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Playoff Pulse: Blues become first team to clinch berth

by Brian Compton
Jaden Schwartz enjoyed a night he'll never forget Saturday in Tampa Bay. In the process, he made it a memorable night for his St. Louis Blues, too.

The highly-touted prospect scored on his first NHL shot on goal to help the Blues become the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot with a 3-1 win against the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Schwartz's tally proved to be the game-winner for the Blues, who also became the first team to reach 100 points this season. Not bad considering this is the same team that won six of its first 13 games and ultimately changed coaches.

"It's the first step," said coach Ken Hitchcock, who replaced Davis Payne on Nov. 6. "We're proud of that. We're organizationally proud of it. It's the first step of what we want to do. It's been two or three months of really good hockey."

With six games on Sunday's schedule, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after the 11 played on Saturday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (95 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Colorado) are now just two points ahead of Pittsburgh and have played one more game than the scorching-hot Pens. The Blueshirts, who are 0-5-0 in their last five games against teams in playoff position, will host New Jersey on Monday night.

Boston (85 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win against Philadelphia) couldn't hold an early 2-0 lead, but beat the Flyers in a shootout and moved back atop the Northeast Division. The Bruins are back in action Monday night against Toronto at TD Garden.

Florida (83 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win against Buffalo) increased its lead atop the Southeast Division with a big win against the Sabres at the BankAtlantic Center. Dmitry Kulikov, returning from a knee injury, got the winner in the seventh round of the tiebreaker. Now four points up on Washington in the division, the Panthers are off until Tuesday, when they'll visit Philadelphia.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (93 points after Saturday's 5-2 win at New Jersey) cruised to its 11th straight win and now sits just two points behind the Rangers for the Eastern Conference lead. The Penguins can pull even by winning Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, NHLN-Canada, RDSI).

Philadelphia (90 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss at Boston) managed to pick up a point in Beantown, but is now three points behind the Penguins for the No. 4 seed. The Flyers' tough weekend continues against the Pens at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.

New Jersey (87 points after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh) wore its retro red-and-green uniforms for St. Patrick's Day, but the luck of the Irish was nowhere to be found at Prudential Center. The Devils will try to rebound on Monday night at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

Ottawa (84 points after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Toronto) was quickly bounced from atop the Northeast Division with a bad loss to the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place. The Sens return to action on Tuesday night against New Jersey in Canada's capital city.

Washington (78 points) did not play Saturday and fell further behind in the Southeast Division race. The Caps will visit Chicago on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), in the third game of a five-game trip.

On the outside looking in:

Winnipeg (76 points) was idle Saturday, but enters Sunday's action just two points out of a playoff spot. The Jets host Carolina at the MTS Centre on Sunday night, 90 minutes after the Caps begin their game against the Blackhawks.

Buffalo (76 points after Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss at Florida) came up short in an extended shootout against the Panthers in South Florida, but the Sabres did manage to pick up a point and pull within two of eighth-place Washington.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (100 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay) became the first team to clinch a playoff berth with a victory against the host Lightning. The Blues are now off until Wednesday, when their seven-game road trip continues at Anaheim.

Vancouver (94 points after Saturday's 4-3 win against Columbus) wrapped up its seven-game homestand with a victory by barely holding off the last-place Blue Jackets. Daniel Sedin scored twice and Cory Schneider made a save at the final horn to preserve the win. The Canucks play four games on the road next week.

Dallas (83 points)
was idle after playing three games in four days. The Stars return to action Tuesday night against Phoenix at the American Airlines Center.

The next five:

Detroit (92 points after Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss at San Jose) failed to get a victory, but it did move two points ahead of Nashville with an overtime loss to the Sharks at HP Pavilion -- and the Wings got star center Pavel Datsyuk back after he missed nearly a month following knee surgery. The Red Wings return home to face Washington at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night.

Nashville (90 points after Saturday's 4-2 loss at Los Angeles) came up empty at the Staples Center and fell two points back of the Red Wings. The Preds' road trip concludes Sunday night at Anaheim.

Chicago (86 points) was idle Saturday. The Blackhawks will again be without injured captain Jonathan Toews when they host Washington on Sunday night at the United Center.

Colorado (83 points after Saturday's 3-1 win at the New York Rangers) received a 41-save performance from Semyon Varlamov and moved into seventh place in the West with a win at Madison Square Garden. The Avalanche will host Calgary on Tuesday.

San Jose (82 points after Saturday's 3-2 overtime win against Detroit) moved back into the top eight thanks to an overtime goal by Martin Havlat. The Sharks, who have a game in hand on all the teams they're battling, host Anaheim on Monday night.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (82 points after Saturday's 4-2 win against Nashville) inched closer to playoff position with a huge win against the Preds at the Staples Center. The Kings will host San Jose in another huge showdown Tuesday night.

Phoenix (81 points) had a second straight off-day Saturday, but dropped from seventh to 10th due to wins by Colorado, San Jose and Los Angeles. The Coyotes return to action Sunday night at Edmonton.

Calgary (80 points) was idle Saturday. The Flames return to action Sunday night against Columbus at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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