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Shootout win puts Avs back in top eight in West

by John Kreiser
In the space of a few minutes on Wednesday night, the Colorado Avalanche went from no points to two points and a place in the top eight in the Western Conference.

The Avs dominated the Sabres for most of the night in Buffalo, but were just a couple of seconds away from going home with nothing -- the Sabres held a 4-3 lead as rookie Gabriel Landeskog led one final rush. Landeskog's shot missed, but Ryan O'Reilly dug out the puck and flung it desperately toward the crease. The pass slithered through everyone and sat just in front of the goal line, where Jamie McGinn swatted it in with 2 seconds left to tie the game.

After a scoreless overtime, the Avs continued their dominance in the shootout as Peter Mueller scored and Semyon Varlamov stopped all three Buffalo shooters for a stunning 5-4 win -- Colorado's ninth in 10 tiebreakers this season.

The win moved the Avs ahead of Calgary, Los Angeles and San Jose into eighth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Phoenix -- a 5-4 winner at Vancouver.

With eight games on Thursday's schedule, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after the six games played on Wednesday:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (95 points) had a day off before their showdown with Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN2). Captain Ryan Callahan, who sat out again on Tuesday with a foot injury, said he hopes to be in the lineup against the Penguins.

Boston (83 points) spent Wednesday picking up the pieces after Tuesday's 6-1 rout at Tampa Bay. The Bruins bring a three-game losing streak into Thursday's game at Florida.

Florida (79 points) hosts Boston on Thursday in the third of a four-game homestand, but will likely be without forward Jack Skille, who could miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The good news: Leading score Kris Versteeg (hip) and top-six defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) are practicing and could be back by the end of the homestand.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (89 points) expects to have Sidney Crosby back for its big game against the Rangers. The Penguins may also have their top offensive defenseman, Kris Letang, in the lineup. Letang's concussion symptoms reportedly have subsided; he practiced Wednesday and even saw time with Crosby on the top power-play unit.

Philadelphia (87 points)
is riding the hot streak of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whose shutout of New Jersey on Tuesday was his third in a row and fourth in five games. Bryzgalov, in turn, credits his teammates, and with good reason: The Devils managed only 17 shots on goal, the Flyers blocked 15 more and limited New Jersey to just 41 attempts.

New Jersey (85 points) took Wednesday off to rest before the Colorado Avalanche come to Newark on Thursday night.

Ottawa (82 points after Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss at Montreal) lost in a shootout for the second straight game when Ben Bishop allowed the only goal in the tiebreaker against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The Senators get a chance to avenge the loss when the Habs come to Scotiabank Place on Friday night.

Washington (78 points)
had the first of two off-days before a key game in Winnipeg on Friday. Even better news is that No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom, recuperating from a concussion suffered on Jan. 3, skated both Tuesday and Wednesday and said he's feeling better -- though there's still no indication when he'll be able to play again.

On the outside looking in:

Buffalo (75 points after Wednesday's 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado) saw what looked like a sure point disappear when the Avs forced OT by scoring with two seconds left in regulation, then won the shootout. Marcus Foligno scored twice for the Sabres, who are off until they visit Florida on Saturday.

Winnipeg (74 points after Wednesday's 5-2 win against Dallas) won a game it had to have by jumping to a 5-0 lead and cruising past Dallas -- only the third time the Jets' franchise has ever beaten the Stars. Andrew Ladd scored twice for the Jets, who play their biggest game of the season when Washington comes to the MTS Centre on Friday night.


Division leaders:

St. Louis (98 points) had an off-day before visiting Carolina on Thursday -- the third game of a seven-game trip.

Vancouver (92 points after Wednesday's 5-4 loss against Phoenix) looked like it would run the Coyotes out of the building after scoring twice in the first 10 minutes. But they were outscored 5-1 the rest of the night by the hungrier Coyotes and lost for the third time in six games in a homestand that ends Saturday night against Columbus.

Dallas (83 points after Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Winnipeg) saw its 11-game points streak come to an abrupt end at the Jets scored four times in the second period to take a 5-0 lead before Loui Eriksson scored two goals for Dallas. The Stars split their two-game trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg; they head home to host Chicago on Friday.

The next five:

Detroit (91 points after Wednesday's 4-0 loss at Anaheim) fell to 0-3-0 on its four-game trip by losing for the second time in as many nights in Southern California. The Wings have three days off before ending their California swing Saturday night in San Jose. They'll play that one without captain Nicklas Lidstrom, whose sore ankle is getting no better; he's missed the Wings' last eight games after blocking a shot against Colorado on Feb. 25.

Nashville (89 points) had another off-day before visiting San Jose on Thursday, the start of a stretch of three games in four days in California.

Chicago (84 points) is off until Friday when it visits Dallas. The Hawks have stayed afloat without captain Jonathan Toews, whose absence due to a concussion has reached 11 games.

Phoenix (81 points after Wednesday's 5-4 win at Vancouver) refused to roll over after falling into an early two-goal hole and then allowing Vancouver to pull even at 3-3. Gilbert Brule broke the tie late in the second period, and Antoine Vermette added a power-play goal early in the third. The Coyotes have no time to celebrate -- they visit Calgary on Thursday night.

Colorado (80 points after Wednesday's 5-4 shootout win at Buffalo) is making its playoff push thanks to the ability to win games that go past regulation. Wednesday's win was the Avs' 15th in 19 games decided after 60 minutes; they are 6-3 in overtime in addition to their 9-1 mark in shootouts as they head to New Jersey to play the Devils on Thursday.

On the outside looking in:

San Jose (78 points) is back at the Shark Tank on Thursday night to host Nashville after getting three of four points in two games in Alberta.

Calgary (78 points) will have forward Curtis Glencross available for Thursday's big game against Phoenix at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Glencross was given a boarding major and ejected for a first-period hit against San Jose's Jason Demers on Tuesday, but was informed on Wednesday that there would be no supplementary discipline. The penalty cost Glencross a chance to extend his seven-game goal-scoring streak.

Los Angeles (78 points) was off Wednesday and doesn't play again until it travels down the highway to Anaheim on Friday night.
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