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Playoff Pulse: Sharks go from ninth to third in West

by Brian Compton
The San Jose Sharks woke up Monday morning on the outside looking in with only a handful of games remaining in this pulsating race to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Monday night, they went to sleep atop the Pacific Division.

With the help of the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks moved back into first place in the Pacific for the first time since Feb. 25 with a 5-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche at HP Pavilion. San Jose, which now has 88 points, will be seeking its fourth straight win Wednesday night at Anaheim.

While the Sharks still have a ways to go before they can rest comfortably, the Detroit Red Wings clinched a playoff berth for a 21st consecutive year with Monday's 7-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Joe Louis Arena. Remarkably, the Wings -- who moved back into fourth place with the victory -- are still eight years shy of matching the Boston Bruins' record of 29 consecutive playoff appearances (1968-1996). 

Here's a look at how the races in both conferences shape up entering Tuesday's eight-game schedule:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (101 points) were idle Monday. New York's three-game road trip continues Tuesday night at Minnesota.

Boston (91 points) did not play Monday but saw its Northeast Division lead trimmed to three points due to Ottawa's win at Winnipeg. The Bruins are home to face Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

Florida (87 points) was also off Monday. The Panthers, who are just three points up on Washington atop the Southeast Division, will visit Montreal on Tuesday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (100 points)
did not play Monday. Just one point behind the Rangers for the No. 1 seed in the East, the Penguins will host the Islanders on Tuesday.

Philadelphia (96 points after Monday's 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay) had a glorious opportunity to gain ground but came up short in a loss to the Lightning at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers will visit Toronto on Thursday.

New Jersey (90 points) was idle Monday. The Devils will host Chicago on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.

Ottawa (88 points after Monday's 6-4 win at Winnipeg) moved within two points of the No. 6 seed with a win against the Jets at the MTS Centre. The Senators are now off until Saturday, when they'll visit Philadelphia.

Washington (84 points) did not play Monday, but received some help from Ottawa with its win at Winnipeg. Still six points ahead of the Jets, the Capitals have a huge game against Buffalo at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (84 points)
was off again Monday. The Sabres, who have won 18 of their last 28 games, head to the Verizon Center for their match against the Caps on Tuesday night.

Winnipeg (78 points after Monday's 6-4 loss to Ottawa) is on life support after its loss on home ice to the Senators. The Jets host the Rangers at the MTS Centre on Wednesday.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (103 points) was idle Monday. The Blues, who wrapped up a seven-game road trip Sunday, return home to face Nashville on Tuesday night.

Vancouver (101 points after Monday's 1-0 win against Los Angeles) received a sensational 38-save performance from Roberto Luongo and blanked the Kings to move back within two points of the No. 1 seed. The Canucks, who are without Daniel Sedin (concussion), will host Colorado on Wednesday night.

San Jose (88 points after Monday's 5-1 win against Colorado) is back atop the Pacific Division for the first time in over a month after cruising past the Avalanche at HP Pavilion. Winners of three straight, the Sharks will visit Anaheim on Wednesday.

The next five:

Detroit (97 points after Monday's 7-2 win against Columbus)
received four-assist efforts from both Todd Bertuzzi (plus-5) and Henrik Zetterberg and clinched a playoff spot for a 21st consecutive season. Now back in fourth place, the Red Wings conclude their home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Wednesday.

Nashville (96 points) did not play Monday, but fell back into fifth due to Detroit's win against Columbus. The Predators will visit St. Louis on Tuesday.

Chicago (92 points) was idle Monday. The Blackhawks visit New Jersey on Tuesday.

Dallas (87 points after Monday's 5-4 loss at Calgary) failed to pick up any points in a loss to the Flames and fell from third to seventh in the conference. The Stars' road trip continues Wednesday night at Edmonton.

Phoenix (87 points) did not play Monday, but dropped from seventh to eighth with five games remaining in its regular season. The Coyotes' four-game homestand continues Thursday night against San Jose.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (86 points after Monday's 1-0 loss at Vancouver)
fired 38 shots at Roberto Luongo but failed to get a puck past the Canucks' goaltender in a heartbreaking loss at Rogers Arena. Now in ninth place with six games to go, the Kings will be in Calgary on Wednesday.

Colorado (86 points after Monday's 5-1 loss at San Jose) had no answers for the Sharks at HP Pavilion and now has only four games remaining on its schedule. Things don't get any easier for the Avs, who visit Vancouver on Wednesday night.

Calgary (85 points after Monday's 5-4 win against Dallas) came up big in a must-win situation as it edged the Stars at Scotiabank Saddledome. Two points back with five games remaining, the Flames will host Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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