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Devils closing in on must-win territory, host Caps

by Corey Masisak
With 24 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 18:

WASHINGTON (41-21-10, 92 points) at NEW JERSEY (33-33-4, 70 points)

Where they stand: Washington is second in the Eastern Conference and New Jersey is 12th in the East.

What's at stake: The Capitals can pull even with Philadelphia on points, but the Flyers will have three games in hand. Washington will also clinch a playoff berth with a win and a regulation loss by Carolina. The Devils can move into 10th place and be four points shy of eighth with a win.

How it's going: Washington had won nine games in a row before a 3-2 loss in Detroit on Wednesday. New Jersey dropped a critical game Thursday in Ottawa. The Devils are 23-4-2 since Jan. 9 -- that is 10 points dropped in 29 games. Problem is four of those points were lost to Ottawa and two in a pair of overtime losses to Florida.

Upcoming: The Capitals have three more on the road next week, including trips to Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal. The Devils have four straight games on the road, with stops in Columbus, Boston, Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

MONTREAL (39-25-7, 85 points) at N.Y. RANGERS (37-30-4, 78 points)

Where they stand: The Canadiens are in sixth place in the East, while the Rangers are right behind them in seventh.

What's at stake: Montreal can be within one point of Boston for the Northeast Division lead and the No. 3 spot in the conference with a win. New York would be at least four points clear of ninth place in the East with a win and could be six with a Carolina loss in regulation.

How it's going: The Canadiens have won seven of their past nine games -- they've also won five of their last six away from Bell Centre. The Rangers

Upcoming: Montreal alternates road games (at Minnesota and Boston) with home contests against Buffalo and Washington. New York goes to Pittsburgh for a Sunday matinee before home games against Florida and Ottawa.

PHOENIX (38-23-11, 87 points) at VANCOUVER (47-16-9, 103 points)

Where they stand: Phoenix is fourth in the Western Conference while Vancouver paces the West by nine points.

What's at stake: The Coyotes can move to within one point of San Jose for the lead in the Pacific Division (though the Sharks would have a game in hand). The Canucks can match the franchise record for points in a season with a victory.

How it's going: Phoenix has won four straight games, including the first three games of this road trip. Vancouver has won seven straight contests, including a 4-2 victory against Colorado on Wednesday to clinch the Northwest Division.

Upcoming: The Canucks go on the road for a quirky four-game trip with stops in Detroit, Atlanta, Columbus and Nashville. The Coyotes return home for six straight contests.

N.Y. ISLANDERS (27-33-11, 65 POINTS) at CAROLINA (32-29-10, 74 points)

Where they stand:
The Hurricanes are ninth in the East while the Islanders are 14th.

What's at stake: Carolina can be level with eighth-place Buffalo on points with a win (though the Sabres will have two games in hand).

How it's going: The Hurricanes have lost five of six, including a 3-1 defeat by Toronto on Wednesday night.

Upcoming: Carolina has a home game against Ottawa on Tuesday before two sets of back-to-back games (the Hurricanes are 6-10-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this year).
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