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Flames win to climb back into eighth in West

by John Kreiser
The Calgary Flames moved back into eighth place in the West by taking care of business against the struggling Colorado Avalanche.

Calgary handed the Avs their 20th loss in 21 games by beating Colorado 5-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday night. Jarome Iginla scored twice to help the Flames end a two-game losing streak and move into the final playoff spot -- with 83 points, they're one ahead of Nashville and two in front of Anaheim.

The bad news for the Flames -- they have just nine games remaining, fewer than any of the other playoff contenders. Even tougher: The next four games and six of the next seven are on the road, beginning Sunday night in Anaheim.

In the East, Atlanta helped its chances by beating Philadelphia 4-3 in a shootout, while New Jersey's hopes took a hit with a 3-1 loss at Ottawa.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (94 points after Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss at Atlanta) got a point when Danny Briere scored his second of the game with 1:28 remaining in regulation. The Flyers are 3-0-2 in their last five -- a stretch that includes overtime and shootout losses to the Thrashers.

Washington (92 points) had a welcome day off after games at Montreal and Detroit on back-to-back days. The Caps continue a six-game trip when they visit New Jersey on Friday.

Boston (88 points after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss at Nashville) couldn't hold a third-period lead against the pesky Predators, then lost when Shea Weber scored a power-play goal in overtime. The single point did keep them three in front of Montreal in the Northeast Division race.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (90 points) had another day off; the Penguins don't play again until the Rangers come to the Consol Energy Center on Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m., NBC). Sidney Crosby skated again -- for the third time in four days -- but said he's not sure when he'll be able to step up the pace and intensity of his workouts as he tries to return from a concussion that's kept him out since early January.

Tampa Bay (88 points after Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss at Montreal) got one point but couldn't get the second one in the shootout at the Bell Centre. Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne scored for the Bolts, who moved within four points of Washington for first in the Southeast.

Montreal (85 points after Thursday's 3-2 home shootout win against Tampa Bay) found a way to win with nine regulars out of the lineup due to injuries. Mike Cammalleri's goal in the fourth round of the shootout sent the Habs to New York for Friday's game against the Rangers seven points in front of the Blueshirts for sixth.

New York Rangers (78 points) had a second day off before they welcome Montreal to Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

Buffalo (76 points) had an hour-long practice Thursday after taking Wednesday off. The Sabres are idle until Atlanta comes to HSBC Arena on Saturday.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (74 points) hopes a visit from the New York Islanders on Friday will help its struggling offense. The 'Canes, 1-3-1 with seven goals scored in their last five games, have won their last four meetings with New York and have outscored the Isles 11-3 in the last two games at the RBC Center.

Atlanta (72 points after Thursday's 4-3 home shootout win against Philadelphia) got shootout goals by Rob Schremp and Blake Wheeler to beat the Flyers for the second time in five days and give their flickering playoff hopes a boost. The win makes Saturday's visit to Buffalo perhaps the Thrashers' biggest game of the season.

Toronto (72 points after Thursday's 4-0 loss at Florida) picked a bad time to come up with a clunker. One night after a big 3-1 win at Carolina, the Leafs were beaten soundly as coach Ron Wilson opted to start Jean-Sebastien Giguere rather than rookie James Reimer, who made 36 saves in the win at Carolina.

New Jersey (70 points after Thursday's 3-1 loss at Ottawa) saw a lot of its wiggle room disappear at the hands of Curtis McElhinney and the last-place Senators. Chris Neil scored twice for Ottawa, which beat the Devils for the second time in nine days. After six straight games against non-playoff teams, Friday brings a visit from the Washington Capitals.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (103 points) had the day off to celebrate its third consecutive division title. Center Manny Malhotra had surgery Thursday after being hit in the eye by a puck in Wednesday's win against Colorado and is out indefinitely, beginning with Friday's visit from Phoenix.

Detroit (94 points after Thursday's 2-0 win at Columbus) got a superb performance by Joey MacDonald, the No. 3 goaltender in the organization, to win at Columbus. MacDonald made 37 saves to help Mike Babcock become just the third coach in NHL history to reach 300 wins in his first six seasons with a team.

San Jose (90 points after Thursday's 3-2 home win against Minnesota) stayed three points ahead of Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead by edging the Wild. San Jose pelted goaltender Niklas Backstrom with 50 shots, but needed a third-period goal by Patrick Marleau to break a 2-2 tie. The Sharks have won back-to-back games after losing three in a row.

The next five:

Phoenix (87 points after Thursday's 3-1 win at Edmonton) was outshot 36-17 at Edmonton, but Ilya Bryzgalov made 35 saves -- one on Andrew Cogliano's third-period penalty shot -- as the Coyotes improved to 3-0-0 on this week's four-game road trip. Sweeping the trip won't be easy; Phoenix visits League-leading Vancouver on Friday.

Los Angeles (85 points after Thursday's 4-0 home loss to St. Louis) played perhaps its worst game of the season in its return home after sweeping a four-game trip. The Kings were outshot 39-17, including 30-6 in the first two periods, and lost its seventh in a row to St. Louis, which has faded from the playoff race.

Dallas (84 points after Thursday's 5-0 home win against Chicago) might earn some more off-days down the stretch after routing the Hawks. Coach Marc Crawford called off practice on Wednesday, one night after a 6-3 loss to San Jose, and the rejuvenated Stars dominated Chicago to move into sixth place in the West.

Chicago (84 points after Thursday's 5-0 loss at Dallas) also came up with one of its worst efforts. The Hawks were smoked in Dallas as Corey Crawford allowed three goals on 10 shots before being replaced. Chicago has two days off to regroup before visiting Phoenix on Sunday.

Calgary (83 points after Thursday's 5-2 home win against Colorado) took care of business against the struggling Avs as Jarome Iginla scored twice. Calgary moved back into the top eight -- but has to sit for two days before beginning a four-game trip Sunday in Anaheim. The Flames just one home game in their next seven.

On the outside looking in:

Nashville (82 points after Thursday's 4-3 home OT win against Boston) won in overtime for the first time all season when Shea Weber scored a power-play goal with 1:23 remaining in the five-minute extra period. The Predators have a tough weekend -- Detroit comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday before Nashville visits Buffalo on Sunday for a 5 p.m. ET start.

Anaheim (81 points) had the first of two off-days before visiting Los Angeles on Saturday.

Minnesota (77 points after Thursday's 3-2 loss at San Jose) couldn't turn a brilliant 47-save effort by Niklas Backstrom into two points. The Wild lost all four games on a tough road trip -- meaning they have to make the most of a four-game homestand that starts Saturday against Columbus.

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