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Capitals can take lead in East with win in Detroit

by David Kalan
With 26 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 Wednesday, March 16:

WASHINGTON (41-20-10, 92 points) at DETROIT (41-20-8, 90 points)

Where they stand: Washington is 2nd in the Eastern Conference; Detroit is second in the Western Conference.

What's at stake: The Capitals can pass Philadelphia for the top spot in the East with a win Wednesday, but it won't be easy as they play at Detroit (7:30 PM ET, VERSUS) in what could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Detroit is 11 points behind Vancouver for the West's No. 1 seed, but with the Central Division still in doubt -- the Wings lead second-place Chicago by six points -- Detroit might breathe a little easier with a victory.

How it's going: Washington started its six-game road trip strong, knocking off a hot Canadiens team in Montreal for its ninth consecutive win.

The Wings seem to be getting back on the right track. They've won two straight following a four-game winless stretch.

Upcoming: After leaving Detroit, Washington heads to New Jersey on Friday, then hits Philadelphia, Ottawa and then back to Montreal to close the trip. Detroit travels to Columbus and Nashville later this week, and then returns home for a five-game homestand to close the month.

TORONTO (30-30-10, 70 points) at CAROLINA (32-28-10, 74 points)

Where they stand: Toronto is 11th in the East; Carolina is 9th in the East.

What's at stake: The Hurricanes can force a tie for the final playoff spot in the East. The Maple Leafs can leapfrog New Jersey for 10th in the conference with a win and move within two points of the Hurricanes.

How it's going: Carolina had gone four straight games without a win prior to Tuesday's huge 1-0 win against the Sabres, which was due in part to a stellar performance by goalie Cam Ward.

The Leafs meanwhile, while still in the hunt, have done themselves no favors by winning just one of their last five games. The last time Toronto took the ice, the Leafs lost 6-2 at home to Tampa Bay on Monday.

Upcoming: Carolina hosts the Islanders on Friday and the Senators next Tuesday, then head to Tampa Bay next Friday. After Wednesday's game, Toronto heads to Florida for the second part of their back-to-back. After a day off, they'll host Boston on Saturday.

COLORADO (26-34-8, 60 points) at VANCOUVER (46-16-9, 101 points)

Where they stand: Colorado is 14th in the West; Vancouver is first in the West.

What's at stake: With 11 games left, the Canucks appear to be on their way to finishing with the League's best record. They lead second-place Detroit by 11 points, making home-ice advantage through the conference finals a pretty fair bet. The Avs have fallen on tough times, and with just five points separating them from 15th-place Edmonton, they will be looking to spoil the party for the other teams looking for playoff spots.

How it's going: The Canucks have been winning all season, but lately they've been playing some of their best hockey, winning six straight games, including a sweep of their recent five-game road trip.

Colorado has lost four straight games and is winless in its last eight.

Upcoming: Vancouver hosts Phoenix on Friday and then heads on the road for a four-game trip through Detroit, Atlanta, Columbus and Nashville. The Avs will head to Calgary and Edmonton later this week to finish their current four-game trip. They'll be back at the Pepsi Center next week for games against Columbus and Toronto.

ST. LOUIS (31-29-9, 71 points) at ANAHEIM (37-27-5, 79 points)

Where they stand: St. Louis is 13th in the West; Anaheim is 10th in the West.

What's at stake: Despite a valiant recent effort, the Blues likely are too far back to challenge for the postseason, but they can still spoil the party for the Ducks, who can jump into the last playoff spot with a win Wednesday.

How it's going: Before falling to the Red Wings on Saturday, the Blues had won three straight, including an impressive 4-1 win against Montreal in goalie Jaroslav Halak's first game against the team he carried to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

Anaheim has been making a solid run, winning five of its last seven games, although the Ducks did fall to the Coyotes in their most recent game, Sunday at Honda Center.

Upcoming: This is the first stop on a four-game swing for St. Louis, one that will take them to Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix. Anaheim will head down the freeway for a big divisional matchup with the Kings on Saturday, then return home to face the Flames for the second half of a back-to-back Sunday.
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