(Eds: Corrects that Rangers trail Islanders by a point as of Monday morning, edits East details throughout to conform. With AP Photos.)By LARRY LAGEAP Hockey Writer
The Detroit Red Wings are doing everything they can to extend their postseason streak to 22 years, preparing diligently and playing hard, before turning to TVs and cellphones to watch the competition.
”I would be lying if I told you I didn’t,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard acknowledged. ”Of course we’re going to watch and be looking at the standings and want to know what we have in front of us. It’s in our own hands. It’s up to us to go out there and get wins.”
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The Red Wings earned two points they desperately needed Sunday night with a 3-0 victory at Nashville, putting them in eighth place – at least for a day – in the Western Conference standings.
The streaking Dallas Stars, Columbus and Phoenix are all close enough to end Detroit’s remarkable run. And things are exciting all over the NHL.
Only one team in each conference had been eliminated from playoff contention as of Monday morning, setting up a frenetic ending to this 48-game, lockout-shortened sprint of a season.
In the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders are trying to hold on to the last two postseason spots. The Rangers trail the Islanders by a single point after a 1-0 overtime win Saturday night.
”I’m not even thinking about playoffs,” Rangers coach John Tortorella insisted after the victory.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano, meanwhile, was a little more forthcoming about the point his team got with the loss in OT.
”It could be a big point as we move down the line,” Capuano said.
The playoffs begin April 30 for 16 teams that will have a shot to hoist the Stanley Cup two months later. Last year, the Los Angeles Kings became the first team seeded eighth to win an NHL title.
The Islanders are shooting for their first playoff appearance since 2007, but the Rangers are right on their tails, Winnipeg is just three points behind and Buffalo is five back. New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Carolina were mathematically still in the race.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, though, said his team has ”no chance” to rally from nine points out with just six games remaining after winning only one of six games.
”Let’s be realists,” Cooper said.
Buffalo gave its team a realistic chance by beating two potential contenders – the Flyers and Lightning over the weekend – and with a schedule that includes three of its last five games are against the Rangers, Jets and Islanders.
”We are going to make this pretty interesting,” Sabres center Kevin Porter said Sunday after the 3-1 win over Tampa Bay.
Detroit easily has the NHL’s longest active postseason streak, surpassing the second, third and fourth longest runs. San Jose has been to eight straight postseasons, Pittsburgh six while Boston, Philadelphia and Washington are tied with five each.
The Red Wings are on the best postseason roll since the St. Louis Blues were in 25 straight from 1980-2004, and if they make it to 22 later this month, the franchise will break a tie with the 1948-69 Montreal Canadiens for the fifth-longest postseason run in NHL history .
The regular season ends April 27 with 13 games scheduled before the playoffs.
”I’m sure it’s going to come down to the last day for us – and a lot of teams,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
The Stars have certainly done their part to add intrigue to the race as well by winning five straight games going into Monday night’s game on the road against the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks. Dallas has surged into contention, a week after it ranked among the worst teams in the West.
”A lot of people counted us out at the trade deadline,” Stars goaltender Richard Bachman said. ”I think we had two choices. One was to just give in and go through the motions and hopefully get some points down the stretch and get ready for summer. Or, to try and prove people wrong.”
The Sharks, the only team other than Detroit to be in every postseason since the 2004-05 lockout, seemed to put themselves in a great position to make their usual appearance in the playoffs by winning seven straight recently. But since then, a little skid has put the Sharks in a logjam with the Blues, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas and Blue Jackets.
”We control our destiny,” Sharks star Joe Thornton said. ”If we play well, we get in. If we don’t, we don’t.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., and freelance writer John Tranchina in Dallas contributed to this report.
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