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Rangers-Sabres winner could move up in the East

by David Kalan
With 12 days left in the regular season, the playoff races in each conference are still on fire. Almost every game has added significance, with points at such a premium, as teams jockey for positioning. is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about the games that directly can impact the playoff races.

Here is the installment for Wednesday, March 30:

N.Y. RANGERS (41-30-5, 87 points) at BUFFALO (38-29-9, 85 points)
Where they stand: The Rangers are seventh in the Eastern Conference; the Sabres are eighth in the East.
What's at stake: Wednesday's game (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS) will be a pivotal battle for playoff position for both of these teams. While either one still could fall out of the top eight -- ninth-place Carolina is just three points back -- the Rangers and Sabres are getting hot at the right time. A Sabres regulation win push them into seventh and drop the Rangers to eighth. A win by the Rangers and loss by the Canadiens in Carolina would move the Rangers to sixth.

How it's going: Buffalo lost Tuesday in Toronto to a Leafs team that was playing to keep whatever playoff hopes it had alive. However, the Sabres had gone 3-0-1 in their previous four games.

The Rangers shut out the Bruins on Saturday courtesy of another impressive outing from goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was their sixth win in the last seven games.
Upcoming: This weekend the Sabres will have a back-to-back on the road when they visit Washington on Saturday and then play a big game in Carolina on Sunday. The Rangers travel to Long Island on Thursday and then head to Philadelphia on Sunday (12:30 p.m., NBC, TSN).

ANAHEIM (43-28-5, 91 points) at CALGARY (38-28-11, 87 points)
Where they stand: The Ducks are seventh in the West; the Flames are 10th in the West.
What's at stake: With more games played than nearly every team against which it is competing for the final playoff berth, Calgary has considerable ground to make up if it wants to shrink the three-point deficit between it and eighth place. The Ducks have climbed to seventh with their recent hot play, but with ninth-place Dallas just four points back and holding a game in hand, Anaheim could use a cushion going into the season's final two weeks.
How it's going: The Ducks topped the Avalanche 5-4 on Monday for their eighth win in their last 10 games. Calgary's recent struggles have put its postseason hopes in serious jeopardy. The Flames beat Edmonton in a shootout Saturday, but they've gone just 2-4-2 in their last eight games.
Upcoming: Few teams have as tough a final road to close the season as Anaheim, which will visit San Jose on Saturday and then host Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles. For their final game of the season, the Ducks get to face the Kings one last time on the back of a home-and-home set. Calgary will visit St. Louis on Friday and Colorado on Sunday, and then finish the regular season with home games against Edmonton and Vancouver.

MONTREAL (41-29-7, 89 points) at CAROLINA (36-30-10, 82 points)
Where they stand: The Canadiens are sixth in the East; the Hurricanes are ninth in the East.
What's at stake: It looked like Montreal long has had a playoff berth sewn up, but a recent stumble has put their fate somewhat in doubt. A win could pull them within two points of fifth-place Tampa Bay. A loss, combined with a Rangers win, would drop the Canadiens to seventh. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are fighting to extend their season, and with just three points separating them from eighth-place Buffalo, a well-timed hot streak could put the Hurricanes back in the top eight.
How it's going: The Canadiens defeated the Thrashers 3-1 Tuesday in something of a breakout performance. Montreal had suffered shutout losses in its three previous games -- a first in the history of one of hockey's most storied franchises.

After struggling for much of February and March, Carolina is making a late run. Their 3-2 shootout win in Washington on Tuesday was their fourth victory in the last five games.
Upcoming: The Canadiens visit New Jersey on Saturday and then return home to host the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Carolina visits the Islanders on Saturday, then return home for the big game Sunday against Buffalo.

ST. LOUIS (34-32-10, 78 points) at DETROIT (44-22-10, 98 points)
Where they stand: The Blues are 13th in the Western Conference; the Red Wings are second in the West.
What's at stake: Detroit, while virtually assured of a place in the West postseason field, remains in a hotly contested battle with San Jose for the No. 2 seed. The Wings currently hold a one-point edge on the Sharks.
How it's going: Despite having little to play for, the Blues, who lost to Minnesota in a shootout Tuesday, have won more than they've lost lately, going 3-2-1 in their last six games.

The Red Wings lost in overtime to the Blackhawks on Monday, dropping them to 1-1-2 on a five-game homestand that ends Wednesday. Some of that is due to the competition -- they played the Penguins, Canucks and Blackhawks, plus the desperate Maple Leafs -- and were missing a number of star players.

Upcoming: St. Louis will host Calgary on Friday and then go to Columbus on Sunday. The Wings visit the Predators on Saturday and then host Minnesota on Sunday.
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