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Kiprusoff's heroics jump Flames into fifth

by John Kreiser
Miikka Kiprusoff  has been the linchpin of the Calgary Flames' surge in the past few weeks, but Kiprusoff outdid himself on Friday night.

Not only did Kiprusoff make 37 saves in the Flames' 4-3 win against Columbus, he stopped a pair of penalty shots -- one by Matt Calvert in the second period and another by Antoine Vermette in the third with the Flames clinging to a one-goal lead.

The win jumped the Flames into fifth place in the West, one point ahead of Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Dallas was the only team in either conference to move from outside into the top eight -- but the point that lifted the Stars into the last playoff spot in the West was a bitter one. Dallas led 3-1 after two periods in Anaheim but wound up settling for a single point when Anaheim rallied for a 4-3 win by scoring with 3.8 seconds in OT.

In the East, the New York Rangers jumped back into seventh place with a 4-1 win at Ottawa, while Carolina fell 5-2 at Chicago and slipped to eighth.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (86 points) had the night off. The Flyers, losers in back-to-back games for the first time since late December, host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon.

Boston (83 points) also had Friday off. The Bruins bring a seven-game winning streak into Saturday night's home game against Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay (81 points) is happy to be back home after a three-game trip that ended 1-2-0 after a 2-1 loss at Boston on Thursday. The Bolts' last four games have all ended 2-1, with Tampa Bay winning the first two but losing to the Devils and Bruins on back-to-back nights.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (82 points after Friday's 3-2 overtime loss at New Jersey) battled the red-hot Devils to the very end before Ilya Kovalchuk's game-winning power-play goal with less than 30 seconds left in OT. The Pens got their lone goal from Tyler Kennedy. They go to Boston having dropped 10 of their last 13, and none of the three wins have come in regulation.

Washington (80 points) is off until Sunday, when the Caps visit Florida. They'll have to avoid looking ahead to Monday's showdown with division-leading Tampa Bay.

Montreal (77 points) completes a two-game swing through Florida on Saturday with a trip to Tampa Bay.

New York Rangers (72 points after Friday's 4-1 win at Ottawa) did what any team desperate for points has to do -- beat a team that's behind it in the standings. The Rangers matched their offensive totals for the last three games by getting four goals in Ottawa, jumping back in front of Carolina into seventh place.

Carolina (71 points after Friday's 5-2 loss at Chicago) dropped a spot after losing in a rare visit to the United Center. Ever rarer was the fact that Justin Peters was in goal -- coach Paul Maurice opted to give Cam Ward the night off after 24 consecutive starts. The 'Canes will spend the next few days resting and hoping the other contenders lose -- they're off until facing Atlanta on Wednesday.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (68 points) had the day off before what promises to be a grueling weekend, with afternoon games at Philadelphia and Minnesota on consecutive days -- Games 3 and 4 of a seven-game trip. Ryan Miller could get a day off in one of those games -- Buffalo recalled rookie Jhonas Enroth from Portland of the AHL on Friday.

Toronto (67 points) continues its dash to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 when Chicago comes to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. The Hawks are hot, but the Leafs got a bit of a break from the schedule-maker -- Chicago played at home on Friday, and the game against Toronto will be the fifth for the Hawks in seven days.

Atlanta (63 points) has to beat Florida at home on Saturday to avoid losing contact with eighth place.

New Jersey (62 points after Friday's 2-1 home overtime win against Pittsburgh) continues to find ways to win. The Devils improved to 19-2-2 in the second half of the season when Ilya Kovalchuk scored a power-play goal in OT. The Devils, 27 points out of eighth at the halfway point of the season, are 10 points out and play the Islanders, Ottawa and Atlanta twice each in their next six games.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (89 points) hits the road after a disappointing 3-3-0 homestand that ended with a 3-0 loss to Nashville. The Canucks play the first of five away from Rogers Arena when they visit Los Angeles on Saturday.

Detroit (85 points) had a welcome day off after losses on Wednesday in Anaheim and Thursday in San Jose. The Wings conclude a five-game trip in Phoenix on Saturday.

San Jose (82 points) brings an eight-game winning streak into Saturday's home game against Dallas. If goalie Antti Niemi starts, it will be the 21st consecutive time he's done so.

The next five:

Chicago (78 points after Friday's 5-2 home win against Carolina) is on its best roll of the season -- seven consecutive wins, including a dominant performance against the 'Canes. Unlike their last two victories, in which third-period leads nearly slipped away, Chicago took charge with three goals in the final 20 minutes. The Hawks try for a perfect week -- five wins in a seven-day stretch -- when they visit Toronto on Saturday.

Calgary (77 points after Friday's 4-3 home win against Columbus) jumped all the way to fifth thanks to goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, whose 37 saves against Columbus included two on penalty shots. The Flames broke open a 2-2 game when Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross scored power-play goals 1:21 apart on a double minor in the second period. One drawback for the Flames: They have jus5 15 games remaining, fewer than any other team in the race.

Los Angeles (76 points) gets its first look at the Canucks since Oct. 15 -- the teams played twice in the first week of the season (L.A. won both) but haven't met since then. Jonathan Quick will be back in goal -- he got Thursday night off after being shelled in Monday's 7-4 loss to Detroit.

Phoenix (76 points) has to find some offense if it hopes to end a five-game losing streak. That's why the Coyotes recalled forward Brett MacLean from AHL San Antonio for Saturday's game against Detroit. He has 23 goals and 50 points in 51 games with the Rampage.

Dallas (75 points after Friday's 4-3 overtime loss at Anaheim) jumped back into the top eight by getting a point in Anaheim -- but the Stars know they should have had two. They led 3-1 after two periods, but Anaheim tied it with 63 seconds left in regulation and won it on a power-play goal after Tom Wandell was called for hooking with 25 seconds left in OT. The Stars have no time for regrets -- they move on to San Jose for a game Saturday night.

On the outside looking in:

Anaheim (75 points after Friday's 4-3 overtime home win against Dallas) was looking at what would have been a damaging loss when Dallas took a 3-1 lead into the third period. But after Teemu Selanne tied the game with a sixth-attacker goal, Lubomir Visnovsky scored a power-play goal with 3.8 seconds left to give the Ducks two points after their second OT win in three nights -- and become the first Anaheim defenseman to get a hat trick.

Nashville (75 points) didn't play Friday but fell from seventh to 10th -- reversing the jump it made by winning in Vancouver on Thursday. The Preds visit Calgary on Sunday and San Jose on Tuesday -- then play 12 of their next 14 at home.

Minnesota (74 points) had a welcome day off after three games in four nights. The Wild are off until Buffalo comes to the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.

Columbus (69 points after Friday's 4-3 loss at Calgary) will have to spend the weekend watching and hoping that other playoff contenders lose. The Jackets finished an 0-2-1 swing through Western Canada by losing in Edmonton and Calgary on back-to-back nights. Columbus might use two off days before visiting St. Louis on Monday to practice penalty shots -- the Jackets missed one in Edmonton and two in the loss to Calgary.

St. Louis (65 points) desperately needs a win Saturday afternoon on Long Island, where the Blues have won two of their last three visits. With a tough schedule that includes a California trip coming up, they can't afford a loss to the 28th-place Islanders.

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