the hands of Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers to clinch a playoff berth behind Marchand and Thomas. Nathan Horton's power-play goal in the second period tied the score. The Bruins are back in action Tuesday when the Blackhawks visit TD Garden.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (98 points after Sunday's 2-1 shootout win vs. Florida) got a goal from regulation by Ben Lovejoy, then relied on Fleury to get it into the shootout before Kovalev and Neal made sure the Penguins came away with the second point as well. Combined with Philadelphia's defeat later Sunday, the Penguins will have a chance to reach 100 points Tuesday and tie the Flyers, who will still hold a game in hand.

Tampa Bay
(91 points) returns to action Tuesday when it hosts Ottawa. The Lightning are coming off a home-and-home split with the Hurricanes, ending a four-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory in Carolina on Saturday. They have a game in hand and a four-point lead on both the Canadiens and Rangers in the race for the fifth seed.

Montreal (87 points) will look to avoid setting a franchise record by finally scoring a goal when Atlanta comes to town Tuesday. The Canadiens have been blanked in three consecutive games, the first time that's happened since October 1949. They're now seven points behind the Bruins in the Northeast and Boston also holds a game in hand.

New York Rangers (87 points) don't play again until Wednesday, when they will put their current 6-0-1 run on the line in Buffalo. Henrik Lundqvist leads the NHL with 11 shutouts after stopping 26 shots and making a Derek Stepan goal hold up for a 1-0 win in Boston on Saturday afternoon.

Buffalo (85 points) is starting to create some separation in the race for the final playoff spot, increasing its lead to five points after Saturday's 2-0 win over New Jersey. The Sabres have a game in hand on both the Rangers and Canadiens. They have a back-to-back set coming up, visiting Toronto on Tuesday before coming back to HSBC Arena to meet the Rangers on Wednesday.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (80 points) saw its playoff hopes take a severe blow when it couldn't follow up Friday night's win in Tampa with another victory at home. The Hurricanes get back in action Tuesday, making a trip to face red-hot Washington.

Toronto (78 points) also took a big hit to its playoff hopes when it was doubled up 4-2 in Detroit on Saturday, and the Leafs are now seven points out of eighth place with six games remaining -- including a make-or-break visit from Buffalo on Tuesday.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (109 points after Sunday's 4-1 win at Columbus) moved closer to clinching both the top seed in the Western Conference and the Presidents' Trophy by blowing open a tight 1-0 game with three third-period goals against the Blue Jackets. Christian Ehrhoff and Henrik Sedin scored the game's first two goals, then Higgins provided Schneider with some insurance. The Canucks are in Nashville on Tuesday.

Detroit (97 points) will be playing without No. 1 goaltender Jimmy Howard for at least this game after he injured his shoulder in the third period of Saturday's 4-2 win over Toronto and gave way to backup Joey MacDonald, who will start against Chicago on Monday. The Red Wings are tied in points with the Sharks, but currently hold the second seed by virtue of having played one fewer game.

San Jose (97 points) sits and watches for the next several days, as the Sharks don't play again until hosting the Stars on Thursday. They took a big step toward winning another Pacific Division title by defeating their closest competition, the Coyotes, 4-1 on Saturday. Rookie Logan Couture scored twice to reach 30 goals for the season.

The next five:

Phoenix (93 points) still has a shot at winning the Pacific, but a bigger focus for the Coyotes right now should be securing the fourth seed and home ice in the first round. They still lead the Kings and Predators by a point, but have played two more games than L.A. and one more than Nashville. The Coyotes will host a desperate Stars team on Tuesday.

Los Angeles (92 points) moves forward without the services of leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who is expected to miss at least six weeks after fracturing his right ankle in Saturday's win over Colorado. The injury comes five days after first-line right wing Justin Williams was sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. The Kings play in Edmonton on Tuesday.

Nashville (92 points) is taking advantage of a schedule that features plenty of home cooking down the stretch, carrying a six-game winning streak into Tuesday's game against Vancouver at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators beat the Stars on Saturday and have four of their last six games at home. The two road contests are visits to non-playoff teams Colorado and St. Louis.

Anaheim (89 points) can't afford to overlook a struggling Colorado team that visits the Honda Center on Monday. The Ducks just finished a three-game road trip and have two more away from home coming up after they play the Avalanche. Corey Perry took over the NHL lead with 44 goals by scoring twice in the third period of Saturday's 2-1 victory in Chicago. Perry's 13 goals for the month of March are tops in the League.

Chicago (88 points) looks to rebound from that potentially devastating loss to Anaheim with a game Monday against its Central Division rival, Detroit. The Blackhawks do have the advantage of having eight games remaining, more than any other West contender except for the Stars, who also have eight left.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (87 points) spends the next couple days hoping teams like Anaheim and Chicago lose -- the Flames only have five games remaining and are idle until hosting the Ducks on Wednesday. On the bright side, they're coming off what might have been a season-saving 5-4 win in Edmonton on Saturday in which they rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period before Alex Tanguay won it in the shootout.

Dallas (86 points) has a tough road ahead, facing Phoenix on Tuesday and then visiting all three California teams. The Stars have only two games remaining at American Airlines Center.

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