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Playoff Platter: Flyers make noise in wild-card race

Plus: Rangers, Predators have opportunity to clinch berths Thursday

NHL.com @NHL

The Philadelphia Flyers turned up the pressure again on the competition in the wild-card race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers defeated the top-seeded Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday to take a two-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card. The Flyers, 12-3-2 in their past 17 games, have 89 points and have played one fewer game than the Red Wings.

Philadelphia is two points behind the New York Islanders, who hold the first wild card and have played one fewer game than the Flyers.

Philadelphia erased a 1-0 lead against Washington with a Brayden Schenn deflection with 5:38 remaining in the third period. Nick Cousins and Sam Gagner then scored in the shootout. Flyers goalie Steve Mason stopped shootout specialist T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with a glove save, to seal the victory.

Video: WSH@PHI: Mason robs Kuznetsov in the shootout

With a dozen days remaining in the regular season, there are nine playoff berths available. Each day, NHL.com takes a look at the playoff picture.

CLINCHING SCENARIOS

* The New York Rangers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in regulation or overtime.
 
* The Nashville Predators will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in any fashion.

KEY GAME

Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, SNO, SNW, SNP, FS-TN, ROOT): So much is on the line for each team; Nashville will be trying to clinch a Western Conference playoff berth for the third consecutive game. The Predators need a win to put themselves out of reach of the Colorado Avalanche, the first team outside the playoff picture in the West. Pittsburgh has won nine of its past 10 games. If it can win Thursday, second place in the Metropolitan Division could be in the offing. To land in second, the Penguins need a win combined with a Rangers loss in regulation against the Hurricanes.

WOE CANADA

The Ottawa Senators may have won a game Wednesday, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1, but they lost the playoff war. The elimination of the Senators, which came when the Flyers defeated the Capitals in a shootout, was felt throughout Canada. Ottawa became the seventh and final Canadian-based team to be eliminated from postseason contention. The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be the first since 1970 with no Canadian-based teams.

Video: OTT@WPG: Smith opens up the scoring early in the 1st

MEANINGFUL HOMECOMING

Rangers forward Eric Staal returns to face the Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-CR, NHL.TV) for the first time since he was traded Feb. 28, the day before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. But paying respects to the only place he played for the first 12 seasons of his NHL career is only part of the mission for Staal. He wants to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and knows a win for the Rangers in regulation or overtime will qualify them, as well as keep them ahead of the hard-charging Penguins to maintain home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round.

SPOILER ALERT

The Islanders' lead against the Flyers for the first wild card has shrunk to two points and the Islanders are four points ahead of the Red Wings, the top team outside the playoff race. Points are at a premium for the Islanders, and their game Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; FS-O, MSG+, NHL.TV) provides an excellent opportunity. Columbus sits 15th in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are last in the East. The Blue Jackets have won three times since March 8, but two of those victories have come against teams in the race for the wild card: Detroit on March 8 and Philadelphia on March 22.

PACIFIC HEIGHTS

The race for the Pacific Division title took another turn Wednesday with the Anaheim Ducks' 8-3 victory against the Calgary Flames. Anaheim passed the Los Angeles Kings for first place, taking a one-point lead. Each team has six games remaining, including a head-to-head showdown April 7 at Staples Center. The San Jose Sharks, who have five games remaining, are three points behind the Kings and four points behind the Ducks.

Video: CGY@ANA: Ducks collect eight goals in win over Flames

Best potential first-round matchup:

Flyers vs. Capitals: The game Wednesday should be enough to convince any hockey fan a best-of-7 series between these rivals would be something special. Yes, Washington has a 25-point lead on Philadelphia in the standings, but the difference between these two teams is not quite that distinct, as the Flyers proved Wednesday. Since Jan. 1, they have earned 50 of a possible 78 points, among the best winning percentages in the League through that span. Philadelphia and Washington last met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in a seven-game series that featured four one-goal games and an overtime in Game 7 before the Flyers advanced.

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