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NHL Schedule Analysis: Tight Playoff Races

Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford

A freelance writer of all things but mostly sports, music and politics, Brian Rutherford was raised on Long Island, NY and currently resides in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. His favorite teams are the New York Rangers, Texas Rangers, New York Giants and New York Knicks. "So the difference I think, boils down to this: you can either impose yourself on reality and then write about it, or you can impose yourself on reality by writing it." -Hunter S. Thompson "The Proud Highway"

For most of the season, both conferences have been as tightly wound as a guest at Gary Bettman's wedding night. In the past week or two, it appears the honeymoon is beginning for some, while others will go home for summer with just a wedding favor. For most in standard fantasy leagues, this is your two-week warning. If you're planning a late attack on the PIM or PPP categories, now is the time. As for the NHL schedule, a few teams may find themselves impervious to the playoff race, while a few others should find themselves officially out of by week's end.

CLB @ STL

- RW Scott Upshall, has scored in two straight games. He now has 18 goals (career-high) on the season.

- G Jaroslav Halak (hand) is still listed as day-to-day, look to Ben Bishop or Ty Conklin for minutes in this series.

As of publishing, Columbus and St. Louis are 12th and 13th in the Western Conference standings. Respectively six and 10 points out of the eight and final spot, St. Louis must have this game in order to stay in the chase. The last time these two met in Columbus, Jarod Boll notched a very technical game-winning goal, and the Jackets defeated the Blues 8-1. In a non-traditional home-and-home series, this will be a very pivotal game. The Jackets lead this season series 2-1.

In other action Monday 3.7.11 - DAL@LA, WAS@TB (VERSUS)

NAS @ S.J

-C Joe Thornton extended his scoring streak to six straight vs. the Wings. He has five goals and four assists during the streak, including two goals and four assists in 2010-11

- C Blake Geoffrion made the most of his first NHL goal, the game-winner in a 3-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks last week.

Since the beginning of the season, I've been one of few that hasn't jumped on the Predators bandwagon. Aside from a few consistent blue-liners, Nashville's sluggish offense still has yet to impress, and they were quiet at the deadline. Nonetheless, they are hanging in there, currently with 75 points (7th) in the conference standings. Preds goalie Pekka Rinne has given up four or more goals only eight times in 48 starts this season. San Jose is the coolest thing since sliced bread lately. An eight-game winning streak headed into their division match up with Dallas, San Jose, only seven points behind conference leader Vancouver, is focusing more on the President's Trophy nowadays. However, if you're planning on chalking this one up to the Sharks, back'er up, Nashville leads this season series 2-0-1.

In other action on Tuesday 3.8.11 - BOS@MON, BUF@PIT, CHI@FLA, COL@MIN, (VERSUS), EDM@PHI, NAS@SJ, OTT@NJ, TOR@NYI, VAN @ PHO, BUF @ PIT

CAL @ DAL

-LW Jamie Benn has sort of taken over where the future was traded when James Neal was shipped off for Alex Goligoski. Since the calendar flipped, Benn, has 12 points in those 14 games. Benn loves to get involved, having recently logged the game-winning goal against Phoenix. Also in that game he blocked a shot, registered two hits, seven shots on goal and a partridge in a pear tree.

- Jarome Iginla has six points in his last two games.

So much has been made of the trade that never happened. Yes indeed, the Dallas Stars are on pins and needles awaiting the return of C Brad Richards who is still out with a concussion. Currently ninth in the Western Conference, the Stars are just one point ahead of division rival Anaheim and one point behind their opponent on Tuesday, Calgary. The Flames are quite the puzzle, posting two shutouts in a row and then a 6-4 loss to defending cup champions Chicago. Yes, Jarome Iginla has been hot, but his center Brendan Morrison is day-to-day with a banged up left knee. Calgary has handled the NHL team from North Texas very well. The Flames are outshooting (83-61), and outscoring (14-8) the Stars this season and lead the season series 2-0-1.

In other action on Wednesday 3.9.11 - NYR@ANH, ATL@CAR, STL@CLB, EDM@WAS, CHI@TB (VERSUS) , OTT @ FLA, L.A. @ DET

BUF @ BOS

- LW Milan Lucic has 19 points (12 goals) in his last 20 games.

- D Andrej Sekera has six points in three games since returning to the lineup from a healthy scratch.

What NHL team would you least expect still in the playoff chase at this point? Yes, believe it or not, just two points behind the slumping New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres (68 points) are holding off Toronto and Atlanta. Thomas Vanek has cooled off since posting 22 points in 14 games to start 2011, so he may be due. Goaltender Ryan Miller is 3-0-2 in his last five games having stopped 154 of his last 164 shots. Before you start making your ticket plans for the playoffs though, the Sabres will have to go through Boston and several others remaining in the Eastern Conference playoff bubble. Streaking seven in a row, just three points outside of the Eastern Conference top seed, it seems the tinkering Boston Brass did at the deadline has worked. While the GF/GA is tied at 18, jaw off the floor son, Buffalo leads this season series 3-1-1.

In other action Thursday 3.10.11 - CAL@PHO, OTT@FLA, MIN@NAS, MON@STL, PHI@TOR, VAN@SJ

MIN @ DAL

- RW Loui Eriksson is regaining stride, now has 10 points (4 goals) in his 13 games.

- LW Pierre-Marc Bouchard has eight points in as many games. More important the Wild are 15-3-2 when he has a point and 7-0-1 when he nets a goal.

A good 'ole fashioned rivalry gets hotter when these two teams are fighting for playoff-berths. Currently deadlocked at ninth and tenth in the conference, both with 74 points, this should be a very intense small-market game. The key to Minnesota's leap-frog back into playoff-life will be which Niklas Backstrom shows up. That is of course if he gets the chance, as Jose Theodore has been very trustworthy, winning eight of his last 11 starts. Dallas 1-0-1 (8-3 GF/GA) against Minnesota this season, has won both of these games while Minnesota has the edge in both faceoffs and shots.

In other action Friday 3.11.11 - BOS@NYI, CAR@WAS, LA.@CLB, EDM@DET, OTT@TB, NJ@ATL, ANH@COL

VAN @ CAL

- C Manny Malhotra has seven points in his last 10 games.

- G Miikka Kiprusoff went 134 minutes and 14 seconds without allowing a goal last week. He then allowed four of Chicago's six goals.

The Canucks, who have not won two games in a row since the first week in February will take on a Flames team trying to garner a respect with its conference foes for the remainder of the season. Sure Ryan Kesler is enduring his longest goal-scoring drought (seven games) of the season. Regardless of its highly-touted but slumping players and its record or IR as of late, I'm not pushing the panic button on Vancouver and neither should you. Head coach Alain Vigneault said recently,"We've been working throughout the season on a one-game mentality, making sure we're ready and we're executing and we're playing well. It's really challenging to do it on 82 nights, but on most nights we've been the better team on the ice." The Canucks, leading this series 3-0-1, are outscoring the Flames 17-9 on the season.

In other action Saturday 3.12.11 - MON@PIT, CLB@CAR, NYI@NJ,ATL@PHI,TB@FLA, BUF@TOR, COL@NAS, DET@STL, NYR @ S.J.

CHI @ WAS

- LW Alexander Ovechkin has 11 points (four goals) in his last eight games.

- RW Michael Frolik may finally wake up. Frolik registered three points in the 6-4 win over Calgary.

(NBC) I hate to focus on the NBC Game of the Week two weeks in a row, but this could possibly be a preview of the Stanley Cup finals. Chicago is brimming with confidence, having spent all season recovering from the summer of thievery, while Washington has a revamped lineup. Having won three in a row since first donning a Capitals jersey, Jason Arnott has been involved in a game-tying and game-winning goal. More disastrous for the Blackhawks will be the mending talent (Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Semyon Varlamov, Tom Poti) ready to dress again. Chicago is 8-1-2 in their last 11 games, and its in large part to the beastly Jonathan Toews. On a seven-game point streak, Toews has 25 points in his last 15 games and shows no signs of slowing down. This will be the only match-up of the regular season between these two teams.

In other action Sunday 3.13.11 - LA@DAL, EDM@PIT, PHO @ ANH, OTT @ BUF

Nationally Televised Action in EST

VERSUS March 7 - Washington at Tampa Bay, 7:00
VERSUS March 8 - Colorado at Minnesota, 8:00
VERSUS March 9 - Chicago at Tampa Bay, 7:30
NBC March 13 Chicago at Washington 12:30