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Red-hot Ducks back in playoff race

by John Kreiser /
The Anaheim Ducks looked like they were dead in the water a few weeks ago. Today, their playoff hopes are in full flight.

The Ducks continued their tremendous second-half surge Wednesday night by rallying from an early deficit to beat the Penguins 2-1 in Pittsburgh. Though they are still 13th in the West, the Ducks are just six points behind eighth-place Phoenix after winning for the second time in two nights -- a big improvement from the 20-point hole they were in on Jan. 6.

Anaheim is 3-0-1 at the halfway point of an eight-game road trip, 5-0-2 in its last seven and 14-2-3 after losing its first game of 2012.

In the Eastern Conference, Boston helped itself with a 4-3 shootout win at Montreal, keeping the Bruins four points ahead of second-place Ottawa in the Northeast Division.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

New York Rangers (79 points) practiced Wednesday without Brandon Dubinsky and Anton Stralman as they prepared for Thursday's visit by Chicago. Dubinsky took a puck in the mouth on Tuesday in Boston and needed 10 stitches, while Stralman took a shot in the hand. Ruslan Fedotenko, who has missed three games after a hit to the head last week, also sat out practice.

Boston (72 points after Wednesday's 4-3 shootout victory at Montreal) couldn't hold a 3-1 lead entering the third period, but got the extra point anyway when Tim Thomas stopped all three Montreal shooters in the tiebreaker. The Bruins trail the Rangers by seven points in the race for first in the East; each team has 27 games remaining. They lead Ottawa by four points in the division race, but have five games in hand.

Florida (65 points after Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Ottawa) had a clunker in its first game back home after a weekend road sweep of the Devils and Islanders. Shawn Mattias and Sean Bergenheim scored for the Panthers, who face a big test when Washington comes to the BankAtlantic Center on Friday.

The next five:

Philadelphia (69 points) had a second straight day of hard practice during a rare three-day break in the schedule. Forward James van Riemsdyk skated but is still out with a concussion that has sidelined him for 14 games; Jaromir Jagr spent his 40th birthday battling an illness and the Flyers aren't saying whether he'll play in Thursday's home game against Buffalo.

Pittsburgh (69 points after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Anaheim) dropped behind the Flyers after a disappointing loss to Anaheim, which was on the second half of a back-to-back. Evgeni Malkin's streak of scoring goals in home games ended at eight as the Penguins were unable to score after taking the early lead on Jordan Staal's goal 6:27 into the game.

New Jersey (68 points) continues to ride Ilya Kovalchuk's hot streak -- he had a hat trick and an assist in Tuesday's 4-1 win at Buffalo. The Devils are idle until Anaheim comes to the Prudential Center on Friday night.

Ottawa (68 points after Wednesday's 6-2 win at Florida) continues to own the Panthers. The Senators cruised at BankAtlantic Center to sweep a two-night trip through the Sunshine State and beat the Panthers for the ninth straight time. The six goals matched Ottawa's season-high. The Senators, who have played a League-high 60 games, are off until visiting Long Island on Monday.

Toronto (64 points after Wednesday's 4-3 overtime win at Edmonton) had to go to overtime after blowing an early 2-0 lead and a late 3-2 edge, but got a much-needed two points when Tim Connolly scored 1:39 into OT -- his first goal in 18 games. It was a big win for a team that had lost 5-1 at Calgary the night before.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (61 points) has had a few days to look for answers after back-to-back losses to the Rangers on Sunday and San Jose on Monday. Three days off before Friday's visit to Florida should let starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun get over the flu that sidelined him for both games -- Vokoun has allowed just nine goals in five games since the All-Star break.

Winnipeg (58 points) practiced at home on Wednesday before heading to the Twin Cities for Thursday's game against the slumping Wild. A win would send the Jets home on a positive note as they begin an eight-game homestand against Boston on Friday.

New York Islanders (56 points) face a tough task on Thursday -- a visit to St. Louis, where the Blues are 24-3-4 this season. But after losing their first seven games away from the Nassau Coliseum, the Isles are 12-6-1 in their last 19 road games, including Tuesday's 3-1 win at Winnipeg.

Montreal (56 points after Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss to Boston) rallied from a 3-1 deficit after two periods to get one point by forcing overtime, but was unable to grab the extra point -- dropping the Habs to 2-8 in the tiebreaker this season.

Tampa Bay (54 points) can't afford any more outcomes like Tuesday's 4-0 home loss to Ottawa if it hopes to grab a playoff spot. Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals, but hasn't scored in the Lightning's last two contests.

Buffalo (54 points) visits Philadelphia on Thursday -- its first trip to the City of Brotherly Love since losing Game 7 there last spring. It will be the first trip back to Philadelphia for Ville Leino since signing a six-year deal with the Sabres last summer -- after helping the Flyers eliminate the Sabres last spring.

Carolina (53 points) is off until San Jose comes to the RBC Center on Friday night, the first half of a back-to-back that includes a trip to Long Island on Saturday.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Detroit (80 points) has two days off to enjoy its NHL record for consecutive home victories -- the Wings don't play again until Nashville comes to Joe Louis Arena on Friday night. A win will match the all-time record for consecutive home wins, set by Boston in 1929-30 and the start of the 1930-31 season.

Vancouver (78 points after Wednesday's 3-1 win against Colorado) got a late goal by Jannik Hansen to break a 1-1 tie -- and end Hansen's personal 12-game goal drought. The Canucks have all but locked up the Northwest Division title; they lead the Avs by 18 points and are 8-0-2 in their last 10 games.
San Jose (68 points) enjoyed a second straight off day before a tough stretch of three games in four days that begins Thursday at Tampa Bay. The Sharks are two games into a nine-game trip.

The next five:

St. Louis (75 points) will try to bounce back from a 2-1 loss at Columbus on Tuesday when the Islanders come to Scottrade Center on Thursday night. History says the Blues won't leave empty-handed: They are 24-3-4 at home and 11-0-2 against Eastern Conference teams this season.

Nashville (72 points)
is off until Friday's visit to Detroit, where the Predators will try to end the Wings' home winning streak at 21 games.

Chicago (65 points) has gone from contending for first place in the League to trying to hang onto a playoff berth after losing nine in a row -- including all seven games thus far on a nine-game trip. Things don't get any easier on Thursday; the Hawks visit Madison Square Garden for a meeting with the New York Rangers.

Los Angeles (65 points) is back at home Thursday night to host Phoenix after a six-game road trip that saw its offensive woes continue. The Kings went 2-3-1, though they did end on a positive note with a 4-2 win at Dallas on Sunday.

Phoenix (63 points)
got a point in Vancouver on Monday thanks to a goal by Keith Yandle late in overtime, meaning that the Coyotes take a 5-0-1 streak into their game at Los Angeles on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (62 points) had a rare offensive bonanza in Tuesday's 5-1 victory against Toronto. The Flames were off Wednesday, with Dallas coming to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday night.

Colorado (60 points after Wednesday's 3-1 loss at Vancouver) battled the Canucks evenly until Jannik Hansen's goal with 6:29 remaining in regulation broke a 1-1 tie. The Avs also lost goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who left with a groin injury late in the first period, and forward T.J. Galiardi, who left with a torso injury.

Dallas (59 points) looks to rebound from a disappointing effort in Detroit on Tuesday when it visits Calgary on Thursday night. The Stars were overwhelmed in the opening 20 minutes of the 3-1 loss and didn't score until were only 32.8 seconds left.

Minnesota (58 points) went through a grinding practice Wednesday after Tuesday's 2-1 home loss to Anaheim -- a defeat that dropped the Wild to 5-16-5 in their last 26 games. The only visit of the season from the Winnipeg Jets figures to pack the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday -- busloads of fans reportedly were headed to St. Paul for the game.

Anaheim (57 points after Wednesday's 2-1 win at Pittsburgh) rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win for the second time in two nights. Corey Perry tied the game late in the second period, and Teemu Selanne's backhander midway through the third gave the Ducks the win. The goal was Selanne's 19th of the season and 656th of his career, tying him with Brendan Shanahan for 12th on the all-time list.

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