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Four teams clinch, two berths left

by John Kreiser
The number of available berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is down to two.

The Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks all punched their playoff tickets with victories on Friday. The Sabres became the seventh team in the East to qualify by beating Philadelphia 4-3 in OT, while Nashville, Phoenix and Anaheim all won at home to assure themselves of playoff berths in the West.

There's only one spot left in each conference, with Carolina and the New York Rangers battling in the East, and Chicago trying to hold off Dallas in the West. Carolina won Friday and plays Saturday, as do the Rangers; the Hawks and Stars both won Friday and don't play until Sunday.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders:

Washington (107 points) wrapped up the No. 1 seed when Philadelphia lost in overtime at Buffalo. The Caps expect to have All-Star defenseman Mike Green back in the lineup for Saturday's regular-season finale at Florida. He's missed most of the last two months with a concussion. Coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't saying which veterans he might rest against the Panthers.

Philadelphia (104 points after Friday's 4-3 OT loss at Buffalo) couldn't hold on to a 3-2 third-period lead and saw a valuable point disappear. The Flyers can still wrap up the Atlantic Division title and the No. 2 seed by beating the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Boston (101 points) finishes its home schedule Saturday against Ottawa before visiting New Jersey on Sunday. The Bruins, winners of the Northeast Division, are locked into third.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (104 points after Friday's 4-3 shootout road win against the New York Islanders) avenged a 9-3 loss in its last visit to the Nassau Coliseum despite allowing a tying goal in the final minute of regulation. Chris Kunitz scored the only goal of the shootout, assuring the Penguins no worse than fourth place and the possibility of winning the Atlantic Division if Philadelphia doesn't beat the Isles on Saturday.

Tampa Bay (101 points after Friday's 4-2 home win against Florida) completed its home season by beating the Panthers, with Vincent Lecavalier scoring twice. The Bolts will play Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the first round after finishing the regular season at Carolina on Saturday. The Lightning's 101 points are the most since they got 106 in their Cup-winning season of 2003-04.

Montreal (94 points) can lock up sixth place by winning its season finale at Toronto on Saturday.

Buffalo (94 points after Friday's 4-3 home OT win against Philadelphia) wrapped up a playoff berth by rallying for a third-period goal to finish regulation tied at 3-3. Thomas Vanek added the icing on the cake by scoring in overtime. Even better news for the Sabres: No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller got the win in relief of Jhonas Enroth in his first appearance since March 29. The Sabres close their season at Columbus on Saturday and can finish sixth if they get one more point than Montreal does against Toronto.

Carolina (91 points after Friday's 6-1 win at Atlanta) jumped into eighth and put itself in position to make the playoffs regardless of what the Rangers do by jumping on the Thrashers early and not letting up. Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole scored in the first 6:15, Joni Pitkanen made it 3-0 just 32 seconds into the second period and the Canes added three more in the third. They can clinch by beating Tampa Bay at home on Saturday.

On the outside looking in:

New York Rangers (91 points) will become the first team to officially end its regular season when it hosts New Jersey at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Rangers need at least a point -- and preferably a win -- to have any chance of extending their season. They have to finish ahead of Carolina in points -- the Hurricanes have the edge on tiebreakers.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (115 points) figures to give some regulars, including starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, the night off in Saturday's season finale at Calgary. The Canucks have a chance to become the first team since the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens to lead the NHL in goals for and goals against -- they enter Saturday tops in both categories.

San Jose
(103 points after Friday's 4-3 loss at Phoenix) missed a chance to lock up second place in the West by losing to the Coyotes for the first time in five meetings this season. Captain Joe Thornton sparked a late comeback by scoring a goal for his 1,000th career point. The Sharks can lock up the second seed with a win in the return match with the Coyotes at San Jose on Saturday.

Detroit (102 points after Friday's 4-2 home loss to Chicago) was down 3-0 after one period, 4-0 early in the second and never recovered. The Wings need a loss by San Jose on Saturday and at least a point at Chicago on Sunday to finish second.

The next five:

Nashville (99 points after Friday's 4-1 home win against Columbus) became the fifth Western Conference team to assure itself of a playoff berth by beating Columbus in its final home game. Pekka Rinne, the best Predator for most of the season, was the star against the Jackets, making 44 saves. The Predators will be playing for position when they visit St. Louis on Saturday -- a win will give them fourth place and home ice in the first round.

Phoenix (99 points after Friday's 4-3 home win against San Jose) finally clinched a berth after a couple of near misses by building a 4-1 lead and then hanging on. Shane Doan's third-period goal proved to be the winner after San Jose scored twice and tested Ilya Bryzgalov several more times. The Coyotes can finish as high as fourth if they can win in San Jose on Saturday.

Los Angeles (98 points after Friday's 2-1 loss at Anaheim) had to watch its suburban rivals clinch a playoff berth at their expense before a sellout crowd in Anaheim. The teams play again in L.A. on Saturday with the Kings trying to snap a scoring drought that has seen them get just 10 goals in their last six games.

Anaheim (97 points after Friday's 2-1 home win against Los Angeles) got two goals from the ageless Teemu Selanne to wrap up its fifth playoff berth in six years -- giving Southern California two teams in the postseason for the first time since the Ducks arrived in 1993. Anaheim can still finish anywhere from fourth to eighth

Chicago (97 points after Friday's 4-2 win at Detroit) jumped on the Wings early and often to win the front end of a home-and-home series. Brian Campbell's goal gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead just 8:45 into the game, Marian Hossa scored 6:45 into the second and the Hawks cruised from there.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (95 points after Friday's 3-2 win at Colorado) will get to the final day of the season with a chance to make the playoffs after completing a home-and-home sweep by winning in Denver. Captain Brenden Morrow's goal 40 seconds into the third period proved to be the winner. The Stars play the 1,230th and final game of the regular-season schedule Sunday at Minnesota -- they'll know by then whether they will have a chance to earn the final postseason berth.

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