East playoff picture in focus

The Eastern Conference playoff picture became much clearer Thursday. All eight playoff teams have now been decided after the Montreal Canadiens earned a point in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1.

Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin is knocked off the puck by New York Islanders defenceman Jack Hillen in Pittsburgh on Thursday

Canadiens 4 at Bruins 5 (O/T)

The Eastern Conference playoff picture became much clearer Thursday.

All eight playoff teams have now been decided after the Montreal Canadiens earned a point in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1.

With 93 points each, the Canadiens and Rangers are tied for seventh in the conference with one game remaining.

Montreal finishes the regular season Saturday night against Pittsburgh, while Rangers play at Philadelphia on Sunday.

“We had some tough times throughout the season and it hasn’t been the easiest one,” Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. “But the way we’ve been playing, the way we’ve been handling everything that’s gone on off the ice, what’s happened the last month, I’m really proud of our team.”

The conference’s eighth-placed team will face Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, while the seventh seed gets the Washington Capitals.

Despite coming from behind to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2, the wins by the Rangers and Canadiens meant the Florida Panthers were eliminated from the post-season race.

“You don’t lose (playoff chances) in the last few games. It’s the whole course of the season,” said Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun in lamenting missed opportunities. “It’s about consistency.”

Minutes after Montreal clinched a playoff spot by forcing overtime, Mark Recchi scored his second goal of the game to give the Bruins a 5-4 win.

“We’ve had an up and down season but we kept it together tonight and stayed in the game,” said Canadiens coach Bob Gainey. “Our major objective was to get into the playoffs.”

The Bruins, who have secured the top seed in the East, finished first in 2001-02, but were eliminated in six games by eighth-seeded Montreal.

Boston’s Zdeno Chara tied Thursday game 4-4 on a backhander past Carey Price 5:27 into the third, and Recchi — who also had two assists — won it at 2:42 of overtime.

At New York, Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves and Ryan Callahan had a goal and an assist in New York’s win over the Philadelphia.

“I am excited, but I’m also proud of what we accomplished here,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a been a roller coaster, but it’s always like that. It’s a long season. We’ve been through a lot. It’s a new experience to go through a coaching change.”

Rangers coach John Tortorella was pleased his with team’s performance.

“The first thing is to get in the playoffs,” said Tortorella, who replaced the fired Tom Renney on Feb. 23. “Congratulations to the players. They’ve fought through it the last couple of months, the ups and downs with a lot of things going on around the team.”

Markus Naslund also scored for the Rangers, who are 8-1 in their last nine games at Madison Square Garden. Daniel Briere scored for the Flyers and Martin Biron made 29 saves.

At Atlanta, David Booth scored with 4:25 left in the third period to lift Florida over the Thrashers, but with 91 points, the Panthers needed help.

They didn’t get it as Montreal and the New York Rangers both won.

“You look back for one point throughout the year — that’s hard to take,” Booth said.

Florida, the Rangers and Montreal all have a game left, but the Canadiens and Rangers hold the tiebreakers with Panthers.

“It’s really important that we at least gave ourselves a chance (by winning this game). We were able to do that,” said Panthers forward Nathan Horton said.

Florida coach Peter DeBoer agreed.

“Regardless of what happened tonight I am very proud of how we played and showed up tonight.”

Sabres 5 at Hurricanes 1

Jason Pominville scored twice, and Ryan Miller made 26 saves to help Buffalo snap Carolina’s nine-game winning streak. Minutes after the game, Buffalo was eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race when New York beat Philadelphia.

Devils 3 at Senators 2 (SO)

Zach Parise and Brendan Shanahan scored in the shootout as New Jersey clinched first place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference by getting a point for going into overtime.

Kings 0 at Canucks 1

Roberto Luongo made 20 saves for Vancouver for his career-high eighth shutout, and Ryan Kesler scored on a second-period power play. Vancouver is now in sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division, but the Calgary Flames have a game in hand and hold the tiebreaker.

Capitals 4 at Lightning 2

Brooks Laich had two goals, David Steckel and Mike Green also scored and Washington secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Islanders 1 at Penguins 6

Evgeni Malkin picked up two assists to lengthen his lead in the NHL scoring race as Pittsburgh stayed in contention for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while assuring New York of finishing last in the NHL.

Predators 4 at Red Wings 3 (SO)

Ville Koistinen and Jason Arnott scored in the shootout to complete Nashville’s comeback from a two-goal deficit against Detroit.

Stars 3 at Avalanche 2 (SO)

Mike Ribeiro resorted to trickery in the final shootout attempt, skating in backward and flipping a shot into the net off Peter Budaj to lift Dallas.

Coyotes 4 at Sharks 1

Al Montoya made 40 saves for his third NHL victory as last-place Phoenix prevented the league-leading Sharks from clinching the Presidents’ Trophy with an improbable 4-1 victory.

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