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Rangers gain point on Carolina

by Brian Compton
The New York Rangers gained the slightest bit of breathing room on Sunday afternoon.

They entered the Wells Fargo Center just one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference standings, but the Blueshirts went to sleep Sunday night two points ahead thanks to their 3-2 shootout victory at Philadelphia, combined with Carolina's 2-1 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the RBC Center.

Both teams have three games remaining, but the Rangers can extend their lead on Monday night when they host the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m., Versus, RIS).

In the West, the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars kept their slim playoff hopes alive with road wins at Colorado and Anaheim, respectively. Earlier in the day, the Detroit Red Wings clinched the Central Division with a 4-2 win against the Minnesota Wild at Joe Louis Arena.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (103 points after Sunday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers) finds itself in a virtual tie for the top spot in the East as it managed to earn a point in a shootout loss to the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers return to the ice on Tuesday night at Ottawa.

Washington (103 points) was idle Sunday. The Caps are off until Tuesday's game at Toronto, then finish with two games against last-place Florida.

Boston (99 points), enjoyed a day off after clinching the Northeast Division title on Saturday. The Bruins will be in action on Monday night as they face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (100 points) did not play Sunday, but the Pens are now just one point ahead of Tampa Bay for the No. 4 seed thanks to the Lightning's victory in Chicago. The Penguins end their season with games against 11th-place New Jersey (on Tuesday), the 13th-place Islanders (Friday) and 12th-place Atlanta (Sunday).

Tampa Bay
(99 points after Sunday's 2-0 win at Chicago) made it five in a row with an impressive victory against the defending Stanley Cup champs at the United Center. Backup goalie Mike Smith stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout, but Vincent Lecavalier suffered an eye injury after getting struck by a high stick and could miss Tuesday's game at Buffalo.

Montreal (91 points) did not play Sunday. The Habs are off again Monday before Chicago comes to the Bell Centre for the home finale on Tuesday.

Buffalo (90 points after Sunday's 2-1 overtime win at Carolina) moved within a point of sixth place when Marc-Andre Gragnani deflected a shot past Cam Ward at 2:56 of overtime to lift the Sabres past the Hurricanes at the RBC Center. Rookie goalie Jhonas Enroth made 35 saves for Buffalo, which hosts Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

New York Rangers (89 points after Sunday's 3-2 shootout win at Philadelphia) needed a win desperately and got it, thanks to some more brilliant goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. The Blueshirts get right back at it on Monday night against Boston at MSG.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (87 points after Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss to Buffalo) failed to keep pace with the Rangers, but the Hurricanes did manage to at least get a point in an overtime loss to the Sabres at the RBC Center. Carolina is now off for two days before Detroit comes to town on Wednesday night.

Toronto (84 points) was idle Sunday, but it fell five points behind thanks to the Rangers' win at Philadelphia. The Leafs will host Washington on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (113 points) was off Sunday. The Canucks, who have the conference wrapped up, will visit Edmonton on Tuesday night.

Detroit (102 points after Sunday's 4-2 win against Minnesota) moved back into second place and clinched the Central Division with a victory against the Wild in Motown. Detroit, which has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 20 straight seasons, visit Carolina on Wednesday.

San Jose (101 points) did not play Sunday, but fell into third place due to Detroit's win against Minnesota. The Sharks have four games remaining, beginning Monday against Los Angeles.

The next five:

Los Angeles (96 points) was idle Sunday. Currently in fourth place, the Kings have four games left, one more than No. 5 Phoenix -- which comes to L.A. on Wednesday. First things first, though -- the Kings visit San Jose on Monday night.

Phoenix (96 points) can only sit and watch until Wednesday, when the Coyotes visit Los Angeles to start a season-ending stretch of three games in four nights.

Nashville (95 points) was idle Sunday. The Predators have perhaps the most favorable schedule of any playoff contender -- two of their last three games are at home, and all three opponents are non-playoff teams.

Anaheim (93 points after Sunday's 4-3 loss to Dallas) failed to earn any points as it came up short against the Stars at the Honda Center. Anaheim will look to rebound on Wednesday night, when it hosts San Jose.

Chicago (92 points after Sunday's 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay) also came up empty -- both in the standings and on the scoreboard as the defending champs were blanked by Mike Smith and the Bolts at the United Center. Now just one point ahead of No. 9 Calgary, the Blackhawks will visit Montreal on Tuesday night.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (91 points after Sunday's 2-1 win at Colorado) kept its playoff hopes alive with a win against the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Flames have only two games remaining, beginning with Wednesday's match against Edmonton at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Dallas (89 points after Sunday's 4-3 win at Anaheim) is also still alive thanks to a gritty victory against the Ducks at the Honda Center. The Stars still have four games left, as they host Columbus on Tuesday.

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