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Jets save their season by rallying to beat Caps

by John Kreiser
The Winnipeg Jets went from looking at the end of their postseason hopes to being alive and well in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Jets found themselves trailing 3-0 early in the second period at Washington on Friday night in a game they couldn't afford to lose -- they came in five points behind the eighth-place Caps with 15 days left in the regular season. But the Jets got two quick goals to get back in the game, tied it with less than four minutes left in regulation and won it when Tim Stapleton scored 2:37 into OT for a 4-3 victory.

Instead of finding themselves seven points out of the last playoff berth in the East, as they would have with a regulation loss, the Jets moved within four points of the Caps and the Buffalo Sabres, who beat the Rangers 4-1 in New York. Washington and Buffalo have 82 points with seven games remaining; Winnipeg has 78 but owns a game in hand on both teams.

Friday was a breather for the West -- the six games on the schedule didn't involve any of the 11 teams still battling for a playoff spot. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up entering an 11-game Saturday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (99 points after Friday's 4-1 loss to Buffalo) finished a seven-game homestand on a down note by losing to the surging Sabres. Brian Boyle tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, but the Sabres scored four times on 26 shots against Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers begin a three-game trip Saturday night in Toronto (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC).

Boston (87 points) flew to Los Angeles after practice following Thursday's 2-1 loss at San Jose. Though his team managed only 17 shots against the Sharks, coach Claude Julien said his team has "to be a little bit more committed and determined, more than desperate."

Florida (86 points after Friday's 2-1 shootout loss against Edmonton) came up empty in the shootout after missing a couple of golden opportunities to win in overtime -- including a breakaway by Kris Versteeg in the final 10 seconds. The single point kept the Panthers four ahead of Washington in the race for the top spot in the Southeast Division.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (98 points) will have a chance to take over the top spot in the conference this weekend after the Rangers' loss. The Penguins visit Ottawa on Saturday and host New Jersey on Sunday.

Philadelphia (94 points) missed out on clinching a playoff berth when Buffalo won. The Flyers can do it themselves by beating the Canadiens on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

New Jersey (90 points after Friday's 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto) overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to force a shootout -- something at which the Devils usually excel. But Martin Brodeur, the winningest goaltender in the history of the tiebreaker, was beaten on all three shots by the Leafs, forcing the Devils to settle for a single point.

Ottawa (84 points after Friday's 5-1 loss at Montreal) got starting goaltender Craig Anderson back after he missed a month with a finger injury -- and saw him get torched, allowing two quick goals by Eric Cole, who then beat backup Ben Bishop to complete a natural hat trick in the first 5:41. The Senators had 38 shots on Carey Price, but only Jason Spezza managed to score. Life doesn't get easier -- the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL's hottest team, come to Scotiabank Place on Saturday.

Washington (82 points after Friday's 4-3 overtime loss against Winnipeg) looked like it would roll to an easy win when Alex Ovechkin scored twice early in the second period for a 3-0 lead. But the Capitals took their foot off the gas offensively and were outplayed badly the rest of the way -- they were outshot 19-2 after the second period. Saturday is an off-day before Minnesota comes to Verizon Center on Sunday.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (82 points after Friday's 4-1 win at New York Rangers) improved to 17-5-5 in its last 27 games behind two goals by Drew Stafford and 26 saves by Ryan Miller. The Sabres have a chance to grab eighth place, at least for a day, when Minnesota comes to First Niagara Center on Saturday.

Winnipeg (78 points after Friday's 4-3 overtime win at Washington) saved its season by rallying to beat the Caps -- but the Jets don't get any time to enjoy the win. Winnipeg completes a three-game trip with a visit to Nashville on Saturday before heading home to host Ottawa on Monday.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (101 points) had the first of two welcome off-days after a back-to-back in Southern California. The Blues wrap up their seven-game trip Sunday in Phoenix.

Vancouver (97 points) will again be without Daniel Sedin for Saturday's visit to Colorado. He also sat out Thursday's 2-1 win in Dallas after taking an elbow to the head in Chicago on Wednesday.

Los Angeles (86 points)
will try for its seventh straight win when Boston comes to the Staples Center on Saturday.

The next five:

Detroit (93 points) hopes to have captain Nicklas Lidstrom back in the lineup for Saturday's home game against Carolina. Lidstrom has missed three weeks with an ankle injury. Coach Mike Babcock seemed confident after Friday's practice that Lidstrom would be back, but the Wings' captain said he'll see how he feels after the morning skate.

Nashville (92 points) had some buzz at practice as fans turned out to get their first look at newly-returned forward Alexander Radulov. He'll play his first home game since 2008 when Winnipeg comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, with Predators trying to end a two-game losing streak. Center Paul Gaustad (wrist) could also be back in the lineup.

Chicago (92 points) is off until Nashville comes to the United Center on Sunday. The Hawks will play that game and the four that follow without their top defenseman, Duncan Keith, who was suspended for five games by the NHL on Friday after a hit on Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win.

Phoenix (86 points) had an off-day before visiting San Jose on Saturday and hosting St. Louis on Sunday. The Coyotes will get some reinforcements on Monday when college signee Scott Arnold joins the team. Arnold came to terms with Phoenix earlier this week after playing two seasons at Niagara University.

Dallas (85 points) will honor former Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins before Saturday afternoon's game against Calgary. Skrastins, who played the last two of his 11 NHL seasons with Dallas, was among those killed in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash in Russia last September.

On the outside looking in:

Colorado (85 points) faces a must-win game when Vancouver comes to the Pepsi Center on Saturday night. Not only are the Avs outside the top eight, but they also will have just five games remaining -- the fewest of any playoff contender.

San Jose (84 points)
will try to build on its 2-1 win against Boston when Phoenix comes to the Shark Tank on Saturday night.

Calgary (83 points)
spent part of Friday's practice working on shootouts. The Flames fell to 4-9 in the tiebreaker by losing Thursday night in Minnesota. The Flames are 0-1-3 in their last four, including a pair of shootout losses.
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