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Surging Sabres jump into East's seventh slot

by John Kreiser
The Buffalo Sabres are making themselves right at home on the road as they scramble for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres improved to 4-1-1 through six games of a seven-game trip by rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits for a 4-3 overtime victory at Boston on Thursday night. The two points moved Buffalo ahead of the New York Rangers and into seventh place in the East -- both clubs have 74 points, but the Rangers have played two more games.

In the West, Phoenix jumped from eighth to fifth by blanking Calgary 3-0. The Chicago Blackhawks, Coyotes and Flames all have 81 points; the Hawks are fourth because they've played the fewest games, while the Coyotes are fifth because they have more non-shootout wins.

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

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (90 points after Thursday's 3-2 win at Toronto) avenged a loss to the Leafs a week earlier by hanging on for the win at the Air Canada Centre. Brian Boucher made 27 saves as the Flyers, playing without top defenseman Chris Pronger, won for the second time in three days after a four-game losing streak.

Washington (86 points) had the day off. The Caps host Carolina on Friday, trying to extend their winning streak to a season-high seven games.

Boston (85 points after Thursday's 4-3 home OT loss to Buffalo) saw a point get away when it couldn't put away the Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins led 2-0 and 3-2, but couldn't hang on after Nathan Horton put them ahead early in the third. Boston heads to Long Island for a game against the New York Islanders on Friday.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (86 points) is off until hosting weekend games against Montreal on Saturday and Edmonton on Sunday. Coach Dan Bylsma said there's nothing new concerning Sidney Crosby, who's still out with a concussion.

Tampa Bay (84 points) will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina for Friday's game against Ottawa. The NHL suspended Kubina for three games for a hit to the head of Chicago's Dave Bolland during Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win.

Montreal (81 points after Thursday's 4-1 loss at St. Louis) got off to a good start when Jeff Halpern scored midway through the first period, but that was the only one of 28 shots the Habs could get past Jaroslav Halak in their first meeting against their former teammate. The Canadiens fell four points behind Boston in the race for first in the Northeast Division.

Buffalo (74 points after Thursday's 4-3 OT win at Boston) might well have been happy to get one point after trailing 2-0 in the second period on the road against the Bruins. Instead, the Sabres left town with a pair after Brad Boyes scored with 1:16 remaining in overtime. The Sabres jumped over the Rangers and will still be seventh when they take the ice Saturday night in Toronto for the finale of their seven-game trip.

New York Rangers (74 points) can only sit and watch again on Friday. They're off until a Saturday game at San Jose and will be rooting for Washington to beat eighth-place Carolina -- if the 'Canes win, the Rangers will take the ice outside the top eight.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (72 points) can jump the Rangers and move into eighth place -- if it can find a way to win at Washington on Friday. The 'Canes have lost all four meetings with the Caps this season, but the teams haven't seen each other since Boxing Day, when Washington won 3-2 in Raleigh.

Toronto (68 points after Thursday's 3-2 home loss to Philadelphia) dug too big a hole and couldn't overtake the Flyers -- severely damaging its playoff hopes. The Leafs face a must-win game when Buffalo comes to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

Atlanta (67 points) desperately needs to win Friday's home game against New Jersey -- the Thrashers play four of their next five on the road, beginning Saturday in Philadelphia.

New Jersey (64 points) spent Thursday practicing in Georgia before its game at Atlanta on Friday. Coach Jacques Lemaire isn't saying whether he would play Martin Brodeur or ex-Thrasher Johan Hedberg.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (97 points after Thursday's 5-4 shootout win at San Jose) made it 4-for-4 on its road trip by winning after the teams combined for three goals in the final 2:13 of regulation. Cory Schneider may be the best backup goaltender in the NHL -- he was brilliant while making 44 saves through 65 minutes and three more in the shootout. Alex Burrows scored the only goal in the tiebreaker.

Detroit (86 points) called up defenseman Doug Janik from AHL Grand Rapids in case Brad Stuart (ankle) isn't ready to go for Friday's game against last-place Edmonton. The Wings are 0-2-2 in their last four.

San Jose (85 points after Thursday's 5-4 home shootout loss to Vancouver) spent the whole night playing catch-up after falling behind 2-0 the Canucks, and did it well enough to get a point before losing in the shootout. Torrey Mitchell's highlight-reel goal with 2:13 remaining tied it at 3-3, and after Daniel Sedin put the Canucks back in front 24 seconds later, Ryane Clowe got the Sharks a point by scoring his second of the night with 20.3 seconds left.

The next five:

Chicago (81 points) will be spending part of its off-day Friday enjoying one of the spoils of last spring's Stanley Cup Championship -- a trip to the White House.

Phoenix (81 points after Thursday's 3-0 home win against Calgary) moved from eighth to fifth thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov, who stopped all 39 shots by the Flames -- 19 of them in the second period. The Coyotes are off until they begin a four-game trip at Anaheim on Sunday.

Calgary (81 points after Thursday's 3-0 loss at Phoenix) wound up with a split of its two games-in-two-nights trip through the Southwest. After Miikka Kiprusoff won at Dallas on Wednesday, coach Brent Sutter opted to use backup goalie Henrik Karlsson, who played well (29 saves on 31 shots) but not as well as Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flames are back home to host Vancouver on Saturday.

Dallas (80 points) has another two weeks at home before having to hit the road again. The Stars welcome Minnesota to the American Airlines Center on Friday for the second game of a seven-game homestand.

Los Angeles (79 points) will use Jonathan Bernier in goal Friday night at Columbus. Coach Terry Murray has said he wants to use both goalies, so Bernier will get the start even though Jonathan Quick was the No. 1 star in Wednesday's 2-1 win at Detroit.

On the outside looking in:

Nashville (78 points after Thursday's 4-0 home win against Minnesota) started a five-game homestand by dominating Minnesota from start to finish. The Predators scored three times in the first 12:32 and limited the Wild to just 19 shots -- only nine in the first two periods. The Preds have a chance to make a push; they 11 of their next 13 at Bridgestone Arena.

Anaheim (77 points) makes a quick trip to Denver for a Friday night game with the struggling Avs, who've dropped out of the race in the West.

Minnesota (77 points after Thursday's 4-0 loss at Nashville) started a four-game trip on the wrong foot by getting whacked in Nashville. The Wild were outshot 24-9 in the first two periods and generated little offense after allowing the Predators to jump to a 3-0 lead less than 13 minutes into the game.

Columbus (71 points) has to rebound after blowing a 3-0 lead against St. Louis in Wednesday's 4-3 loss. The Jackets host Los Angeles on Friday.

St. Louis (71 points after Thursday's 4-1 home win against Montreal) won an emotional game before a full house at Scottrade Center as ex-Canadien Jaroslav Halak beat his former team in the first meeting since Montreal traded him last summer. Three wins in four days have given the Blues at least a pulse in the playoff race.
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