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Predators jump into top eight in the West

by John Kreiser
The Western Conference playoff race is so tight that one win can jump you several spots in the standings.

The Nashville Predators were the big movers on Thursday. The Predators climbed all the way from 10th place to seventh thanks to a 3-0 victory at Vancouver. Los Angeles was the other big mover, jumping from eighth to fifth by beating Phoenix 1-0.

In the East, Carolina had to go into overtime to beat Buffalo 3-2 -- a win that, combined with the Rangers' 3-1 loss to Minnesota, jumped the 'Canes into seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff scramble.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders:

Philadelphia (86 points after Thursday's 3-2 home loss to Toronto) allowed a late third-period goal to lose back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 20-28. The Flyers hope to be healthier when they host Buffalo on Saturday afternoon: Jeff Carter, Darroll Powe and Dan Carcillo all skipped the game against the Leafs with flu-like symptoms.

Boston (83 points after Thursday's 2-1 home win against Tampa Bay) made it seven wins in a row when Milan Lucic scored the tie-breaking goal with 3:42 remaining in its first home game after a 6-0-0 road trip. Tim Thomas, who played only twice in the six games, made 27 saves as the Bruins passed the Lightning for second in the East and moved within three points of the Flyers.

Tampa Bay (81 points after Thursday's 2-1 loss at Boston) got a goal from newcomer Eric Brewer and a 26-save performance by Mike Smith, but that wasn't enough to cool off the red-hot Bruins as the Lightning lost for the second time in as many nights. Tampa Bay has played four consecutive games that ended in the same score -- 2-1. The Bolts have lost the last two and have seen their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division shrink to one point.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (81 points) had the night off before visiting New Jersey on Friday.

Washington (80 points after Thursday's 3-2 home win against St. Louis) made it three wins in a row when newcomer Jason Arnott scored with 5:19 to break a 2-2 tie. It's the Caps' first three-game winning streak since Dec. 26-Jan. 1. Michal Neuvirth stopped 25 shots and set a Caps rookie record with 21 wins.

Montreal (77 points after Thursday's 4-0 win at Florida) got 30 saves by Carey Price to beat the reeling Panthers, who've dropped 15 of 20 and fallen out of the race. One of the Canadiens' goals was scored by defenseman Hal Gill, his first in 100 games since he scored on Dec. 31, 2009 -- and that one also came at the BankAtlantic Center.

Carolina (71 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime win at home against Buffalo) jumped over the Rangers when Jamie McBain scored 26 seconds into overtime to beat the Sabres. Cam Ward made 27 saves in his 24th consecutive start. But the 'Canes have a tough assignment on Friday -- they visit red-hot Chicago.

New York Rangers (70 points after Thursday's 3-1 home loss to Minnesota) completed an 0-3-0 homestand by losing to the Wild, who were coming off a bad 4-1 loss to the Islanders the night before. The Rangers led 1-0 just 3:13 into the game on a goal by Sean Avery, but couldn't beat Jose Theodore again despite outshooting the Wild 41-19. Friday's game at last-place Ottawa shapes up as a must-win.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (68 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss at Carolina) got one point when their game against the Hurricanes went into overtime, meaning they're two points out of eighth place with three games in hand on the Rangers. The Sabres resume their seven-game trip with afternoon games at Philadelphia on Saturday and Minnesota on Sunday.

Toronto (67 points after Thursday's 3-2 win at Philadelphia) continued its improbable surge over the last five weeks by rallying for a victory at the Wells Fargo Center, one of the NHL's least-hospitable venues for visitors. Darryl Boyce's goal with 4:30 left in regulation gave the Leafs a 6-0-3 mark in their last nine games, all of which have been decided by one goal.

Atlanta (63 points after Thursday's 3-1 home loss to Ottawa) continues to get plenty of shots but few goals. The Thrashers have just six goals in six games, despite getting 40 or more shots in each. They had three breakaways in the first 40 minutes against Ottawa's Craig Anderson and couldn't beat him.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (89 points after Thursday's 3-0 home loss to Nashville) extended its win one-lose one trend to 12 games by getting shut out for the fourth time this season. The Canucks still lead the overall standings, but they went just 3-3-0 on a six-game homestand after allowing all three Nashville goals in the third period, keeping Roberto Luongo stuck on 299 career wins.

Detroit (85 points after Thursday's 3-1 loss at San Jose) might have been a bit leg-weary in its third game in four nights on the West Coast. The Wings got a 25-save performance from backup goaltender Joey MacDonald, but managed only a power-play goal by Tomas Holmstrom. The Wings are still nine points ahead of Chicago in the Central Division, but saw their lead over San Jose for the No. 2 seed cut to three points.

San Jose (82 points after Thursday's 3-1 home win against Detroit) continue to roll. Dany Heatley had a pair of goals as the Sharks made it eight wins in a row by polishing off the Red Wings. San Jose is 2-0 on its six-game homestand and has opened a six-point lead in the Pacific Division race.

The next five:

Chicago (76 points) had a much-needed day off. The Hawks beat Phoenix, Minnesota and Calgary in a four-day span that ended Wednesday; they host Carolina on Friday and visit Toronto on Saturday.

Los Angeles (76 points after a 1-0 home win against Phoenix) jumped three spots by rebounding from a 7-4 whipping by Detroit on Monday with one of its best defensive efforts of the season. The Kings limited Phoenix's offensive opportunities, got a 25-save performance by Jonathan Bernier and capitalized on a late power play when Jarret Stoll scored the game's only goal.

Phoenix (76 points after Thursday's 1-0 loss at Los Angeles) just couldn't put the puck in the net. The Coyotes limited Los Angeles to just 18 shots, but couldn't get one of their own past Jonathan Bernier and lost their fifth in a row after an eight-game winning streak. Phoenix is back home on Saturday for a game with Detroit.

Nashville (75 points after Thursday's 3-0 win at Vancouver) won a huge game on the road against the top team in the overall standings. Pekka Rinne made 29 saves and the Predators got third-period goals by Blake Geoffrion, Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand to beat the NHL's best team two nights and jump from 10th to seventh after losing to the 30th-place Oilers in Edmonton.

Calgary (75 points) had the day off after splitting two games in the Midwest. The Flames go back to work Friday night against Columbus.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (74 points) starts a tough grind of three games in four nights at Anaheim on Friday. The Stars are in Los Angeles on Saturday and San Jose two nights later. Dallas has games in hand on every team above them in the race.

Minnesota (74 points after Thursday's 3-1 win against the Rangers in New York) rebounded with a victory after a poor effort Wednesday night on Long Island. Jose Theodore kept the Wild in the game during the first period before his teammates found their legs. He finished with 40 saves and is now 9-0-1 lifetime at Madison Square Garden.

Anaheim (73 points) had a day off to enjoy Wednesday's 2-1 overtime win against Detroit -- a game decided on Bobby Ryan's penalty-shot goal in OT. The Ducks are home again Friday night when they face Dallas in the first meeting between the Pacific Division rivals since mid-November.

Columbus (69 points after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Edmonton) paid the price for a bad start and dropped a game it had to have against the last-place Oilers. Edmonton raced off to a 3-0 lead less than 21 minutes into the game, and a late comeback fell short. The Jackets get right back on the ice Friday night in Calgary.

St. Louis
(65 points after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Washington) is on the verge of falling out of the race. The Blues had a pair of one-goal leads at Washington, but couldn't hold them and lost their third in a row.
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