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2011 NHL Playoffs: Rangers Slip Up, Stars Making Their Move

There were only four games played last night in the NHL, and only two with substantial playoff repercussions. The Dallas Stars continue their late-season advance after an easy 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, and have pulled with two points of both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks for the final playoff berth in the West. Dallas will face the lowly Avalanche again tonight, with a chance to force a three-way tie for seventh (should Chicago and Anaheim both lose their tough matchups).

The big surprise of the evening happened out east, as the New York Rangers -- one win away from locking up a playoff berth -- were shutout by the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-0, in front of the home crowd at Madison Square Garden. The Thrashers were 2-3 in their past five games and had absolutely nothing to play for, yet handily beat the Rangers.

This opens the door wide for the hard-charging Carolina Hurricanes, who only trail the Rangers by two points, and with a game in hand. Since the Rangers have the tiebreaker, they merely have to beat the New Jersey Devils in their season finale on Saturday. If Carolina beats the Thrashers tonight, they would move into a tie for eighth place heading into Saturday's action.

Games To Watch Tonight:

Most of the playoff bubble teams are in action this evening. Here are a few games to scoreboard watch.

Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks end their regular season with a home and home against their rivals from LA. They need at least one victory to put themselves in decent shape for the playoffs. A sweep would be optimal, since they don't hold a guaranteed tiebreaker over either Dallas or Chicago at this point.

Carolina Hurricanes at Atlanta Thrashers -- Atlanta has a chance to play spoiler for the second consecutive night. They damaged the Rangers' playoff aspirations last night, and can completely end Carolina's playoff dream with a victory tonight.

Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche -- Dallas needs to keep winning, and the Avalanche are just the team to play for two free points (at least since January). The Avs may be a tough draw tonight due to the retirement announcement of captain Adam Foote earlier in the day.