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Kings take their turn at the top of the Pacific Division

by John Kreiser

First place in the Pacific Division had three owners in the course of a couple of hours.

The Dallas Stars began the day in the top spot, but gave their pursuers a chance to catch them by losing 2-1 to the visiting Vancouver Canucks. Not long afterward, the Phoenix Coyotes completed a 3-2 win against Colorado to leap over the Stars and into first place.

But before the Coyotes could even think about being back in first place, they were supplanted by the Los Angeles Kings, who got shootout goals by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to beat the League-leading St. Louis Blues 1-0 for their sixth consecutive win.

At the end of the day, the Kings found themselves in first place with 86 points, the same as the Coyotes, who've played one more game. Dallas dropped from third to eighth with 85 -- the same number as Colorado, which has played two more games.

Lurking right behind them all is San Jose, which beat Boston 2-1 and has 84 points.

Friday will be a breather for the West -- the six games on the schedule don't involve any of the 11 teams still battling for a playoff spot in the conference. Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up after the eight games played on Thursday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (99 points) had the day off before Buffalo comes to Madison Square Garden on Friday for the finale of a seven-game homestand. The Rangers have won four of the first six.

Boston (87 points after Thursday's 2-1 loss at San Jose) managed just 17 shots in losing the opener of a three-game California swing. Zdeno Chara's bank-shot goal with 4:15 left was the only Boston tally of the night. The Bruins missed a chance to pad their three-point lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division. They have Friday off before visiting Los Angeles and Anaheim over the weekend.

Florida (85 points) starts a key weekend at home when Edmonton comes to BankAtlantic Center on Friday, followed by the New York Islanders on Sunday. These are games the Panthers need to win -- not only are both opponents out of the playoff race, but they'll be playing the second half of back-to-backs.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (98 points after Thursday's 5-1 win against Nashville)
is now 13-0-1 in its last 14 games after pummeling the Predators to become the third team to clinch a playoff berth. Evgeni Malkin added to his League-leading points total by scoring twice as the Penguins wiped out one of the better teams in the Western Conference to move within a point of the first-place Rangers

Philadelphia (94 points after Thursday's 2-1 shootout win against Washington) spotted the Caps an early goal but shut down Washington the rest of the way. Claude Giroux tied the game early in the second period and Wayne Simmonds scored the deciding goal in the fourth round of the shootout.

New Jersey (89 points) had the second of two off-days before Toronto comes to the Prudential Center on Friday night.

Ottawa (84 points) should have starting goaltender Craig Anderson and No. 1 center Jason Spezza back for Friday's game at Montreal. Anderson missed four weeks with a finger injury; Spezza sat out Tuesday's 1-0 loss to New Jersey due to illness.

Washington (81 points after Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss at Philadelphia) got off to a fast start when Alex Ovechkin scored 26 seconds into the game. But that was the only shot to beat Ilya Bryzgalov through 65 minutes, and the Caps had to settle for a single point -- though it was enough to move them into sole possession of eighth place.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (80 points)
will try to continue a climb that has moved the Sabres from 14th on Feb. 16 to ninth when it visits the Rangers on Friday night. The Sabres have gotten back in the playoff race by going 11-2-4 in their last 17 games.

Winnipeg (76 points) had the second of two off-days. The Jets have their biggest game of the season at Washington on Friday; a regulation loss would all but end their playoff hopes.

Carolina (75 points) had the day off before an interconference back-to-back with games at Columbus on Friday and Detroit on Saturday.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (101 points after Thursday's 1-0 shootout loss at Los Angeles) got a 37-save shutout by Brian Elliott but came out with only one point. T.J. Oshie scored in the shootout, but it wasn't enough to get the second point. After losses in Anaheim and L.A., the Blues have two days off before ending a seven-game trip in Phoenix on Sunday.

Vancouver (97 points after Thursday's 2-1 win at Dallas) got a goal and an assist from Mason Raymond, who replaced injured Daniel Sedin on the first line, and held off the Stars. Cory Schneider made 25 saves, including one on a second-period penalty shot. The Canucks finish a four-game trip on Saturday in Colorado, then have only one road game the rest of the season.

Los Angeles (86 points after Thursday's 1-0 shootout win against St. Louis) won a goaltending duel when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter scored in the shootout after the Kings and Blues were scoreless on a combined 72 shots. Jonathan Quick stopped 35 shots for his eighth shutout, tying him for the League lead.

The next five:

Detroit (93 points)
re-assigned defenseman Doug Janik to Grand Rapids of the AHL, indicating that at least one of the Wings' three injured defenseman could return on Saturday against Carolina. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who has missed 11 games with an ankle injury, skated for the fourth straight day on Thursday and has said he hopes to be back this weekend.

Nashville (92 points after Thursday's 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh) got a goal from Alexander Radulov in his first game with the Predators since the 2008 playoffs. But that was about the only thing that went right for Nashville, which trailed 2-0 after one period and 4-1 after two. The Predators have Friday off before Winnipeg comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.

Chicago (92 points) had the first of three off-days before Nashville comes to the United Center on Sunday. Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith might not be in uniform for that game -- he faces potential supplementary discipline from the NHL after a hit on Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win.

Phoenix (86 points after Thursday's 3-2 win against Colorado) dominated the Avs for the first two periods and led 3-0 after 40 minutes, then had to hang on in the final 20. Mike Smith celebrated his 30th birthday by making 39 saves for his 100th career victory, putting the Coyotes back in the top eight entering Saturday's game at San Jose.

Dallas (85 points after Thursday's 2-1 loss to Vancouver) did a good job shutting down the Canucks' offense but couldn't generate enough of its own. Mike Ribeiro failed on a second-period penalty shot, and only a fluky third-period goal by Vernon Fiddler averted a shutout. The Stars begin a home-and-home series with Calgary at the American Airlines Center on Saturday afternoon.

On the outside looking in:

Colorado (85 points after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Phoenix)
demonstrated once again that it's hard to play catch-up hockey successfully. The Avs trailed 2-0 after one period and 3-0 after two, then outshot the Coyotes 17-7 in the third and scored twice but came up a goal short. The Avs, whose 76 games played are the most of any playoff contender, host Vancouver on Saturday night.

San Jose (84 points after Thursday's 2-1 win against Boston) completed a season sweep of the Bruins thanks to goals by Joe Pavelski and Daniel Winnik, who scored his first since being acquired at the trade deadline. The Sharks held the Bruins to 17 shots and limited them to a late goal.

Calgary (83 points after Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss at Minnesota) keeps getting one point when it has to have two. For the third straight game, the Flames had to settle for a single point -- this time after blowing a 2-0 lead and then being unable to beat Josh Harding in four tries in the shootout. They complete a road trip in Dallas on Saturday.
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