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Eastern playoff standings condensed: Sabres beat Rangers, Hurricanes smash Canadiens

Mar 31, 2011, 7:00 AM EDT

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Joni Pitkanen, Derek Joslin, Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal AP

Eastern Conference playoff race

x-1. Philadelphia – 102 pts
x-2. Washington – 99 pts
x-3. Boston – 96 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts
5. Tampa Bay – 93 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. Buffalo – 87 pts
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts
9. Carolina – 84 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts
12. New Jersey – 75 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2

The Devils did what they needed to do to keep their slim playoff hopes alive by beating the New York Islanders. New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene scored the eventual game-winning goal with about 5 minutes left in the game to save New Jersey’s hopes for one more night. Unfortunately for fans in Newark, the chances to make the second season took yet another hit as the Buffalo Sabres won their game as well. The Devils need to win the rest of their games and they need the Rangers or Sabres to lose the rest of theirs. In regulation. Even if that were to happen, they’d need the Hurricanes to fall off a cliff as well. It was a fantastic run for the Devils while it lasted—but it’s time to start looking towards next season.

Carolina 6, Montreal 2

Don’t look now, but the Montreal Canadiens’ stranglehold on the 6th seed isn’t as secure as it was a couple of weeks ago. Jeff Skinner scored a pair of goals in the first period to get the Canes off to a good start and Jaime McBain scored a pair to remove any doubt. The loss was simply more of the same for Montreal. The Habs have only managed a single win in their last 5 games—which is in stark contrast to the Rangers and Sabres who have seemingly been gaining ground on a nightly basis. Montreal’s loss and Carolina’s win has served to make the Eastern Conference playoff picture look like an accordion. The 6th through 9th spots are not only separated by 5 points; the 6th through 8th spots are only separated by two points.

Buffalo 1, NY Rangers 0

In a game that seemed like a playoff contest, the Sabres went into battle without superstar goaltender Ryan Miller and escaped with a 1-0 victory. Back-up netminder Jhonas Enroth only needed to make 23 saves, but it was enough to help the surging Sabres pass the Rangers for the 7th spot in the East. After Buffalo’s win, the teams are tied with 87 points in 77 games; but the Sabres have one more win (not including shootouts) to win the new tiebreaker. Both teams have been playing out of their minds lately, but they’re both still only three points into a playoff spot over Carolina. Sure, they want to catch Montreal for the 6th spot—but more importantly, they both need to make it to the dance. On that note, they both could have used a Carolina loss. For Rangers fans, the night couldn’t have gone any worse. For Sabres fans, well, a win is a win. Any win in March in the middle of a playoff race is beautiful.

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