NHL Playoff Picture Tightens in East

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 7:38 am
By: News On 6

The Eastern Conference playoff picture got a bit tighter and a lot more intriguing in a matter of hours.

The New York Rangers were passed by a few teams in the standings Tuesday night after another frustrating loss. Meanwhile, the Islanders lost their goalie and their cushion in the postseason race.

Andrej Meszaros' bank shot off the stick of Rangers defenseman Marek Malik snapped a third-period tie and lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 3-2 victory. Malik and the Rangers met a similar fate Saturday when they were beaten in overtime by Colby Armstrong's deflected shot during a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh.

``With everything bad, there's something good,'' Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. ``I believe something good is going to happen. We're waiting for it.''

The Rangers went from being in postseason position at the start of the night to 11th place in the conference. They were passed by Carolina, Montreal and Toronto in less than an hour and fell two points below the eighth-place playoff cutoff with 12 games remaining.

``You have some tough luck, but you keep fighting,'' Jagr said.

The Islanders might have to start thinking about not having Rick DiPietro for a little while. The star goaltender suffered a head injury late in the opening period of the Islanders' 5-3 loss to the Canadiens.

DiPietro was taken to a hospital and released, and coach Ted Nolan said the team would have no further information until the medical staff reviewed test results.

``He was a little bit groggy,'' Nolan said. ``That was quite a hit that he took, but he seems to be OK right now, but we'll give it 24 hours.''

DiPietro left with 4:19 remaining in the opening period after he collided with Canadiens forward Steve Begin. DiPietro was chasing down a loose puck at the Islanders' blue line to prevent a breakaway and dived to the ice when Begin's leg hit the goalie in the head.

``Hopefully we're not going to lose Rick for a number of games,'' Marc-Andre Bergeron said.

That's because other teams are hot on their skates. The Islanders are tied with Carolina, which beat Florida 3-1, for the last two playoff spots with 78 points. Toronto edged Tampa Bay 3-2 to move a point behind, with the Rangers and Canadiens each a point behind the Maple Leafs.

In other games, it was Pittsburgh 5, Buffalo 4 in a shootout on a day when the team announced it would be staying in the city for the next 30 years; Dallas 3, Philadelphia 2 as Mike Modano became the second U.S.-born player to score 500 goals; and Detroit 5, Nashville 2 in a matchup of the NHL's top two teams. Also, Minnesota edged Vancouver 3-2 in OT, and San Jose routed Chicago 7-1.

Senators 3, Rangers 2

At New York, Meszaros rushed up the slot and took a shot that connected with Malik's stick, hit the right post and caromed past Henrik Lundqvist at 8:48.

Ottawa, which erased a 2-0 deficit in the second period, improved to 10-1-4 in its last 15.

Canadiens 5, Islanders 3

At Montreal, Guillaume Latendresse scored twice and Christopher Higgins got the go-ahead goal for the Canadiens.

Latendresse and Michael Ryder scored second-period goals to draw the Canadiens even at 2. Latendresse got his second of the game midway through the third to tie it at 3 before Higgins beat backup Mike Dunham from the edge of the crease.

Hurricanes 3, Panthers 1

At Raleigh, N.C., Cory Stillman, Rod Brind'Amour and Scott Walker scored to lead Carolina, which is playing without goalie Cam Ward, who injured his left knee Sunday. John Grahame made 26 saves in Ward's place.

Jozef Stumpel scored for the Panthers, who earned at least a point in nine of their previous 10 games.

Maple Leafs 3, Lightning 2

At Toronto, Nik Antropov scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period for the Maple Leafs.

Chad Kilger and Mats Sundin also had goals for the Leafs, who won their third straight at home. Sundin's goal was his 388th, one short of tying Darryl Sittler for the franchise record.

Brad Richards and Dan Boyle scored for Tampa Bay, which lost all four games against Toronto this season.

Stars 3, Flyers 2

At Dallas, Modano became the 39th player in NHL history to score 500 goals when he beat Antero Niittymaki on a rebound at 9:36 of the third period. He's two behind Joe Mullen for the career lead among American players.

Modano joined Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, Peter Bondra, Mats Sundin, Teemu Selanne and Mark Recchi as active 500-goal scorers.

Penguins 5, Sabres 4, SO

Sidney Crosby scored the deciding goal in the shootout as the Penguins celebrated the announcement that they're staying in Pittsburgh for the next 30 years.

Erik Christensen also scored in the shootout, Crosby had a goal and two assists, Ryan Whitney added three assists and Sergei Gonchar a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who are 4-0-1 in their last five games.

Red Wings 5, Predators 2

At Nashville, Tenn., Kyle Calder scored and had two assists, and Detroit moved within a point of the NHL leaders.

The teams meet again Wednesday night in Detroit, where the Red Wings can move ahead of the Predators in the Central Division, the Western Conference and take over the overall lead in the chase for the President's Trophy.

Wild 3, Canucks 2, OT

Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns scored in overtime for the second straight game, getting a goal with 35.8 seconds left to lead the visiting Wild.

Brian Rolston and Mikko Koivu also scored for the Wild, who moved within a point of the Canucks atop the Northwest Division.

Sharks 7, Blackhawks 1

At San Jose, Calif., Bill Guerin scored his first three goals for the Sharks, and Evgeni Nabokov fell 3 1/2 minutes short of posting his fourth shutout in five games.