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Caps grab first in East; Bruins clinch Northeast

by John Kreiser
The Washington Capitals have been chasing the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference for weeks. On Saturday, they finally caught and passed them.

Washington jumped over the Flyers into the top spot in the East by rallying for a 5-4 overtime victory against the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center. Jason Arnott's last-minute power-play goal forced the extra period, and Alex Ovechkin got the winner with 1:41 remaining in OT for the win, which gives the Caps 103 points, one more than the Flyers.

Philadelphia can jump back on top by beating the New York Rangers on Sunday (12:30 p.m., NBC, TSN).

In the West, Detroit clinched a playoff berth for the 20th consecutive season by rallying from an early 3-0 deficit to beat Nashville 4-3 in overtime.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Washington (103 points after Saturday's 5-4 home OT win against Buffalo) blew an early 2-0 lead, but twice scored game-tying power-play goals to force overtime. The Caps got the extra point when Alex Ovechkin's OT shot hit Buffalo defender Andrej Sekera and went into the net. The Caps are off until Tuesday's game at Toronto, then finish with two games against last-place Florida.

Philadelphia (102 points) finds itself out of the top spot in the East for the first time since January as it prepares for Sunday afternoon's visit from the Rangers.

Boston (99 points after Saturday's 3-2 home win against Atlanta) locked up the Northeast Division title when Michael Ryder scored on a penalty shot in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. Barring an unlikely miracle, the Bruins will be seeded third when the playoffs start.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (100 points after Saturday's 4-2 win at Florida) stayed three points in front of Tampa Bay in the race for fourth place and the last home-ice playoff berth by overcoming an early 2-1 deficit to end a two-game losing streak. Zbynek Michalek's goal 7:48 into the third period broke a 2-2 tie. The Penguins end their season with games against 11th-place New Jersey, the 13th-place Islanders and 12th-place Atlanta.

Tampa Bay (97 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at Minnesota) has found its game again after a mid-March slump.  Dwayne Roloson made 29 saves as the Lightning beat the Wild for their fourth consecutive victory. The Bolts will probably start Mike Smith in goal when they visit Chicago on Sunday.

Montreal (91 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at New Jersey) stepped up with a big win at New Jersey -- only its fifth road victory against the Devils in more than 16 years. Mathieu Darche scored twice and Carey Price made 20 stops, including one on a first-period penalty shot. The Habs are off until Chicago comes to the Bell Centre for the home finale on Tuesday.

Buffalo (88 points after Saturday's 5-4 OT loss at Washington) was less than a minute away from pulling out a win in Washington, only to have Jason Arnott force overtime with a power-play goal and Alex Ovechkin win it. The Sabres, who again used rookie Jhonas Enroth in goal due to an injury to Ryan Miller, did get a point, which puts them all alone in seventh place going into Sunday's game at Carolina.

New York Rangers (87 points) begin a tough back-to-back stretch on Sunday afternoon when they visit  Philadelphia, followed by a home game against Boston on Monday.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (86 points after Saturday's 4-2 road win against the Islanders) was dominated by the Isles for most of the first two periods, but Cam Ward saved the day before the offense came alive with three goals in the third period. The 'Canes start Sunday one point behind the Rangers as they prepare to host Buffalo at the RBC Center; they can officially pass New York by getting one more point against the Sabres than the Blueshirts do against the Flyers.

Toronto (84 points after Saturday's 4-2 win at Ottawa) will take its playoff hopes into the final week of the season. Tyler Bozak's third-period goal broke a 2-2 tie. The Leafs are off until Washington comes to the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (113 points after Saturday's 4-1 home loss to Edmonton) has nothing left to play for in the final 10 days of the regular season, and the Oilers had a lot more jump. Alexandre Burrows had the only goal, and the Canucks' penalty-killers had a rare off-night with two goals allowed.

San Jose (101 points after Saturday's home 4-2 home win against Anaheim) looked dreadful in the opening period, allowing Anaheim to score twice and dominate play. But the Sharks regrouped in the second and rallied to keep the No. 2 seed in the West. The Sharks have four games remaining, beginning Monday against Los Angeles.

Detroit (100 points after Saturday's 4-3 overtime win at Nashville) looked like it was headed for a fifth consecutive loss to the Predators when Nashville led 3-0 just 2:37 into the second period. But Justin Abdelkader scored a pair of goals and Danny Cleary got the winner in OT to assure the Wings of their 20th consecutive playoff berth and 11th straight 100-point season.

The next five:

Los Angeles (96 points after Saturday's 3-1 home win against Dallas) continues to find ways to win without top scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Matt Greene's first goal in 20 games broke a 1-1 third-period tie and helped the Kings move past Phoenix into fourth place. The Kings have four games left, one more than the Coyotes -- who come to L.A. on Wednesday.

Phoenix (96 points) can only sit and watch until Wednesday, when the Coyotes visit Los Angeles to start a season-ending stretch of three games in four nights.

Nashville (95 points after Saturday's 4-3 home OT loss to Detroit) looked like it was headed for an easy win when it jumped to a 3-0 lead early in the second period, but wound up getting only one point. The Predators have perhaps the most favorable schedule of any playoff contender -- two of their last three games are at home, and all three opponents are non-playoff teams.

Anaheim (93 points after Saturday's 4-2 loss at San Jose) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period, but couldn't hold off the relentless Sharks, keeping the Ducks in seventh. Ray Emery lost for the first time in seven decisions with the Ducks. Anaheim gets right back to work on Sunday when Dallas comes to the Honda Center.

Chicago (92 points) had a welcome day off before Tampa Bay comes to the United Center on Sunday.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (89 points) has to win Sunday at Colorado or its playoff hopes are gone. The Flames have only two games left after their visit to Denver.

Dallas (87 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss at Los Angeles) again paid for its inability to put the puck in the net. Brad Richards' second-period goal was only the Stars' second in their last three games, all losses during their current road trip. The Stars still have five games left, but need to win Sunday in Anaheim and hope for some help.
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