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Hurricanes could close gap on playoff spot vs. Sabres

by David Kalan
With 27 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 Tuesday, March 15:

CAROLINA (31-28-10, 72 points) at BUFFALO (34-27-8, 76 points)

Where they stand: Carolina is ninth in the Eastern Conference; Buffalo is 7th in the East.

What's at stake: These two teams have jockeyed back and forth at the bottom of the East's top eight for several weeks now, and while the Sabres have gotten the better of it, taking a four-point lead in the race for a playoff berth, Carolina has the opportunity to pull within two points with a regulation win. A Buffalo win and a Rangers loss would give the Sabres a cushion as the seventh seed.

How it's going: The Hurricanes are in need of a momentum-changing win, having gone winless in four straight, including a home loss to Columbus on Saturday.

The Sabres beat Ottawa on Sunday but have alternated wins and loss over their last five games.

Upcoming: After Tuesday's visit to Buffalo, the Hurricanes open a three-game homestand against Toronto, the Islanders and Ottawa. Buffalo will host Atlanta and Nashville on back-to-back nights this weekend and then play in Montreal on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON (40-20-10, 90 points) at MONTREAL (38-24-7, 83 points)

Where they stand: Washington is second in the East; Montreal is sixth in the East.

What's at stake: Washington's eight-game win streak has carried them to within one point of Philadelphia for the top spot in the East. Montreal is two points off the lead in the Northeast Division.

How it's going: No one in the League has been hotter than the Caps, who pushed their win streak to eight Sunday with an impressive 4-3 overtime victory against Chicago. However, to push it to nine, they'll have to do it without center Jason Arnott, who will not play Tuesday and is listed as week-to-week with an undisclosed injury.

The Canadiens also have been playing well lately, winning six of their last seven games.

Upcoming: This one opens a season-long six-game road trip for Washington, which will take them to Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal. The Habs host the Lightning on Thursday and then go on the road to the Rangers and Wild.

ATLANTA (29-28-12, 70 points) at NEW JERSEY (32-32-4, 68 points)

Where they stand: Atlanta is 10th in the East; New Jersey is 12th in the East.

What's at stake: The Devils can climb into 10th place with a regulation win, which could also put New Jersey within six points of the Rangers and Sabres in the chase for the East's final playoff spot. A win could move the Thrashers within four points of the eighth seed.

How it's going: The Thrashers have started to get their season back on track by winning three of their last four games, though Atlanta's one loss in that span came against New Jersey, their opponent Tuesday. Curiously, all of Atlanta's last four games have gone to overtime.

The Devils have been one of the best teams in the League since the All-Star break, winning 16 of their last 19 games and jumping into the East playoff race. The streak hasn't come without some anxiety, however. The Devils have won four of their last five, but each of those wins came in overtime or a shootout.

Upcoming: After Tuesday's stop in New Jersey, the Thrashers will make a quick trip home to face Philadelphia Thursday and then go to Buffalo Saturday. New Jersey will head to Ottawa Thursday and then home to host the Capitals 24 hours later. Two days after facing Washington, the Devils open a four-game road trip that takes them to Columbus, Boston, Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

N.Y. ISLANDERS (27-32-11, 65 points) at N.Y. RANGERS (36-30-4, 76 points)

Where they stand: The Islanders are 14th in the East; the Rangers are eighth in the East.

What's at stake: While the Isles are not mathematically eliminated from the postseason hunt, it seems their best opportunity now is to gain experience for their promising young roster by playing spoiler. Doing so against a heated rival would be a rich achievement for the Islanders. A Rangers win and a Sabres loss would boost the Rangers back into seventh in the conference.

How it's going: The Islanders remain a dangerous team after winning four of their last six games, and they haven't lost in regulation this month (4-0-3).

The Rangers defeated the Sharks in a shootout Saturday for their third win in the last four games.

Upcoming: Madison Square Garden is the Islanders' second stop on a five-game road trip that will take them to Carolina on Friday and then Florida and Tampa Bay. The Rangers host Montreal Friday and then visit Pittsburgh on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NHLN-CA).

BOSTON (38-21-9, 85 points) at COLUMBUS (32-27-9, 73 points)

Where they stand: Boston is third in the East; Columbus is 12th in the Western Conference.

What's at stake: With the Canadiens nipping at the Bruins' heels, Boston could use a win to open some space in the Northeast Division race. A win for Columbus would keep the Jackets' faint playoff hopes alive in the West.

How it's going: The Bruins have followed a seven-game winning streak with a four-game winless skid.

Before defeating Carolina on Saturday, the Blue Jackets were winless in seven straight, dealing a massive blow to their postseason hopes.

Upcoming: After finishing their current road trip with visits to Nashville and Toronto, the B's come home to play the Devils, Canadiens and Rangers. Columbus hosts Detroit on Thursday, and then visits Minnesota on Saturday and returns home to face the Devils on Sunday.

PITTSBURGH (40-22-8, 88 points) at OTTAWA (25-35-9, 59 points)

Where they stand: Pittsburgh is fourth in the East; Ottawa is 15th in the East.

What's at stake: The Penguins have a one-point lead on the Lightning for fourth place in the conference, and the coveted home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs that goes with it. The Penguins also are just three points behind Philadelphia for the top spot in the conference. Ottawa is six points behind the 14th-place Islanders.

How it's going: The Penguins beat Edmonton on Sunday 5-1 and have won three of their last four.

Ottawa lost to Buffalo Sunday, but goalie Craig Anderson has made life difficult for any team searching for an easy win. Before falling to the Sabres, the Sens had won three straight games, each by a 2-1 margin.

Upcoming: Pittsburgh returns home to host the Rangers Sunday and then goes to Detroit and Philadelphia next week. Ottawa hosts the Devils and Lightning later this week before visiting Carolina next Tuesday.

PHILADELPHIA (42-19-7, 91 points) at FLORIDA (28-32-9, 65 points)

Where they stand: Philadelphia is first in the East; Florida is 13th in the East.

What's at stake: While the Flyers have been leading the pack for most of the season, Washington, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have narrowed their lead, and Philly needs a win to guarantee their lead for one more night. Florida has very slim playoff hopes at this point as it sits 11 points back of the final spot.

How it's going: Philadelphia has stumbled recently, with just two wins in its last seven games, including a 5-4 overtime loss to Atlanta on Saturday.

The Panthers have won two of their last three games and proved they can still give the elite trouble with a 4-3 overtime win against Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Upcoming: The Flyers visit Atlanta and Dallas later this week and then return home for games against Washington and Pittsburgh. Florida hosts the Leafs and Islanders later this week and then starts a five-game road trip to the Rangers, Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

LOS ANGELES (39-25-5, 83 points) at NASHVILLE (35-24-10, 80 points)

Where they stand: Los Angeles is fifth in the West; Nashville is ninth place in the West.

What's at stake: A win would vault the Kings over Chicago and into fourth place in the conference. The tight West leaves little room for error, however. L.A. is just three points ahead of the Preds. Nashville can pass Calgary for eighth place with a win and a Flames regulation loss.

How it's going: The Kings beat Dallas Sunday for their third-straight win on their current four-game road trip.

Nashville is in the midst of a five-game homestand, and has started strong with wins against Minnesota and Colorado.

Upcoming: After wrapping its road trip in Nashville, the Kings start a five-game homestand, against St. Louis, Anaheim, Calgary, San Jose and Colorado. The Preds host Boston on Thursday, and start a back-to-back with a home game against Detroit on Saturday followed by a visit Buffalo on Sunday.

SAN JOSE (39-23-8, 86 points) at DALLAS (37-24-8, 82 points)

Where they stand: San Jose is third in the West; Dallas is seventh in the West.

What's at stake: San Jose can pull within two points of Detroit for second place in the West and also could start to pull away from Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas in the Pacific Division race. For Dallas, a win could lift them as high as fourth in the conference.

How it's going: After a rough 6-3 loss to Chicago on Monday, a quick turnaround could be a good thing, as they can focus on the Stars. New focus would be good, as the Sharks have won just once in their last five games.

Dallas has struggled with inconsistency, winning just one of their last three games, including a 3-2 loss to the Kings on Sunday.

Upcoming: San Jose starts a three-game homestand Thursday, against St. Louis, Minnesota and Calgary. The Stars will finish their seven-game homestand with visits from Chicago, Philadelphia and Anaheim.

PHOENIX (36-23-11, 83 points) at CALGARY (36-26-9, 81 points)

Where they stand: Phoenix is sixth in the West; Calgary is eighth in the West.

What's at stake: The Coyotes could jump into fourth place with a win, but they enter the day just three points ahead of ninth-place Nashville. The Flames' lead over the Predators is just one point, but Calgary could rise to seventh with a regulation win.

How it's going: The Coyotes have three wins in their last four games, including a 5-2 win against Anaheim on Sunday.

The Flames have taken a step back recently, losing two straight games, to the Coyotes and conference-leading Vancouver on Saturday.

Upcoming: Phoenix closes its four-game road trip in Edmonton and Vancouver later this week, then returns home to start a six-game homestand. The Flames host Colorado Thursday, and then play four straight on the road, in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Edmonton.

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