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Top spots in East up for grabs on busy Tuesday

by Dan Rosen
With 20 days left in the regular season, the playoff races in each conference simply are on fire. Almost every game has added significance, with points at such a premium, as teams jockey for positioning. is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about the games that directly can impact the playoff races.

Here is the installment for Tuesday, March 22:

WASHINGTON (42-21-10, 94 points) at PHILADELPHIA (44-19-8, 96 points)
Where they stand: Washington is second in the East; Philadelphia is first in the East
What's at stake: Washington is looking to pull into a virtual tie with the Flyers and extend its lead in the Southeast Division. Philadelphia can move four points ahead in the Eastern Conference standings with a win. The Flyers also have two games in hand on the Capitals.
How's it going: The Capitals have won 10 of their past 11 games, but they will be without Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday. Washington's captain stayed in D.C. to deal with a nagging injury. He is expected to miss a week to 10 days, but the Capitals haven't played since last Friday and won't be in action again until this coming Friday, so it's possible he misses only Tuesday's game.
The Flyers are being challenged by both the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they haven't played their best hockey of late. Philadelphia beat Dallas in a shootout Saturday after losing in Atlanta via the shootout last Thursday. The Flyers, though, have points in six-straight games (4-0-2) and seem to be doing just enough to stay on top in the East as they wait for Chris Pronger to return from his hand injury.
Upcoming: The Capitals don't play again until the weekend. They're in Ottawa on Friday and Montreal on Saturday. Philadelphia hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday.
BUFFALO (35-28-9, 79 points) at MONTREAL (40-26-7, 87 points)
Where they stand: Buffalo is eighth in the East; Montreal is sixth in the East
What's at stake: Montreal could take over first place in the Northeast Division with a win and a Boston regulation loss against New Jersey. Buffalo is looking to hold its ground and -- depending on what Carolina does against Ottawa -- perhaps build on its three point lead on the Hurricanes for eighth place. The Sabres are three points behind the Rangers for seventh and they have a game in hand.
How's it going: The Sabres are 3-3-1 during their past seven games and haven't won two in a row since earlier this month. They are coming off Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss to Nashvill, but that was after Saturday's 8-2 blowout of the Thrashers. They are 6-3-2 this month, and it's been good enough to give them a small cushion on the Hurricanes.
Montreal blasted Minnesota, 8-1, on Sunday to pull within a point of the Bruins. They'll look to build on it Tuesday and win back-to-back games for the first time since their five-game winning streak that ended earlier this month. The Habs are 3-3 during their past six games, but with Boston going through a bit of a slump they have been able to close the gap.
Upcoming: Montreal heads to Boston on Thursday for an emotional showdown with first place in the Northeast Division likely on the line. It'll be the first meeting between the Habs and Bruins since the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident at Bell Centre on March 8. The Sabres host Florida and New Jersey this weekend.
NEW JERSEY (34-34-4, 72 points) at BOSTON (39-22-10, 88 points)
Where they stand: New Jersey is 11th in the East; Boston is third in the East
What's at stake: The Devils are just looking to stay alive in the race, though they need a lot of help. Boston is hoping to keep its lead in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens have climbed within a point of the Bruins and the Habs will visit TD Garden on Thursday. The Bruins don't want to start that game in second place.
How's it going: Back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Washington last week sapped some of the Devils' playoff mojo. They got some of it back with Sunday's 3-0 win against Columbus, but the Devils may now be feeling the burn of a 10-29-2 start to the season.
The Bruins have fallen on some hard times with just one win in their past seven games (1-3-3) -- and that win came in a shootout. Boston coach Claude Julien put his team through a rigorous one-hour practice Sunday despite it being a typical day off after a Saturday game. Julien was not happy with the way the Bruins played in a 5-2 loss Saturday to Toronto and didn't feel they earned their day off.
Upcoming: The Bruins are starting a stretch of five must-see games in a row. They host Montreal on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday before playing at Philadelphia on Sunday and home against Chicago next Thursday. The Devils' push continues at Pittsburgh on Friday and at Buffalo on Saturday.
OTTAWA (27-36-9, 63 points) at CAROLINA (33-29-10, 76 points)
Where they stand: Ottawa is 15th in the East; Carolina is ninth in the East
What's at stake: Carolina trails Buffalo by three points for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Each team has 10 games left, but Buffalo has 30 non-shootout wins vs. 29 for Carolina. Non-shootout wins is the tiebreaker after games played.
How's it going: The Hurricanes got goals from Erik Cole late in regulation and from Joni Pitkanen in overtime Saturday to beat the Islanders for their second win in the past three games. They're hoping it turns into a momentum-swinging win because the 'Canes could really use that right about now. Buffalo hasn't run away from them, but Carolina knows it has to put together a win streak to catch the Sabres.
The Senators, with newly re-signed goalie Craig Anderson as the backstop, are doing their best to play spoiler in the Eastern Conference. They've already beaten New Jersey and Tampa Bay twice this month.
Upcoming: Carolina has a home-and-home against Tampa Bay on Friday and Saturday before playing at Washington and at home against Montreal to close out the month. Ottawa will continue to try to put its stamp on the playoff race in New York against the Rangers on Thursday and at home against Washington on Friday.
ST. LOUIS (32-31-9, 73 points) at PHOENIX (39-24-11, 89 points)
Where they stand: St. Louis is 13th in the West; Phoenix is fourth in the West
What's at stake: Phoenix is trying to hold on to fourth place while also taking a run at a top-three seed. San Jose leads the Pacific Division with 92 points, but is not in action again until Wednesday. Following Tuesday's game San Jose will have two games in hand on the Coyotes, but the teams will meet three more times before the end of the regular season.
How's it going: The Coyotes jumped into fourth thanks to their five-game winning streak from March 10-18, a run that included four straight wins on the road. They came home to start a six-game homestand on Sunday but lost, 2-1, to Chicago on a late power-play goal. Phoenix hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of its past three games and has given up three just once in the past six games.
The Blues had a chance to help out the Coyotes on Saturday, but they lost in San Jose, 5-3. Jaroslav Halak was pulled after giving up three goals on 10 shots in the first period.
Upcoming: Phoenix hosts Columbus on Thursday and then has two inter-divisional home games against San Jose and Dallas on Saturday and next Tuesday, respectively. The Coyotes close the regular season with a home-and-home against the Sharks. St. Louis returns home Thursday to play Edmonton.
EDMONTON (23-39-10, 56 points) at NASHVILLE (38-25-10, 86 points)
Where they stand: Edmonton is 15th in the West; Nashville is seventh in the West
What's at stake: Nashville has won three in a row to jump back into the top eight and can't drop out even with a regulation loss Tuesday. The Predators, though, can move up to sixth by getting a point out of Tuesday's game.
How's it going: Nashville has won three in a row and five of its past six games. Blake Geoffrion had a night he'll never forget Sunday, completing his first career hat trick with two goals in the final two and a half minutes to send what looked like a Buffalo win into overtime. Martin Erat won it for the Predators 27 seconds into the extra session. The Predators are 7-2-2 in their past 11 games.
Edmonton is 0-4-2 since going on a three-game winning streak to start the month.
Upcoming: Nashville continues its home-heavy schedule Thursday against Anaheim, Saturday against Dallas and next Tuesday against Vancouver. The Predators are home for seven of their final nine games. Edmonton goes to St. Louis on Thursday before coming home to play Calgary in the Battle of Alberta on Saturday.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS (28-33-12, 68 points) at TAMPA BAY (39-22-11, 89 points)
Where they stand: New York is 14th in the East; Tampa Bay is fifth in the East
What's at stake: Tampa Bay is trying to do a lot of things, most notably move up in the standings to secure home-ice advantage in the first round. The Lightning are still eyeing Washington for first in the Southeast, too. The Islanders are just trying to ruin the day for each team they face.
How's it going: The Lightning have had a rough month with a 2-4-4 record, but at least they have picked up points in four straight games and six of their past seven (2-1-3). However, they blew a 2-0 lead after two periods Saturday in Ottawa and lost in overtime, 3-2. The first goal they allowed was a shorthanded tally by Ryan Shannon. They lead the League in shorthanded goals allowed with 13.
The Islanders snapped a three-game winless streak with a 4-3 shootout win against Florida on Saturday.
Upcoming: The Lightning have a Friday-Saturday home-and-home against Carolina before hosting Ottawa and Pittsburgh next week. The Islanders host Atlanta on Thursday and Philadelphia on Saturday.
FLORIDA (29-33-10, 68 points) at NEW YORK RANGERS (39-30-4, 82 points)
Where they stand: Florida is 13th in the East; New York is seventh in the East
What's at stake: New York has played well and was's hot team on the Temperature Gauge on Monday, but a loss combined with a Carolina win would again put the squeeze on the Rangers. It can happen that quickly. Then again, the Rangers could potentially move closer to sixth place with a win.
How's it going: The Rangers are steaming at just the right time. They've won four in a row for the first time in a span of 118 games to put themselves comfortably in seventh place when just a few weeks ago their playoff positioning was precarious at best. Henrik Lundqvist has started 17 consecutive games and made 38 saves in Sunday's 5-2 win against Pittsburgh despite playing with a stiff neck. Marc Staal missed Sunday's game with an undisclosed injury and did not practice Monday.
The Panthers are 3-4-3 since the trade deadline.
Upcoming: The Rangers host Ottawa on Thursday and play in Boston on Saturday. Florida will head to Chicago following Tuesday's game to play the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
TORONTO (32-31-10, 74 points) at MINNESOTA (35-30-8, 78 points)
Where they stand: Toronto is 10th in the East; Minnesota is 11th in the West
What's at stake: Neither team is in a good spot, but Toronto is closer to a playoff berth than Minnesota. The Maple Leafs woke up Tuesday five points behind the eighth-place Sabres while the Wild are seven points behind the eighth-place Ducks. Both teams just have to win.
How's it going: The Maple Leafs are hanging around with wins in two out of their past three games, including Saturday's 5-2 throttling of the Bruins. The five guys who scored in Saturday's win (Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri, Joey Crabb, Mike Brown and Keith Aulie) have a combined 13 goals this season. James Reimer made 35 saves for the win.
The Wild may have hit rock bottom Sunday with an 8-1 loss to Montreal on home ice. They haven't won since March 8 and are 2-6-2 this month. They've fallen well off the pace in the Western Conference playoff race.
Upcoming: The Maple Leafs continue their western road trip Thursday in Denver and finish it Saturday in Detroit. Minnesota won't play again until Saturday at home against the Blues.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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