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Devils surge back on top of East; Red Wings are first team to clinch playoff spot @NHLdotcom

While the Eastern Conference got another new leader, the West's top team locked up the first spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Behind goalie Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils handled former coach Jacques Lemaire and the Minnesota Wild again Thursday night, taking a 4-3 shootout win on the road.

That vaulted the Devils over a three-team logjam and back on top of the East with 88 points, one more than division rival Pittsburgh, and Northeast contenders the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

"In a matter of 24 hours you can go from fourth to first," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "Everything is so tight."

The Senators came out with a 3-0 victory over Montreal that pushed them back into first place by virtue of one more victory than the Canadiens.

In the West, the Detroit Red Wings received the first reward of leading the conference all season when they clinched the first playoff spot for the 16-team tournament. It took a come-from-behind 5-3 home win over Dallas to do it.

It was the fifth straight win for NHL-leading Detroit, which tied a league record by reaching 100 points for the eighth straight season. Montreal had 100-point seasons from 1975-82.

"I think you should give our organization a lot of credit for what we've been able to do," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Especially with the new salary system where everybody is on an equal playing field."

In other NHL games, it was Atlanta 6, Calgary 4; Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1; Los Angeles 4, Nashville 1; Colorado 5, Edmonton 1; and Phoenix 2, Vancouver 0.

New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner was the only successful shootout shooter, allowing the Devils to get by the Wild, who couldn't get anything past Brodeur after the second period.

The Wild are in a four-way fight for the Northwest Division, but they're also barely above the last of eight playoff spots in the West. Minnesota's exasperation was tough to hide after it lost in a shootout for the third straight game.

"I could see it. I could see it toward the overtime, but you have to try to control that," said Lemaire, who won a Stanley Cup as Brodeur's coach in 1995.

Brodeur fell behind 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 after Marian Gaborik's 35th goal with 14 seconds before the end of the middle frame, the seventh score against him in the last two games.

He was impenetrable after that, finishing with 34 saves plus three big stops in the shootout.

The Wild have beaten the Devils only once in eight tries since joining the NHL in 2000.

"I made a lot of saves, but I got real lucky, too," Brodeur said. "They threw a lot on net and a lot of weird bounces from the boards and even from tips and stuff. Sometimes you need that luck to survive, and it was definitely on our side."

At Detroit, Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and an assist for the host Red Wings.

Johan Franzen had a goal and an assist each for the Red Wings and Mikael Samuelsson and Valtteri Filppula also scored. Nicklas Lidstrom had two assists and Chris Osgood made 16 saves.

Trevor Daley, Jere Lehtinen and Brenden Morrow scored Dallas' goals and Joel Lundqvist had two assists.

At Boston, Mike Smith stopped 35 shots, and last-place Tampa Bay got goals from Jeff Halpern and Andreas Karlsson to beat slumping Bruins.

Vincent Lecavalier made it 3-1 on an empty-net goal with 7.8 seconds left.

Boston's Chuck Kobasew scored with 12:03 left. It was the sixth goal in six games for the Bruins, who are seventh in the East but sliding fast with just one win in seven games.

At Montreal, Jason Spezza scored two goals and Martin Gerber stopped 28 shots for his second shutout, leading the visiting Senators.

Spezza scored on a power play in the first period and then reached 30 goals for the second straight season. Antoine Vermette also scored for Ottawa.

Both teams have 10 games remaining.

At Atlanta, Bobby Holik scored on a pass from Ilya Kovalchuk with 3:47 left and the host Thrashers overcame a three-goal deficit to beat Calgary.

Kovalchuk scored into an empty net with 1:01 remaining, completing a hat trick and pushing his goal total to 48 this season. The Thrashers, down 3-0 early in the second period, tied it at 4 on a goal by Chris Thorburn at 10:10 of the third.

Calgary's Jarome Iginla scored two goals - giving him four in three games.

At Nashville, Tenn., Alexander Frolov scored two goals to lift the visiting Kings.

Dustin Brown and Matt Ellis also scored for Los Angeles, and J.P. Dumont had the lone goal for the Predators. Ellis scored an empty-net goal with 1:53 left.

At Glendale, Ariz., Ilya Bryzgalov had 24 saves for his fifth career shutout and Phoenix beat Vancouver to revive its flickering playoff hopes.

Niko Kapanen and Daniel Winnik each scored and Martin Hanzal had two assists for Phoenix, which pulled within three points of eighth-place Vancouver in the West.

Bryzgalov recorded his third shutout of the season. Roberto Luongo had 43 saves for the Canucks.

At Denver, Jaroslav Hlinka and Tyler Arnason each had a goal and an assist, helping Colorado move into sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.

Colorado has won eight of nine, including five straight at home. The Avalanche have the division lead to themselves for the first time since Dec. 18.

Peter Budaj is 5-0 this season and 9-1-2 in 12 career appearances against Edmonton.

Jeff Finger, David Jones and Wojtek Wolski also scored for Colorado. Sam Gagner had Edmonton's goal.

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