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Kings in, Flames out, Hurricanes alive

by John Kreiser
The top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket is complete.

The Los Angeles Kings joined the party on Wednesday by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout at the Staples Center. Goals by Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll were enough when Jonathan Quick stopped Lauri Korpikoski in the third round.

With 98 points, the Kings jumped to fourth and are beyond the reach of the Dallas Stars, the only non-playoff team still with a chance to qualify in the West.

Calgary rolled over Edmonton 6-1 behind a hat trick by Jarome Iginla, but the Flames were eliminated when Chicago and Anaheim both won. The Flames can get to 95 points by winning their season finale against Vancouver, but will end up with fewer non-shootout wins than either team.

In the East, ninth-place Carolina stayed on the heels of seventh-place Buffalo and the eighth-place New York Rangers by beating Detroit 3-0. The 'Canes are two points behind the Rangers and three behind Buffalo with two games to play.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Washington (107 points after Wednesday's 5-2 home win against Florida) cruised past the last-place Panthers to move within one point of clinching the top seed in the East. The Caps got power-play goals by Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera, plus 31 saves by Semyon Varlamov, to beat the last-place Panthers. Washington has two days off before finishing its regular season at Florida on Saturday.

Philadelphia (103 points) has the first of two days off, but the Flyers officially added a goaltender when Michael Leighton cleared waivers. GM Paul Holmgren said he'd like to have Leighton see some action against NHL shooters, meaning he could play Friday at Buffalo or Saturday against the Islanders.

Boston (101 points after Wednesday's 3-2 home win against the Islanders) held off an out-of-the-playoffs team that dressed five rookie defensemen. Gregory Campbell had a goal and an assist, and Tim Thomas was brilliant in a 32-save effort. Boston was eliminated from the race for first place in the East, but could still finish second.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points) had an optional practice, with Sidney Crosby again among the participants. Also on hand was Evgeni Malkin, who had skates on for the first time since undergoing knee surgery two months ago. Malkin took a lap around the ice after the team photo was taken. Coach Dan Bylsma said if Malkin had his way, he'd have come back "yesterday."

Tampa Bay (99 points) is off until Friday's home finale against Florida. The Lightning are all but locked into fifth place.

Montreal (93 points) had an off-day top to savor clinching a playoff spot with Tuesday's 2-1 OT win against Chicago. The Canadiens can finish anywhere from sixth to eighth, depending on how they fare in road games at Ottawa on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday.

Buffalo (92 points) will have starting goaltender Ryan Miller taking part in Thursday's full practice. Miller, who's missed more than a week with an upper-body injury, took part in drills on Wednesday. He said he's eager to return but will see what doctors and coaches have to say. The play of rookie Jhonas Enroth (3-0-1 in four games during Miller's absence) has made his return less urgent.

New York Rangers (91 points) lost forward Ryan Callahan with a broken leg on Monday, but might have captain Chris Drury back if they can make the playoffs. The Rangers can take a big step in that direction by beating Atlanta at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, Versus).

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (89 points after Wednesday's 3-0 home win against Detroit) got the first of three wins it needs to have any hopes of making the playoffs. Cam Ward stopped all 42 shots he faced and rookie Jeff Skinner became the eighth 18-year-old in NHL history to reach the 30-goal mark. The 'Canes will spend Thursday rooting for the Thrashers to beat the Rangers before playing at Atlanta on Friday night.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (113 points) hosts Minnesota on Thursday night in its final regular-season home game.

San Jose (103 points after Wednesday's 6-1 loss at Anaheim) gave Antti Niemi his first night off since before the All-Star break, but didn't help backup Antero Niittymaki by filling the penalty box. The Ducks connected for four power-play goals, costing the Sharks a chance to put some room between themselves and Detroit in the race for second place in the West.

Detroit (102 points after Wednesday's 3-0 loss at Carolina) fired 42 shots at Cam Ward but didn't score on any of them, costing the Wings a chance to jump over San Jose. More damaging was the loss of star forward Henrik Zetterberg, who left midway through the first period with what the Wings called a lower-body injury. He's not likely to play in this weekend's home-and-home series against Chicago.

The next five:

Los Angeles (98 points after Wednesday's 3-2 home shootout win against Phoenix) locked up a playoff berth when Jonathan Quick stopped two of three shots to improve to 10-0 in shootouts. Kyle Clifford tied the game at 2-2 with a goal late in the second period. The Kings can assure themselves of home ice in the first round by beating Anaheim in their home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

Nashville (97 points)
had the first of two off-days before ending the season by hosting Columbus on Friday and visiting St. Louis on Saturday.

Phoenix (97 points after Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss at Los Angeles) had a chance to lock up a playoff berth but couldn't beat the Kings in the tiebreaker. The Coyotes end their season with a home-and-home series against San Jose Friday and Saturday and need just one point, or one lost point by Dallas, to qualify for the playoff for the second year in a row.

Anaheim (95 points after Wednesday's 6-2 home win against San Jose) served notice that it will be a tough out -- if it makes the playoffs. Corey Perry had a hat trick against the Sharks to become the NHL's first 50-goal scorer this season, and Ryan Getzlaf set up four of the six goals. The Ducks scored four times on the power play to stay in seventh place entering their weekend series with L.A.

Chicago (95 points after Wednesday's 4-3 home OT win against St. Louis) rallied from a 2-0 deficit early in the second period by scoring three times, then saw captain Jonathan Toews win the game in overtime. It was atonement of a sort for the Hawks' captain, who was in the penalty box a night earlier when Montreal scored the overtime winner in a 2-1 victory. Chicago still isn't assured of a playoff berth entering a season-ending pair with Detroit.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (91 points) didn't get any help on its night off but still has a chance to overhaul either Chicago or Anaheim. The Stars host Colorado on Thursday, go to Denver on Friday and end the season at Minnesota on Sunday. Dallas can still finish with as many as 97 points by winning out -- and a win on Thursday would put some heat on the Hawks and Ducks on Friday night.
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