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Flames positioned for biggest move on busy Saturday

by Corey Masisak
With 30 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 can directly impact the playoff races.

Here is the installment for Saturday, March 12:

VANCOUVER (44-16-9, 97 points) at CALGARY (36-25-9, 81 points)

Where they stand: The Canucks lead the West by nine points while the Flames are in eighth place.

What's at stake:
Vancouver will be trying to stay sharp (and healthy) for the postseason. Calgary could move all the way to fourth place with a win because the four teams in front of them are idle.

How it's going: The Canucks have won five of six to become clear Presidents' Trophy favorites. The Flames had won three straight before a 3-0 loss to Phoenix on Thursday.

Upcoming: Vancouver has a three-game homestand against Minnesota, Colorado and Phoenix next week. Calgary has just two games next week -- at home against Phoenix and Colorado -- before a four-game road trip.

N.Y. RANGERS (35-30-4, 74 points) at SAN JOSE SHARKS (39-22-7, 85 points)

Where they stand: The Rangers are eighth in the East while the Sharks are third in the West.

What's at stake: New York could finish the night in seventh, but the Rangers could also be outside the top eight with a regulation loss and a Carolina victory. San Jose could close to within one point of Detroit for second place in the West.

How it's going:
The Rangers had won two straight in convincing fashion before traveling to California and losing 5-2 to Anaheim. The Sharks won nine of 10 games before losing to Vancouver in a shootout. San Jose has still won 18 of its past 23 games since mid-January.

Upcoming: New York returns home for games against the Islanders and Canadiens before a Sunday matinee at Pittsburgh a week from tomorrow. San Jose travels to Chicago and Dallas for back-to-back contests before returning home for three straight.

BUFFALO (33-26-8, 74 points) at TORONTO (29-29-10, 68 points)

Where they stand: The Sabres are seventh in the East while the Maple Leafs are in 10th place.

What's at stake: Buffalo will definitely stay in seventh place with a win and can fall no further than eighth with a loss. Toronto could close to within four points of a playoff spot with a win and a Rangers regulation loss but could also fall to 12th if the Maple Leafs lose in regulation combined with New Jersey and Atlanta victories.

How it's going: The Sabres have gone 6-1-2 in their past nine games to move into a playoff position. The Maple Leafs have followed back-to-back wins against the two Pennsylvania teams with three straight losses.

Upcoming: Buffalo has four straight games at home and seven of the next nine at HSBC Arena. Toronto has home games against Tampa Bay and Boston as bookends with a trip to Florida to play the Lightning and Panthers in between.

COLUMBUS (31-27-9, 71 points) at CAROLINA (31-27-10, 72 points)

Where they stand: The Blue Jackets are 12th in the West while the Hurricanes are ninth in the East.

What's at stake: Columbus has fallen to 10 points back of eighth place and is closing in on must-win territory. Carolina missed a chance to move back into the top eight Friday night but do so with a win and a Rangers loss in regulation.

How it's going: The Blue Jackets had moved to the cusp of the top eight in the West but then lost seven straight games. The Hurricanes have dropped three straight, including games to division rivals Atlanta and Washington.

Upcoming: Columbus has home games against Boston and Detroit before a trip to Minnesota. Carolina has contests against fellow East playoff contenders Buffalo and Toronto before games against the N.Y. Islanders and Ottawa.

ATLANTA (28-28-12, 68 points) at PHILADELPHIA (42-19-6, 90 points)

Where they stand: The Thrashers are 11th in the East while the Flyers hold the top spot in the conference.

What's at stake: Atlanta could move to within four points of a playoff spot and pass Toronto for 10th place with the optimal results. Philadelphia could lose first place in the conference with a regulation loss and a win Sunday by Washington.

How it's going: The Thrashers won back-to-back games for the second time in 2011 before losing in overtime to New Jersey. The Flyers have won two straight after a season-long four-game skid.

Upcoming: Atlanta has road games at New Jersey and Buffalo with a home contest against the Flyers in between. Philadelphia has three road games before home tilts against rivals Washington and Pittsburgh.

N.Y. ISLANDERS (27-32-10, 64 points) at NEW JERSEY (31-32-4, 66 points)

Where they stand: The Islanders are 13th in the East while the Devils are 12th.

What's at stake: New York could pull within 10 points of the final playoff spot in the East with a win and a regulation loss by the Rangers. New Jersey could move up to 10th place and be only six points back of the Rangers with two games in hand if the Devils win and Toronto, Atlanta and the Rangers all lose before overtime.

How it's going: The Islanders have not lost in regulation in March (4-0-2). The Devils are 21-3-2 since a Jan. 8 loss to Philadelphia.

Upcoming: This is the first of five straight road games for New York. New Jersey has home games against Atlanta and Washington around a trip to Ottawa before four in a row on the road.

COLORADO (26-33-8, 60 points) at NASHVILLE (34-24-10, 78 points)

Where they stand: The Avalanche are 14th in the West while the Predators are in 10th place.

What's at stake: Nashville could leap idle Anaheim and move into ninth place with a win.

How it's going: The Avalanche have lost 17 of their past 18 games. The Predators had lost seven of eight before a 4-0 win against Minnesota.

Upcoming: Colorado has a three-game trip to play the teams in Western Canada next week. This is second of five straight home games for Nashville.

DETROIT (40-20-8, 88 points) AT ST. LOUIS (31-28-9 71 points)

Where they stand: The Red Wings are second in the West while the Blues are in 13th place.

What's at stake: Detroit could expand its lead on San Jose for the No. 2 seed to five points or see it dwindle to as few as one. St. Louis could move to within eight points of eighth place.

How it's going: The Red Wings had lost four in a row before escaping with a 2-1 victory against Edmonton. The Blues have won three in a row.

Detroit has six of its next eight games at Joe Louis Arena. St. Louis has a four-game trip to play the three California teams and Phoenix up next.

TAMPA BAY (38-22-8, 84 points) at FLORIDA (27-32-9, 63 points)

Where they stand:
Tampa Bay is fifth in the East while Florida is 14th.

What's at stake: The Lightning can move to within two points of Washington for first place in the Southeast and with a game in hand. Tampa Bay could also move into fourth in the East with a win and a Pittsburgh loss in regulation.

How it's going: Both teams have lost five of six in March.

Upcoming: The Lightning have a three-game road trip to play the teams in Eastern Canada. The Panthers complete a seven-game homestand with contests against Philadelphia, Toronto and the N.Y. Islanders next week.

Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter at: @cmasisak22

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