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Stars stay alive in West

by John Kreiser
The Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes may still be on the outside looking in at the top eight in their respective conferences, but each still has a good chance to make the playoffs.

The Stars helped themselves on Thursday by beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 at American Airlines Center. All-Stars Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards each had a goal and assist as the Stars started their season-ending stretch of three games in four days by winning their home finale.

Dallas' win kept Nashville, Phoenix and Anaheim from clinching berths. The Stars moved within two points of eighth-place Chicago with two games remaining for each team.

Carolina is still ninth in the East, but the Hurricanes now control their fate after the eighth-place New York Rangers lost 3-0 at home to Atlanta. The Rangers lead the 'Canes by two points, but Carolina can move into eighth by beating the very same Thrashers on Friday night.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Washington (107 points) hopes to have All-Star defenseman Mike Green back in the lineup for Saturday's regular-season finale at Florida. Green, who hasn't played since late February due to a concussion, spent Thursday practicing with the Hershey Bears, the Caps' AHL farm team. It was a homecoming for Green, who was part of the Bears' Calder Cup title team in 2006.

Philadelphia (103 points) needs wins at Buffalo on Friday and against the Islanders at home on Saturday to have any hope of catching Washington for first in the East. The Flyers hope to have Danny Briere back for the game in Buffalo; he's missed two games with lower-body soreness. The Flyers also need points to fend off Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division race and avoid dropping to fourth place.

Boston (101 points) had the day off before a season-ending back-to-back -- Ottawa comes to the TD Garden on Saturday and the Bruins visit New Jersey on Sunday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (102 points) needs a win against the Islanders on Friday or at Atlanta on Sunday to assure itself of no worse than fourth place and home ice in the first round.

Tampa Bay (99 points) ends its home season Friday against Florida, a team that has had the Lightning's number this season with four wins in five games. The Bolts then conclude their regular season Saturday at Carolina.

Montreal (94 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss at Ottawa) got one point when Mike Cammalleri scored with 10.1 seconds left in regulation, only to see the Senators get the extra point on Filip Kuba's OT goal. The Canadiens, who appear headed for another playoff meeting against Boston, conclude the regular season at Toronto on Saturday.

Buffalo (92 points) will host "Fan Appreciation Night" before Friday's game against Philadelphia, with more than 80 Sabres alumni slated to be on hand. The Sabres can clinch a playoff berth with a win, and they may have starting goaltender Ryan Miller available for the game. Miller, out since sustaining an upper-body injury on March 29, took part in his first full practice on Thursday. Coach Lindy Ruff said Miller looked good and may be able to play -- if not Friday, then Saturday at Columbus.

New York Rangers
(91 points after Thursday's 3-0 home loss to Atlanta) came out flat and never woke up against the Thrashers, who got 29 saves by Ondrej Pavelec and couldn't match Atlanta's energy all night long. The Rangers no longer control their own playoff fate -- they could find themselves on the outside looking in when New Jersey comes to Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for the Blueshirts' season finale.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (89 points) has its fate in its own hands. The Hurricanes visit Atlanta on Friday and host Tampa Bay on Saturday -- two wins and they’re in. If the teams finish tied in points and non-shootout wins, the 'Canes would advance by virtue of going 2-0-2 in the season series.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (115 points after Thursday's 5-0 home win against Minnesota) celebrated the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history before its regular-season finale, then routed the Wild for its team-record 53rd win of the season. Ryan Kesler's hat trick made him a 40-goal scorer -- making Vancouver the only team with two. The Canucks figure to rest a lot of their regulars in Saturday's season-finale at Calgary.

San Jose (103 points) is in the driver's seat for the second seed. The Sharks end their season with a home-and-home series against the Coyotes, beginning Friday in Glendale, Ariz.

Detroit (102 points) will rest Henrik Zetterberg for its home-and-home series against Chicago, which begins Friday at Joe Louis Arena. Zetterberg went down with a lower-body injury Wednesday night.

The next five:

Los Angeles (98 points) has the inside track on fourth place and the last home-ice berth going into its home-and-home series with the Ducks, beginning Friday night in Anaheim.

Nashville (97 points) could have injured forwards Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan available for Friday's home finale against Columbus. Both took part in practice on Thursday.

Phoenix (97 points) got defenseman Ed Jovanovski back on Wednesday and might have center Martin Hanzal back in the lineup for Friday's game against San Jose. Hanzal has missed 13 games with a lower body injury, but he practiced Thursday and coach Dave Tippett said afterwards that "he's close."

Anaheim (95 points) can clinch a playoff berth by beating Los Angeles at home on Friday before what's sure to be a packed house at Honda Center. If Anaheim wins, it will be the first time since the Ducks entered the NHL in 1993 that both Southern California teams have made the playoffs.

Chicago (95 points) still isn't assured of a chance to defend its Stanley Cup. The Hawks could find themselves in ninth place if they lost in regulation or OT at Detroit on Friday and Dallas gets a non-shootout win at Colorado. A Dallas win on Friday will ensure that Chicago will need points in Sunday's season finale against the Wings at home.

On the outside looking in:

Dallas (93 points after Thursday's 4-2 home win against Colorado) kept the heat on Chicago and Anaheim by winning the front end of a home-and-home series with the Avs. The Stars play their last two games on the road, Friday in Colorado and Sunday in Minnesota. If they win both, the Hawks will need to take three of four points this weekend to earn the final playoff berth.

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