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Onrushing Caps roll to sixth consecutive win

by John Kreiser
Don't look now, but the Washington Capitals are closing in on the top spot in the East.

The Caps picked the right time to play their best hockey of the season. Wednesday's 5-0 victory against Edmonton was their sixth consecutive victory and moved them within two points of first-place Philadelphia in the East. It also kept them two points ahead of Tampa Bay in the race for the Southeast Division lead and a top-three seed.

In the West, Calgary moved into fifth place, one point ahead of Dallas, by beating the Stars 4-3 in a shootout. But the Stars weren't unhappy about getting a point -- not when they trailed 3-0 less than 15 minutes into the game.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (88 points) had a complete day away from the rink for the second time in three days as coach Peter Laviolette tries to keep his team rested. The Flyers are at Toronto on Thursday.

Washington (86 points after Wednesday 5-0 home win against Edmonton) had no trouble beating the NHL's 30th-place team to stay on top in the Southeast Division race. Alex Ovechkin scored twice -- including his first power-play goal of the season at home. The Caps are home for Carolina on Friday and Chicago on Sunday afternoon.

Boston (84 points) will have captain Zdeno Chara for Thursday's home game against Buffalo. The NHL on Wednesday opted not to fine or suspend Chara for his hit on Montreal's Max Pacioretty on Tuesday night

The next five:

Pittsburgh (86 points) spent the first day of its three-day break locking up coach Dan Bylsma for three more years. Bylsma, who has kept the Penguins near the top in the East despite a plethora of injuries, signed a deal that will keep him behind the bench through 2013-14.

Tampa Bay (84 points after Wednesday's 4-3 home shootout win against Chicago) ended a four-game slide thanks to Martin St. Louis' spectacular shootout goal. Steven Stamkos added his 42nd of the season to help the Bolts stay on the heels of the Capitals in the Southeast Division race.

Montreal (81 points) will miss forward Max Pacioretty on Thursday night in St. Louis and for the rest of the season. Pacioretty suffered a concussion and a fractured vertebra when he was ridden into the glass by Boston's Zdeno Chara on Wednesday.

New York Rangers (74 points after Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Anaheim) started fast but couldn't follow up Sunday's 7-0 home victory against the Flyers with another win. The Rangers are still seventh, but every playoff contender has at least one game in hand on them -- eighth-place Buffalo has three and ninth-place Carolina has two. New York is off until Saturday night in San Jose.

Buffalo (72 points) returned forwards Mark Parrish, Mark Mancari and Luke Adam to their AHL affiliate in Portland, meaning the Sabres should be in much better shape for Thursday's visit to Boston. Top scorer Thomas Vanek (flu) was among the missing for Tuesday's 3-1 loss at Pittsburgh.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (72 points after Wednesday's 3-2 home OT loss to Atlanta) battled back from a 2-0 deficit to get a point, but for the first time in five meetings with the Thrashers, the 'Canes didn't go home with two. The Hurricanes pulled even with Buffalo in points, but are ninth because they've played one more game.

Toronto (68 points) had goalie James Reimer at practice after he appeared to injure his catching hand in overtime of Tuesday's 4-3 OT loss to the Islanders. The Leafs host Philadelphia on Thursday.

Atlanta (67 points after Wednesday's 3-2 OT win at Carolina) stayed in the hunt when Tim Stapleton scored in overtime after the Thrashers couldn't hang on to a 2-0 lead. Atlanta has won back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 2-5.

New Jersey (64 points) has a couple of days off before visiting Atlanta in a game that's vital for both teams. The Devils lost a chunk of their wiggle room by losing 2-1 at home to last-place Ottawa on Tuesday.

Florida (63 points) has to build on Tuesday's 3-2 win against Chicago by beating last-place Ottawa at the BankAtlantic Center on Thursday.

New York Islanders (62 points) is off until Boston comes to the Nassau Coliseum on Friday for the finale of a five-game homestand. The Isles are 3-0-1 in the first four.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (95 points) had a day off before a showdown with the Pacific Division-leading Sharks in San Jose on Thursday. The Canucks are 3-0-0 on their current trip.

Detroit (86 points after Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Los Angeles) couldn't turn an early 1-0 lead into two points. The Wings have lost three in a row at home and are 0-2-2 in their last four games overall. Detroit has just seven wins in its last 19 games at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings still lead the Central Division by five points, but they're losing contact with Vancouver in the race for first in the West.

San Jose (84 points) would love to get its best defenseman, Dan Boyle, back for the game against Vancouver. Boyle has missed five games with an upper-body injury; he skated again Wednesday, and coach Todd McLellan said that "as soon as he’s ready we’ll play him. We’ll see how he is tomorrow."

The next five:

Chicago (81 points after Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss at Tampa Bay) salvaged one point from its two-game swing through Florida by rallying from a two-goal deficit before losing in the tiebreaker at Tampa Bay. The Hawks now have three days off -- and a trip to the White House -- before they play at Washington on Sunday afternoon.

Calgary (81 points after Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win at Dallas) blew an early 3-0 lead but got shootout goals by Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross to win in Dallas and move into fifth place. The Flames don't have much time to enjoy the victory -- they left right after the game for Phoenix and a Thursday night date with the Coyotes.

Dallas (80 points after Wednesday's home 4-3 home shootout loss to Calgary) got All-Star center Brad Richards back after he missed 10 games, but had to settle for one point after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to get to a shootout. Richards played more than 22 minutes in his return, but had no points, no shots on goal and was minus-1.
Los Angeles (79 points after Wednesday's 2-1 win at Detroit) won for the second time in as many visits to Joe Louis Arena this season thanks to a rebound effort by goalie Jonathan Quick. Ten days after the Wings lit him up for six goals in a 7-4 loss in L.A., Quick stopped 28 of 29 shots as the Kings won the opener of a four-game trip.

Phoenix (79 points) had Wednesday off but dropped behind L.A. into eighth. The Coyotes host Calgary on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

Minnesota (77 points) begins a four-game trip Thursday in Nashville, followed by a game at Dallas on Friday.

Anaheim (77 points after Wednesday's 5-2 home win against the Rangers) got a big night from its big guns. Corey Perry and Lubomir Visnovsky each scored twice, and Bobby Ryan added a goal and 3 assists. Visnovsky, who finished plus-5, has 5 goals in his last three games. The Ducks finished 4-2-1 on a seven-game homestand.

Nashville (76 points) is glad to be back home -- and the Preds will be there for a while. Thursday's visit from Minnesota is the opener of a five-game homestand.
Columbus (71 points after Wednesday's 4-3 home OT loss to St. Louis) scored three quick goals in the second period to grab a 3-0 lead, but wound up settling for just one point when the Blues rallied to win in overtime.

St. Louis (69 points after Wednesday's 4-3 OT win at Columbus) isn't going down without a fight. The Blues refused to roll over after falling behind 3-0 and rallied to complete a sweep of the home-and-home series as Chris Stewart got the tying goal early in the third period and the winner in overtime.
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