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Posted On Wednesday, 03.16.2011 / 3:18 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Flames road to playoffs in peril?

If the Stanley Cup Playoffs began tonight, the Calgary Flames would be preparing to play the Vancouver Canucks.

Alas, the NHL postseason does not begin for nearly a month and the Flames have a lot of work to do to be part of the 16-team party. While the Flames currently sit eighth in the Western Conference with 81 points, there are a few factors working against them and the path to retaining their current position in the top eight is not likely to be an easy one.

Calgary's two biggest problems on the ice are recent play and injuries. The Flames have lost three straight games, all in regulation, for the first time since mid-December. Two of those three losses came to the Phoenix Coyotes and represent the four-point difference in the standings between the two clubs (the Coyotes are fifth with 85 points).

"I'm not going to sugar coat it, we've lost three in a row now at this time of the season — it's unacceptable," Calgary coach Brent Sutter told reporters Tuesday after a 4-3 loss to Phoenix. "We're at a critical point in the year and when you’re at a critical point you need to play with a huge urgency and I didn't think we had it here tonight."

The Flames have been without Brendan Morrison since March 2 because of a swollen knee, and are now without David Moss indefinitely because of an ankle injury. That's two of the team's top eight scorers and has forced rookie Mikael Backlund, who turns 22 on Thursday, into the No. 1 center role between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.

Calgary has enough adversity to overcome, but the Flames have only 10 games left to play. Every other team in playoff contention in the West has at least one game in hand on Calgary. Nashville, currently in ninth place and one point behind Calgary, has two games in hand. Anaheim is two points back with three games in hand.

The Predators are 8-8-4 since the All-Star break. Project that pace out and they would finish with 92 points. However, Nashville has nine of its final 12 games at Bridgestone Arena where the Predators are 17-8-7 this season. Factor in the home/road ratio and 94 points looks like a solid projection for Nashville. The Predators also have four of their final five contests against Colorado, Atlanta, Columbus and St. Louis -- four the bottom six teams in the standings.

Anaheim has an extra game on Nashville, but the Ducks have a tough closing schedule. The Ducks have 6 of their 13 contests are at home, but 11 of the 13 games are against the nine teams currently ahead of them in the Western Conference.

The Ducks are 9-7-1 since the All-Star break. Using either projection method (post-ASG pace or home/road), Anaheim settles in somewhere between 93 and 94 points.

So a 6-3-1 finish for Calgary gets them to 94 points. The problem then becomes the tiebreaker. The Flames have only 28 non-shootout victories, which puts them behind Nashville (29) and well behind Anaheim (33). Should the Flames and Predators finish the season with the same number of points and non-shootout wins, Calgary does hold that tiebreaker thanks a four-game sweep of Nashville this season.

Six of Calgary's 10 games are on the road. One positive is four of the Flames' remaining games are against Colorado (twice), St. Louis and Edmonton -- the bottom three teams in the conference. Two of their games are against Anaheim and Calgary has one each at San Jose and Los Angeles.

The problem for the Flames is they have lost six straight games to the California trio and have not won in the Golden State this season. The two games against Anaheim will be critical (March 20 in Anaheim and March 30 in Calgary), and the three contests in four nights in California (March 20, 21 and 23) could be a defining stretch.

It certainly looks like 7-3 (and 95 points) could be the minimum for the Flames to stay ahead of Nashville and Anaheim in the race for the final spot in the West. It is possible one of the teams in front of them slumps, but 93 or 94 points could end up leaving the Flames agonizingly short of a tremendous comeback after being in 14th place in the West in late December.

"There are 10 games left in the season and we still have time," Sutter told reporters. "Teams have games in hand on us and we need to start winning some games and getting some points or we will find ourselves on the outside looking in quickly."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.15.2011 / 4:33 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Could Montreal be a dark horse Cup contender?

This season the Eastern Conference seems to have a well-defined elite with Philadelphia, Washington and Boston making up the class of the conference and Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh not trailing far behind, but the hottest of those teams -- and hottest in the entire League -- could get a rude awakening from an unlikely contender tonight.

The Caps are opening a season-high six-game road trip tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal, and when they take the ice a formidable group will be looking to prove they belong in the discussion. The Canadiens currently sit sixth in the East and while they seem relatively safe in the hunt for a playoff berth (seventh-place Buffalo is seven points back) Montreal isn't a regular in the chatter about teams likely to hoist Stanley this spring. If the Habs can snap Washington's eight-game winning streak tonight, however, some heads may be turning towards Rue de la Montagne.

And if they aren't, they should be.

The Canadiens have quietly won six of their last seven games and taken advantage of an untimely swoon by Boston to pull within two points of first place in the Northeast Division. Should Montreal overtake the Bruins and pick up a top-three seed, the Habs will get at least one series with home ice in the never hospitable Bell Centre. While the Bell Centre is yet to see a championship, something shocking for a franchise that claims 24 of them, Montreal fans are unlikely to make life easy for any visiting foe, particularly if it happens to be their rivals from the Hub.

More importantly, however, is that Montreal has several ingredients that can equate to a long playoff run. The Canadiens have offense spread all across the lineup -- seven players have double digit goal totals -- while the blue line features pieces both sturdy -- Hal Gill and Brent Sopel -- and dynamic -- PK Subban and James Wisniewski.

Most importantly, however, the Habs have man between the pipes who is playing some spectacular hockey. In the last 40 years, Montreal's championship teams have all had a young, stellar goaltender. In the 1970s, Ken Dryden crafted a Hall of Fame career that saw him lead the Habs to six Cups and accomplish the remarkable feat of winning the Conn Smythe Trophy a year before he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. In 1986, Patrick Roy led the Canadiens to the first of two titles, taking his own Conn Smythe in the process.

Could it be Carey Price's turn? Last year, the British Columbia native appeared to have lost his starting job to Jaroslav Halak, but after Halak was shipped off to St. Louis, Price took the job over and has won 33 games while compiling career bests with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. In addition, Price can be devastatingly good on occasion, has he has in his eight shutouts this year, and lately he appears to be reaching an entirely new level. In his last six starts, Price has five wins, a 1.17 GAA and a .965 save percentage.

Add all this up along with the fact that Montreal's roster is experienced with deep playoff runs after reaching the Conference Final last spring, and the Canadiens could be a dangerous foe this postseason. Being one would require them to continue their strong play of late, a challenge with the Capitals coming to town tonight.

If the Habs take out Washington, though, it could be a sign to the rest of the conference that le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge are for real.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.10.2011 / 2:58 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

The Western Conference might need a bigger boat

In the suspense classic Jaws, it was clear Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss would need far more than a boat to keep Amity Island safe from repeated shark attacks. Unless you're a marine biologist, the best tack for keeping yourself safe is simple -- stay out of the water -- but if you're a contender in the Western Conference, you don't have a choice of staying out of the water when San Jose is on your schedule.

And those Sharks may not be getting a Spielberg film, but they are getting vicious.

Much of the talk over the past two months has revolved around teams making surprising runs to get into playoff contention, such as Buffalo or in particular the Devils, who have played themselves out of the League basement and are taking aim at an unlikely berth in the East. But lost in the shuffle is a remarkable reclamation project happening in the Bay Area, which just may be giving us a preview of who is going to be the most dangerous team in the West once the playoffs begin.

San Jose reaching the playoffs is no longer a noteworthy or surprising occurrence. The Sharks have won three straight Pacific Division titles and have missed the postseason just once since 1997, but for much of this season there was a good chance players could start booking April tee times at the Presidio golf course. After a 1-0 win over the Kings on New Year's Day, the Sharks hit the skids in a big way, enduring a six-game losing streak that culminated in a 5-2 pasting at the hand of the 15th-place Oilers at the Tank. On the morning of Jan. 15, San Jose was 21-19-5, 12th in the Western Conference and 10 points back of Dallas in the Pacific.

Not anymore.

Since then the Sharks have been rolling to the tune of 18-3-1 in their last 22 games, a streak that has San Jose not just in the top eight, but back in first place and just two points behind Detroit for the Conference's No. 2 seed. Over that span San Jose has lost consecutive games just once and that came near the end of a season-long seven-game road trip.

If you're looking for a reason as to why this is happening, one could point to Devin Setoguchi, who has tallied 17 of his 29 points this season in the last 22 games, or Patrick Marleau, who has 10 goals over the same stretch and has scored in three straight outings. But more likely, a renewed commitment to defense is what has coach Todd McLellan's charges climbing the standings at such a torrid pace. Over the first 45 games, San Jose gave up goals at a rate of 2.84 per game -- in the past 22 that number has dropped nearly a full goal to 1.86. Compared to San Jose's glory days -- the Sharks gave up 2.55 goals per game when they were the West's top seed last season and 2.43 per game two seasons ago when they won the Presidents' Trophy -- that figure is startling.

Playing a significant role in that is Antti Niemi, who after leading Chicago to a championship last season, may finally be returning to Stanley Cup form. Over the Sharks recent hot stretch he has a 17-3-1 record, three shutouts, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

But what might really give the rest of the West pause is not San Jose's meteoric rise, but who it's come against. The Sharks have played 12 games in their last 22 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today, and in those games they're an astounding 10-1-1. In that stretch San Jose has one win over League-leading Vancouver, two wins over Detroit and two wins over the resurgent Capitals. Incidentally, the Sharks face the Canucks again tonight at the Tank. Another win over the Presidents' Trophy favorites and it could be time to seriously consider San Jose as a Stanley Cup contender.

Tack onto that a 4-0-0 record against Minnesota, Nashville and Anaheim, who are all within three points of a playoff berth and it's clear that few teams have escaped the San Jose steamroller. In fact, the Sharks have faced all but two teams in the Western Conference in their last 22 games -- Edmonton, which might well be headed to a second consecutive No. 1 pick this June, and Chicago. The Blackhawks, who swept the Sharks in last year's Western Conference Final, should also be in the postseason field this spring, but San Jose boasts a 3-0-0 record against Chicago this season.

The Sharks are unlikely to keep up this pace all the way through June, but their play begs the question of whether there is any team that shouldn't fear them come April. Regardless of those fears, the rest of the West will have no choice but to get in the water. If the Sharks can continue to roll, however, their opponents may not have a choice of how long they get to stay there either.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.10.2011 / 10:54 AM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Breaking down the Southeast title race

The Tampa Bay Lightning were in first place in the Southeast Division for 65 straight days, but the Washington Capitals have used a six-game winning streak to reclaim the top spot.

Both clubs won last night, so Washington has a two-point lead but Tampa Bay has a game in hand. One month from today, both teams will finish their seasons with road games against division foes. Will Washington claim its fourth straight division title, or will Tampa Bay earn its first banner since the Stanley Cup-winning season of 2003-04?

First and foremost, the Capitals are playing better right now. Six straight wins, albeit against mostly weak competition (a road win in Tampa is the only one against one of the top 24 teams in the League), matches the longest run of success for the Capitals this season. Tampa Bay scratched out a big win against Chicago last night, but the Lightning had lost four in a row and are 7-6-3 since the All-Star break.

Both teams have key players dealing with injuries. Mike Green is out until at least March 22 for Washington, and fellow defenseman Tom Poti is out indefinitely. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is also hurting, but the other two kids in net for the Capitals have been just fine without him. Nicklas Backstrom might miss another game with a thumb injury, but it isn't expected to be much more than that.

Tampa Bay is missing Ryan Malone and might not get him back until the postseason. Defenseman Randy Jones and forward Steve Downie are also missing. Washington just added Eric Fehr to the lineup, while Mike Lundin just returned for the Lightning. Should Washington get Green or Poti back (or Malone make a speedier than expected recovery for Tampa Bay) that could have a big impact.

A big key for Washington has been Alex Ovechkin's form. The captain and two-time MVP has points in six straight games and 10 of 11 -- the best run of his season both in total production (16 points) and consistency. For the Lightning to keep pace, they will likely need their top gun, Steven Stamkos, to put together a similar stretch. He had a goal and an assist last night after going six games without a goal. A hot streak from Stamkos could swing the race.

Both teams have six home games left, so Tampa Bay's game in hand will come on the road. The biggest advantage for the Lightning is their six games against non-contenders, including three with Ottawa (though Craig Anderson has made the Senators plucky of late). Washington has four games against non-contenders, including a home-and-home with Florida to finish the season.

Washington has one less set of back-to-back games, so that might be worth a point or two. The Capitals also have a sizable advantage in the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins) in the event the teams finish with the same number of points - the Lightning have won three more games via the shootout.

The Capitals do face a tougher schedule though, and not just because they have fewer games against bottom feeders. Tampa Bay has three games against current top-10 opponents (vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at Montreal), while Washington has five such tilts (vs. Chicago, at Montreal (twice), Philadelphia and Detroit).

Both teams have to play three games in four days twice, but the difference is Washington's 3-in-4s overlap, and that brings us to the most important stretch of either schedule - and what could ultimately decide the Southeast Division.

The Capitals play four times in six days next week, and the task is brutal. A Sunday matinee at home against surging Chicago, then road games at Montreal (Tuesday), Detroit (Wednesday) and New Jersey (Friday). That's three of the top 10 teams in the League and three of the hottest teams in the League.

After the Capitals play in New Jersey on March 18 and the Lightning play in Ottawa the next night, both teams will play on the same day until the final week of the season, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching in those arenas and in the coaches' offices during intermissions. Tampa Bay won't make up the game in hand until April 8 against Florida.

If it goes down to the final day, Washington is in South Florida to play the Panthers and Tampa Bay will be in Raleigh, N.C., to play the Hurricanes. It could end up being the NHL's most exciting division race.

Who has the edge? Tampa Bay has the easier schedule. Washington has the momentum. It should be fascinating to see it play out.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.08.2011 / 4:25 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Projecting the field: Post All-Star break pace

Imagine Minnesota edging out Dallas for a playoff spot on the final day of the season? Or New Jersey not only making the playoffs but reaching the No. 7 seed and setting up a rematch from last season with the Philadelphia Flyers?

Take a look at how the NHL standings would finish the season if the teams continue at their current post-All-Star break pace, and both of those scenarios play out. It is a pretty simple excercise -- calculate how many points each team will collect in the final four-plus weeks of the season based on its pace from the ASG break until now and then add to the current total.

The Devils have become the No. 1 story in the NHL because of their incredible turnaround. If they keep up their post-ASG pace, not only will they make the playoffs but in comfortable fashion.

The Devils would finish with 94 points -- tied for Seventh most in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres. New Jersey claims the seventh seed because the Devils currently would hold the tiebreaker (non-shootout wins). The Devils and Sabres would make the playoffs, while Toronto would just miss out in ninth place.

Carolina and the N.Y. Rangers have been slumping of late, and if those two clubs don't snap out of it they are in danger of falling out of the race long before the final days of the season. Given how well they've played of late, the Islanders would climb all the way to 12th in the East.

Other items of interest in the East from this excercise include Boston cliaming the top seed, Washington winning its fourth consecutive division title and getting Southeast rival Tampa Bay in the first round and Montreal climbing to fourth and grabbing home ice for a rematch with Pittsburgh from last season.

The Western Conference standings have four sets of teams finishing the same number of points, but the two tied for eighth would certainly be the biggest news. The Wild best the Stars because they currently hold the tiebreaker.

Chicago's strong play of late could help the Blackhawks chase down the Red Wings, but Detroit captures the Central Division and the No. 3 seed based on the tiebreaker.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks would see the Kings and Flames in the first round, with Los Angeles besting Calgary for the No. 5 seed based on the second tiebreaker (head-to-head) but those two teams still have a game to play. Still, the Flames climbing from 14th place in the West

San Jose climbs to second with some cushion thanks in part to having collected the second-most points in the NHL since the ASG break after New Jersey. The Sharks would face Phoenix, as the Coyotes and Wild would beat out Dallas, Anaheim, Nashville and Columbus for the final two spots in the crowded Western Conference.

The race for the top spots in the draft lottery are also quite interesting. The hot play of the Islanders (and corresponding slumps by Colorado and Atlanta) have the five teams with a chance at the No. 1 pick being the Avalanche, Ottawa, Edmonton, Florida and the Thrashers.

Obivously teams will get hot and go into slumps during the final month of the season, but consider this a one-day snapshot based on how teams have been playing for the past five weeks or so.

Post All-Star Game pace
Eastern Conference W-L-O Projected Pts.
Boston 10-4-1 107
Philadelphia 7-7-1 103
Washington 10-5-1 103
Montreal 9-5-2 99
Pittsburgh 7-6-4 99
Tampa Bay 6-6-3 98
New Jersey 14-1-1 94
Buffalo 9-4-3 94
Toronto 10-3-4 89
Carolina 6-7-3 86
NY Rangers 6-9-1 85
NY Islanders 10-5-3 79
Atlanta 3-9-2 74
Florida 4-9-4 72
Ottawa 5-9-1 65
Western Conference  W-L-O Projected Pts.
Vancouver 11-6-0 112
San Jose 13-3-0 108
Detroit 9-6-2 104
Chicago 11-3-2 104
Los Angeles 9-3-4 99
Calgary 11-3-3 99
Phoenix 9-6-1 95
Minnesota 9-6-2 93
Dallas 6-8-2 93
Anaheim 7-6-1 92
Nashville 6-7-3 90
Columbus 8-5-3 90
St. Louis 7-8-2 82
Edmonton 8-9-0 69
Colorado 1-12-2 64

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Posted On Monday, 03.07.2011 / 4:05 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

The Devils' biggest obstacles are out of their control

If you've paid any attention to hockey in the past month there are two things you are certain to know.

1) Hockey teams play for a three-feet-tall trophy known as "The Stanley Cup".

2) The Devils are on one unbelievable tear right now.

At this point, rehashing New Jersey's remarkable play in more than one sentence -- the one time League-basement residents have lopped 19 points off what was considered a terminal playoff deficit -- would be redundant. The Devils' 20-2-2 stretch is almost as absurd as it is amazing, but the unfortunate truth for New Jersey is that the rain that may come down on the Garden State's parade is most likely to come from, well, anywhere other than the Garden State.

New Jersey has shown no signs of slowing its current pace after Sunday's 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders, who are on an amazing run of their own, but even with the Devils' deficit between them and the eighth spot down to just eight points, a look at the schedule shows that at this point their playoff fate is simply not in their control.

The 7th and 8th seeds in the East appear to be up for grabs still and if we include the Rangers and Sabres, who currently hold those spots, there are five teams competing ahead of the Devils for a playoff berth. Even if we take the fast-fading Thrashers out of the equation, Toronto, Carolina, Buffalo and New York all stand in New Jersey's way.

What makes this a significant hurdle for the Devils is not how many teams they have to hop over, but how little impact they can have on the race. New Jersey plays just three games in its final 17 against teams it is directly chasing in the playoff race -- one each with Buffalo, New York and Toronto.

However, while they troll through their remaining slate, the teams above the Devils play a total of six games against each other. One could argue that they are beating up on one another as the Devils get a free game to gain ground on someone, but as time starts to run low, those six games will loom large for New Jersey because in each of them someone has to win. That means a minimum of 12 points are guaranteed to be sprinkled across the teams the Devils are chasing.

Toss in that any or all of those games could be three-pointers -- a virtual certainty as more than 23% of games this year have gone to overtime -- and as many as 18 points could be thrown into the mixer.

The Devils' schedule does provide them with several advantages -- it's relatively soft, 9 of their 17 remaining games are at home and one is across the river in Manhattan and the team never leaves the Eastern time zone -- but the simple fact is that all they can really do is win and then hope. In addition, while the Devils have a game in hand on nearly each team they're chasing, and have three games in hand on the Rangers, the team that has been the best of the lot lately is Buffalo, which has played the same 65 games New Jersey has.

For an indicator of how difficult the task is, note that in the past ten games, when the Devils went 9-1-0, they picked up a grand total of four points. Coach Jacques Lemaire acknowledged as much Monday morning when he told reporters, "It's not that you don't believe. The thing is, games are running out."

Indeed time is running short. Completing the Devils' miracle rally is not impossible, but despite the progress it remains a tall order. The only thing certain is that if New Jersey continues to win at such an astounding pace, there is going to be a lot of scoreboard watching.

The Devils will just be watching the scoreboard in multiple places.
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Posted On Monday, 03.07.2011 / 12:58 PM

By NHL Public Relations -  /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

'History will be made' again

Last season's award-winning History Will Be Made™ campaign will return for the 2011 Stanley Cup® Playoffs but with significantly broader distribution.  This year, the National Hockey League (NHL) and the NBC Sports Group have joined forces to distribute the national advertising campaign across the TV, online, radio, print, in-arena, in-store point-of-purchase, mobile and social media platforms of the NHL, NBC and VERSUS as well as additional NBC Universal platforms, such as CNBC and MSNBC.

Last season's History Will Be Made campaign was one of the most successful campaigns in NHL history, driving more than 302 million TV viewers for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the most watched in 36 years. The campaign, which featured prominent Playoffs moments from NHL greats Bobby Orr and others, not only drove interest and television viewership but connected with fans on an emotional level and inspired them to create and post their own versions of the TV spots to YouTube, generating more than 2,400 fan-created commercials and more than 8 million total views.  For the second straight year, fans will be able to download the music composed for the History Will Be Made campaign from the NHL's Facebook page for fan-generated spots.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.05.2011 / 12:59 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Already rolling, Devils have great chance forthcoming

If people think the New Jersey Devils have peaked during this current 19-2-2 run to scrape into the fringes of playoff contention, take a peak at their upcoming schedule.

The Devils have come from 27 points back of the postseason pace to being nine shy after a 2-1 overtime win against Pittsburgh on Friday night at Prudential Center -- and New Jersey is about to hit a soft spot in the schedule. The next six games for New Jersey are as follows: at N.Y. Islanders, vs. Ottawa, at Atlanta, vs. N.Y. Islanders, vs. Atlanta and at Ottawa.

"I don't know who or where we are playing beyond this weekend," Dainius Zubrus said Friday morning. "I know we play tonight and then an afternoon game on Long Island and that's it. I think that approach has worked very well for our team. A few months ago it was 40 games to go and now it is, what, 19 games to go? We still have to stay focused."

Added Colin White: "Every team at this time of year is playing playoff hockey. Players are playing for jobs next season on some [non-contending] teams."

Those three teams are currently 12th, 14th and 15th in the Eastern Conference. When Atlanta won in Toronto on Dec. 20, the Thrashers were in first place in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa was in 10th place after that day and only six points shy of the top eight.

Both teams have struggled since then. The Thrashers have lost 23 of their 30 games since that day and now sit one point clear of New Jersey for 12th place. The Senators have lost 22 of 30 since Dec. 20 to fall into last place in the East.

The Islanders have been much improved after a disastorous start. New York has gone 18-14-3 since that day, a 91-point pace over the course of a full season. That's only been good enough to move the Islanders up two spots in the NHL standings from 30th to 28th, but teams have taken notice of their strong play.

Still, there is some evidence of the Islanders losing their momentum. They've lost four of five games (though two were after regulation) as they rely on Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson in net.

New Jersey's next game against a team currently in playoff postition is Mar. 18 at Prudential Center with Washington in town. Between now and then, Buffalo will play five contests against postseason contenders (all on the road) and Toronto will see five contenders. Carolina has four days on inactivity and eventually two back-to-backs in a six-day span.

"It feels like one day we're up after a win and then the next day we don't and we're back down again," Martin Brodeur said.

The Devils have to take care of their own business, but they might finally start getting more help. Don't be surprised if that nine-point deficit between the Devils and eighth-place in the East is a little smaller when the Capitals come to Newark on the 18th -- and this miracle comeback could be for real if the gap is significantly smaller.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.03.2011 / 6:08 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Flyers look to fix fizzling power play

Over the last few seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers could count on their power play to help them win their fair share of games. They were third in the League last season at 21.4 percent; sixth the season before that at 22.5 percent; second in 2007-08 at 21.8 percent.

This season, however, they're 23rd at 16.7 percent. They're 0-for-10 in their last three games, just 2-for-27 in their last eight.

That's not going to win you many games.

"I'm not sure (of the problem)," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "There are a lot of things we can improve upon, a lot of things we could probably do differently. It is something that is a big concern for us coming down the stretch and hopefully we can work out some kinks over the last 20 games and get ready for playoffs."

Coach Peter Laviolette has changed his two extra-man units around, mostly switching forwards, which led to a bit of public unrest, and he'll have to switch it again with Jeff Carter's absence Thursday against the Maple Leafs. But he's looking for something to work, and what he's been using clearly hasn't been.

"We're working on it in practice," the coach said. "Any time you see things going off course a little bit, you try to get it back on. Maybe there's a little extra video, some more meetings, you have some practice time here."

However, Laviolette said he isn't losing sleep over his powerless power play. One look at the track records of the players available for him keeps him positive.

"I'm not overly concerned about it because for years these same players have been very good on the power play," he said. "I think that when you go through parts of the season where there's something that's not right where you want it to be and I'm sure they'll get out of it.

Danny Briere, third on the team with 6 power-play goals, said he's confident things will get back on track and that it's good to get the problems out of the way now.

"I'd rather have the problems happening now and hopefully correct them before the playoffs," he told NHL.com. "The past few years it's been very good. I really believe we will have a good power play when it matters most."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 03.03.2011 / 4:31 PM

By David Kalan -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Forecast looking cloudy for Hurricanes

While the Western Conference has been the scene of one of the wilder, most logjammed postseason races in NHL history, the East has been shaping up as having a pretty significant dogfight of its own in recent weeks. Carolina is currently holding onto the eighth seed, but an impressive run by Buffalo, which Carolina will play tonight, as well as some inconsistency by the Hurricanes has put that final playoff seed very much in doubt. With the very real possibility that Carolina will be on the outside looking in Friday morning, the Hurricanes would do well not to look past the Sabres on the schedule.

It might only make them more anxious.

A quick glance at the Canes' upcoming slate reveals that Carolina has one of the tougher remaining schedules in the East, particularly in the next two weeks. One night after the Canes' four-pointer with Buffalo Thursday, Carolina will be in Chicago to face a Blackhawks team that is on a six-game winning streak and playing its best hockey of the season. To make matters worse, the Hurricanes may not even have the energy to take the ice for what will be their third game in four days.

After a tumultuous 28 hours or so, Carolina gets to look forward to playing four of its next five games against Washington, a Columbus team that has won 8 of its last 12, Buffalo again and the Maple Leafs, who haven't lost in regulation in nearly three weeks.

Getting through a stretch that brutal will require quite a bit of energy, but expect that to be on short supply, too. Carolina spends its next seven games jack-knifing between home and the road.

One could make the assumption that successfully navigating the next few weeks will make the Hurricanes a battle-tested, tough out come spring -- and that may be so -- but it certainly won't be easy. And if the Canes do make the playoffs, a schedule like this could leave them entirely spent by the time they get there.
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