Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the previous week:
+ The Buffalo Sabres were last in the East as late as Feb. 18, but they're battling Washington for the final conference playoff spot as the season nears its end. Losses to Pittsburgh on Friday and at Toronto on Saturday hurt them, but including those games they're 14-4-3 since Feb. 19.
+ A year ago, the New Jersey Devils had a horrible start and fell well behind the pack but made a furious run that nearly erased their deficit. No chasing this time: They've clinched a playoff spot for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons. Goaltender Martin Brodeur blanked Carolina on Saturday for his 119th shutout, extending his NHL record.
+ Blackhawks team captain Jonathan Toews, who is recovering from a concussion and hasn't played since Feb. 19, is skating and might return before the playoffs begin. Chicago reached the postseason for the fourth straight season, their longest streak in 15 years. They've had a lot of ups and downs, and their goaltending doesn't inspire a ton of confidence, but a fresh Toews would be a big plus.