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Rookie carries Sabres into seventh in East

by John Kreiser
So who needs a Vezina Trophy winner anyway?

There had to be some shivers going through the sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena on Wednesday when the announcement was made that Ryan Miller would not play against the New York Rangers due to an upper-body injury. But Swedish rookie Jhonas Enroth, playing before his parents for the first time in the NHL, stopped all 23 shots he faced to give the Buffalo Sabres a 1-0 victory and move them past the Rangers into seventh place in the East. Both teams have 87 points and five games remaining, but the Sabres have one more non-shootout win.

Both teams are three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina, which stayed in the hunt with a 6-2 home win against Montreal.

In the West, the surging Anaheim Ducks moved ahead of Nashville into sixth place with a 4-2 win at Calgary.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (102 points) has a magic number of six points to clinch the Atlantic Division title. The Flyers can chop two points off that number by beating Atlanta at home on Thursday. GM Paul Holmgren says defenseman Kimmo Timonen "is probable" after leaving Tuesday's win in Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury.

Washington (99 points) could be without another defenseman for Thursday's home game against Columbus. Dennis Wideman is day-to-day with a lower-body injury sustained in Tuesday's shootout loss to Carolina. He would join Mike Green (head injuries) and Tom Poti (groin) on the sidelines.

Boston (96 points) can clinch the Northeast Division title and all but end Toronto's playoff hopes by beating the Leafs at TD Garden on Thursday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (98 points) will have Sidney Crosby on the ice for the morning skate before Thursday's game at Tampa Bay, but there's no expectation about when -- or if -- he'll be able to return to the lineup. GM Ray Shero said Crosby is still not ready to return to a full practice.

Tampa Bay (93 points) can clinch its first playoff berth since 2007 by beating the Penguins at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Montreal (89 points after Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Carolina) outshot the Hurricanes 40-35 but was overwhelmed in its loss at the RBC Center. Carolina scored twice in each period, knocking out Carey Price after two periods. The Canadiens have four games remaining -- but just one (Tuesday vs. Chicago) at home.

Buffalo (87 points after Wednesday's 1-0 home win against the Rangers) bounced back from Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Toronto despite the absence of Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. Jhonas Enroth, a 2006 second-rounder who had played just three games since Nov. 24, stepped up with a flawless performance and Tim Connolly scored a power-play goal to lift the Sabres to a victory that moved them ahead of the Rangers. Miller is day-to-day, but the Sabres have the next two days off before a big road weekend -- at Washington on Saturday and at Carolina the next night.

New York Rangers (87 points after Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Buffalo) managed just 23 shots on goal -- and couldn't put any of them past rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots, but it wasn't enough to keep the Rangers from a loss than dropped them behind the Sabres in the playoff chase. They can move back into seventh Thursday night with a win on Long Island.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (84 points after Wednesday's 6-2 home win against Montreal) had a breakout offensive game as rookie Jeff Skinner and defenseman Jamie McBain each scored twice. The 'Canes are three points out of eighth and have two off-days before a game on Long Island Saturday night and a Sunday showdown against Buffalo at home.

Toronto (80 points) could see its flickering playoff hopes all but expire unless it wins at Boston on Thursday.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (111 points) comes home from a perfect 4-0-0 trip to host Los Angeles on Thursday. The Canucks are four points away from clinching the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

Detroit (98 points after Wednesday's 10-3 home loss to St. Louis) was lit up for double figures for the first time in more than 17 years. With No. 1 center Pavel Datsyuk and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard both injured, the Wings became the first NHL team in more than two years to give up 10 or more goals. The Wings have two days to regroup before visiting Nashville on Saturday.

San Jose (97 points) can pass Detroit for second place by beating Dallas at the Shark Tank on Thursday.

The next five:

Phoenix (95 points) welcomed the two-day break before Friday's visit from Colorado. GM Don Maloney told the team's website that defenseman Ed Jovanovski (facial fractures) and center Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) both have a good chance of playing before the end of the regular-season.

Los Angeles (94 points) had a day off before Thursday's visit to Vancouver. The Kings said center Anze Kopitar had successful surgery Wednesday to repair torn ligaments in his right ankle. Although Jonathan Bernier blanked Edmonton on Tuesday, it's Jonathan Quick who will get the call against the Canucks.

Anaheim (93 points after Wednesday's 4-2 win/loss at Calgary) might be the team no one wants to play in the first round. The red-hot Ducks got two more goals from NHL leader Corey Perry and won at Calgary, giving them 20 road wins this season. Goaltender Ray Emery improved to 6-0-0 since joining the Ducks, who climbed into sixth -- though they may get passed before they take the ice again Saturday night in San Jose.

Nashville (92 points) has a must-win game Thursday night in Colorado. The Preds used their off-day to sign 2010 first-round pick Austin Watson to an entry-level contract. He'll finish the season in AHL Milwaukee.

Chicago (90 points) also had the day off -- and also signed a prospect. The Hawks inked Boston College star Jimmy Hayes, a 2008 second-rounder acquired from Toronto last June, to his first pro contract. Chicago also has Thursday off before games at Columbus on Friday and home against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (87 points) starts a three-game, four-day swing through California with a visit to San Jose on Thursday. The Stars have almost no wiggle room left if they hope to have any realistic hope of grabbing a playoff berth.

Calgary (87 points after Wednesday's 4-2 home loss to Anaheim) lost a game it had to win when the Ducks came into Scotiabank Saddledome and left with two points. Jarome Iginla gave the Flames the lead with a goal 2:58 into the game, but Calgary managed only a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Mark Giordano in the final 57 minutes. The Flames play their next two games on the road -- they're at St. Louis on Friday and Colorado on Sunday.
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