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2011 NHL Playoffs: Rangers, Sharks Stake Their Claims

Two teams made statements last night, as both the San Jose Sharks and the New York Rangers increased their foothold on playoff positioning.

The big game of the evening was a clash between the Bruins (essentially set in the East’s third seed) and the Rangers, who were barely hanging onto the eight seed in the East. After being completely outplayed the first half of the game — and trailing 3-0 midway through the second period — the Rangers came alive. Vinny Prospal scored twice in the final nine minutes of the second period, and the Rangers racked up three goals in the final four minutes of the game to steal the game, 5-3, and to essentially guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs.

With the victory, the Rangers passed up the Buffalo Sabres and slid into the seventh seed. It would take an epic collapse for New York to miss the playoffs.

On the west coast, two Pacific Division rivals collided, as the San Jose Sharks could clinch the division title with a victory. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings could officially clinch a playoff berth with a victory. The Sharks made this a non-issue, as they soundly beat the Kings 6-1, with six different Sharks players scoring a goal and goalie Antti Niemi stopping 31 of 32 shots. The San Jose Sharks have now won the Pacific Division title.

Games To Watch Tonight:

Plenty of action around the NHL this evening, but here a a few games with serious playoff implications.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres: With a win tonight, the Sabres can make their magic number for a playoff spot a single point over the Carolina Hurricanes. If they lose, then the last spot becomes open, especially since the Canes would have a game in hand. Tampa Bay also has an outside shot at the Southeast Division title, but would need a victory tonight.

Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens: This battle between two Original Six teams will be played with a sense of urgency, as both teams are currently in the playoff picture — but only by a single point. A Blackhawks loss would put in jeopardy of missing the postseason. A Canadiens loss would place them on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference.

Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto is holding onto a very slim playoff hope, as they have to win out and hope that Buffalo goes winless the rest of the season. A single point is all that stands between the Leafs and eight consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance — a painfully long period of time for one of the premier franchises in the league. Washington would like to stay in the race for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. A win would keep them in good position.