Eastern Conference Playoff Update: Carolina, Buffalo Suffer Key Losses

With the playoff race as tight as it is in the Eastern Conference, every point counts, and when you're faced with winnable games against teams currently out of the playoff picture, picking up the two points is an absolute must.

With less than 10 minutes to play in their game against Atlanta on Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes were holding a rather comfortable 3-1 lead. Then, for whatever reason, the bottom fell out for the Hurricanes, as Atlanta erupted for four unanswered goals to pick up a 5-3 win.

Ilya Kovalchuk picked up two goals and three assists, while Rich Peverley continued his strong play with Atlanta by scoring two goals in the third period rally. Had Carolina held onto its lead, the Hurricanes would have jumped from the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference all the way up to the No. 7 spot.

The Hurricanes entered play with 69 points, tied with the Buffalo Sabres and one point behind the Florida Panthers. Florida and Buffalo were also in action on Saturday.

-- The Sabres traveled to Long Island to take on a struggling Islanders team (without Bill Guerin -- rumors!) and were blanked, 2-0, as Yann Danis stopped 31 shots to record his second shutout this week. Danis has allowed only one goal in his past three starts, turning aside 98-of-99 shots. Sean Bergenheim scored both goals for the Islanders, as they won for just the third time in their past 12 games.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has now dropped three in a row, and four of its past five. It's going to be a struggle for the Sabres as long as Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller are out of the lineup.

-- Earlier on Saturday, the Florida Panthers, also in the middle of the free-for-all at the bottom of the conference playoff picture, were absolutely steamrolled by the New Jersey Devils, 7-2.

-- Elsewhere in the east on Saturday: The Rangers dominated Colorado to give John Tortorella his first win in New York, while Montreal pulled off the upset against San Jose.

What's it all mean for Sunday's action? Well it's certainly good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have an afternoon date with the Dallas Stars. If the Penguins can pick up a win in Dallas -- no small task, by the way -- they could possibly find themselves in a tie with the Florida Panthers for the No. 7 spot in the conference with 70 points.

Florida will be in Washington to take on the Capitals at 3:00 PM ET.

Eastern Conference Playoff Update: Carolina, Buffalo Suffer Key Losses originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Sat, 28 Feb 2009 22:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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