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Leafs boost playoff hopes by winning Carlyle's debut

by John Kreiser
The Randy Carlyle Era in Toronto is off to a good start -- and the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff hopes are still alive.

The Leafs won their first game under their new coach on Saturday night by beating the Canadiens 3-1 in front of a packed house at the Bell Centre in Montreal -- one night after Carlyle got the job behind the bench when Ron Wilson was fired.

The victory ended a six-game winless streak and was just the second in 12 games for the Leafs; the slump dropped them from a team that appeared to be a near-lock for a playoff berth to one scrambling to avoid extending the NHL's second-longest active postseason drought.

The game didn't get off to a good start for the Leafs, who allowed an early goal by Montreal's Erik Cole and were lucky to limit the damage in the opening period. But Mikhail Grabovski set up Matt Frattin's tying goal in the second period, then scored at 11:45 of the third to put the Leafs in front and added a power-play goal in the final minute.

The two points give the Leafs 67, moving them within three points of eighth-place Winnipeg in the East.

With seven games on the schedule Sunday, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Saturday's action:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (89 points) had captain Ryan Callahan back at practice on Saturday after missing two games with a bruised right foot. The Rangers aren't saying if he'll be in the lineup against Boston on Sunday afternoon, (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN2, RDSI); a win will move them into first place in the overall standings.

Boston (79 points after a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders) saw two points get away when the Islanders beat them at TD Garden. They also lost two players -- goalie Tuukka Rask left midway through the game with an apparent leg injury, and forward Daniel Paille. Neither made the trip to New York.

Florida (72 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Nashville) outshot the Predators 40-23, but managed only a goal by Wojtek Wolski and lost its second in a row. The Panthers don't have any time to worry about the loss -- they're home again to Ottawa on Sunday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (81 points after Saturday's 5-1 win at Colorado) won its fifth in a row and continued its domination of Western Conference teams on the road with an easy win in Denver. The Penguins are 11-0-3 in their last 14 road games against Western teams, and they've moved within eight points of the Rangers. The Penguins play 11 of their last 18 at home and don't go outside the Eastern time zone again this season.

Philadelphia (77 points) had the second of two off-days before visiting Washington on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).

New Jersey (77 points) visits Long Island on Sunday -- the first of three meetings with the Islanders in a seven-day span.

Ottawa (76 points) begins a two-game swing through the state of Florida with a visit to the Panthers on Sunday.

Winnipeg (70 points) is off until Buffalo comes to the MTS Centre on Monday.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (69 points) will try to rebound after a poor showing in a 5-0 loss to New Jersey on Friday when Philadelphia comes to the Verizon Center on Sunday night. The Caps may not have goalie Tomas Vokoun available; he was unable to practice on Saturday due to a lower-body injury.

Tampa Bay (68 points after Saturday's 4-3 overtime win at Carolina) made it two wins in as many nights by rallying from a 3-1 deficit in Raleigh. Steven Stamkos scored his 46th of the season to start the comeback and got the game-winner by scoring a power-play goal 2:41 into overtime.

Buffalo (68 points after Saturday's 5-3 win at Vancouver) made it three wins in four nights on their Western trip thanks to an early three-goal blitz and the goaltending of Ryan Miller, who extended his shutout streak to 155:17 before allowing a goal late in the second period. Miller finished with 32 saves as he and the Sabres completed a 3-0-0 week. They'll try for four wins in a row when they visit Winnipeg on Monday.

Toronto (67 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at Montreal)
revived its playoff hopes by overcoming a slow start to win at the Bell Centre. The Leafs are off until Tuesday, when they begin a stretch of four tough games in six nights by hosting Boston.


Division leaders:

Vancouver (90 points after Saturday's 5-3 loss to Buffalo) paid the price for not being ready from the opening faceoff -- Buffalo knocked out Roberto Luongo with three goals in the first 5:10, and the Canucks spend the rest of the night unsuccessfully playing catch-up. Vancouver is off until Tuesday, when Dallas comes to Rogers Arena -- and when the Canucks take the ice, there's a good chance they'll no longer be on top of the overall standings or first in the West.

Detroit (89 points) will again be without defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) and center Pavel Datsyuk (knee) when Chicago comes to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday (4 p.m. ET; NHL Network-US). A win will move the Wings into the top spot in the West.

Phoenix (75 points after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Columbus) fell to 0-2-0 in March after an 11-0-1 February by losing to the NHL's last-place team at home. The Coyotes overcame an early 2-0 deficit and were tied 2-2 entering the third period, only to have the Jackets beat Mike Smith twice before adding an empty-netter. The Coyotes will see the Jackets again in Columbus on Tuesday, one night after visiting Pittsburgh.

The next five:

St. Louis (89 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at San Jose) heads home after beating the Sharks to complete a 5-1-0 trip that stamped them as a legitimate title contender. The Blues got a goal and an assist by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and limited the Sharks to 19 shots at Jaroslav Halak as they rebounded from Thursday's 2-0 loss at Vancouver.

Nashville (83 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at Florida) used the formula that has succeeded all season -- Pekka Rinne's goaltending and timely scoring -- to win at Florida. Newcomer Andrei Kostitsyn had his first goal since being acquired from Montreal, and Rinne stopped 39 shots for his League-high 36th victory.

Chicago (77 points) will be without captain Jonathan Toews again for Sunday's game at Detroit. Toews will also sit out Tuesday's visit to St. Louis.

San Jose (73 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss to St. Louis) missed another chance to pass Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead, as the Sharks generated little offense against the tight-checking Blues. Torrey Mitchell tied the game late in the first period, but the Sharks allowed the Blues to regain the lead just 20 seconds later. San Jose has two days off before a visit from Edmonton on Tuesday.

Dallas (73 points) continues its swing through Western Canada with a visit to Calgary on Sunday night.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (72 points after Saturday's 4-2 win against Anaheim) got what it was looking for when GM Dean Lombardi brought in Jeff Carter from Columbus on Feb. 23 -- goals. After going without a point in his first three games as a King, Carter scored twice as the Kings beat their Southern California rivals and moved within a point of eighth place. Getting there won't be easy -- L.A. plays four games in six nights on the road next week.

Colorado (70 points after Saturday's 1-5 loss to Pittsburgh) was overwhelmed by the Penguins, who led 4-0 in the second period and were never threatened. After winning four in a row, the Avs have dropped back-to-back home games to Columbus and Pittsburgh. They have a quick turnaround, with a game at Minnesota on Sunday night.

Calgary (69 points)
has a must-win game on Sunday when eighth-place Dallas comes to Scotiabank Saddledome.

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