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Much to be settled on final Saturday of regular season

Saturday, 04.11.2009 / 10:00 AM / Game-Day Skate

By Adam Schwartz - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Stanley Cup Playoff races are coming down to the wire, and Saturday, which features 13 games, is the second-to-last day of the regular season.

After six matinees, Anaheim, which is in a battle for a playoff position in the Western Conference, is desperate to get points against the Coyotes. Calgary finishes their season against the Oilers (10 p.m. ET, CBC, NHLN-US) and the Blue Jackets, who are set to make their first playoff appearance in franchise history, battle the Wild.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, all eight playoff spots have been clinched, but there is still significant jockeying for positioning to be done, particularly with the Penguins, Flyers and Hurricanes all having 97 points. Pittsburgh is in Montreal (7 p.m. ET, CBC, NHLN-US), where the Canadiens are trying to move past the idle Rangers for seventh place in the East.

Three other games feature the Senators renewing their rivalry with the Maple Leafs in the latest installment of the battle of Ontario (7 p.m. ET, CBC), the Panthers battling the Capitals in a Southeast Division matchup and the Lightning traveling to Atlanta.

Here's what to watch:

* Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin was the first player to record 70 assists this season -- a mark that wasn't reached by any NHL player last season -- and leads the League with 78 assists, which is 19 more assists than he had last season. Malkin has 4 assists in his last two games, and has 12 more even-strength assists than any other player in the League.

* Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski leads Eastern Conference rookies with 47 points, but has no assists in his last five games after recording 8 assists in his previous four games.

 
* Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik has 4 assists in his last four games and averages the second-most ice time among Canadiens at 21:53. Hamrlik has 19 assists and 22 points in 41 Montreal wins, but has just 8 assists and 10 points in 39 losses.

* Thrashers right wing Colby Armstrong hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career last Sunday in Atlanta's 6-4 loss to Washington in a season where Armstrong has seen his average ice time drop almost a minute. Armstrong is two points short of tying his career-high of 40 points with just one game remaining.

* Washington left wing Matt Cooke is second on the team with 198 hits and has 3 of his 13 goals this season in his last five games, but has scored just two goals in the third period. Cooke had a minus-7 rating in 44 games before the All-Star break, but has a plus-6 rating in 31 games since then.

* Phoenix right wing Shane Doan has 16 more goals than any other Coyote and has 3 goals and 6 points in his last six games. Doan hit the 70-point mark for the second time in his career last Saturday when he had an assist in Phoenix's 4-1 win against the Sharks -- the first time was last season when he had 78 points.

* The Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth straight season Thursday when the Rangers beat the Flyers 2-1, but they still have the best penalty killing in the Southeast Division at 82.8 percent. While Florida has allowed the fewest goals in the division with 219, they have the worst power play in the division at 16.3 percent.

* Lightning center Vaclav Prospal is one of just two Tampa Bay players to have played in all 81 Lightning games this season and is just one goal short of scoring 20 for the fifth time in his career, but has just 1 goal in his last nine games. Prospal has 35 assists and 54 points in 48 career games against the Thrashers, including 2 goals and 2 assists in five games this season.

* Ottawa left wing Nick Foligno is fourth on the team with 17 goals after scoring just 6 last season, but he has just 1 goal in his last 10 games. Foligno averaged just 9:09 of ice time in 45 games as a rookie last season, but he has seen his role increase and is averaging 13:38 this season.

Contact Adam Schwartz at aschwartz@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals