With 19 days left in the regular season, the playoff races in each conference simply are on fire. Almost every game has added significance, with points at such a premium, as teams jockey for positioning. NHL.com is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about the games that directly can impact the playoff races.
Here is the installment for Wednesday, March 23:
VANCOUVER (47-17-9, 103 points) at DETROIT (43-21-9, 95 points)
Where they stand: Vancouver is first in the Western Conference; Detroit is second in the West
What's at stake: A regulation win for Detroit would get the Red Wings within six points of Vancouver for first in the West, as well as move them closer to clinching a playoff spot. A win helps Vancouver close in on the Presidents' Trophy. The Red Wings and Canucks each will have eight games remaining after Wednesday.
How it's going: The Canucks haven't played since Friday, when they had their seven-game win streak snapped by Phoenix. They've been coping with the loss of checking center Manny Malhotra, whose career might be in jeopardy due to what reportedly is a severe eye injury. Malhotra is second in the League in faceoff winning percentage, and in his absence the Canucks might turn to recently acquired center Maxim Lapierre to handle draws. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa might return after missing 15 games with a foot fracture.
The Red Wings mounted a thrilling comeback from a three-goal third period deficit against Pittsburgh on Monday, but they still lost in the shootout. Injuries are the big issue with the Wings now as Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler missed Monday's game. Todd Bertuzzi joined the injury list Tuesday and coach Mike Babcock said all four likely will miss Wednesday's game. Babcock did say all four would play if it were a playoff game.
Upcoming: The Canucks move on to play in Atlanta on Friday, in Columbus on Sunday and in Nashville next Tuesday before returning home. They will play their final five games in Western Canada, with three at home, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary. The Wings continue their five-game homestand against Toronto on Saturday and against Chicago and St. Louis next week.
ANAHEIM (40-27-5, 85 points) at DALLAS (38-25-9, 85 points)
Where they stand: Anaheim is eighth in the West; Dallas is ninth in the West
What's at stake: One team will finish the night inside the West's top eight while the other might not. Anaheim has the edge on Dallas because it has three more non-shootout wins, but the Stars will jump the Ducks and perhaps Chicago with a win. Anaheim can move into seventh place with a win and a Chicago loss of any kind. The Ducks can stay in eighth with an overtime/shootout loss only if the Blackhawks lose in regulation to Florida and Calgary loses in any way to San Jose.
How it's going: The Ducks have won three in a row, including the last two in overtime. They're 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and have allowed two or fewer goals in six of them. All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller (vertigo) traveled with the club to Dallas and will be on the ice Wednesday morning for the pre-game skate. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said if all goes well he will have a decision to make within the next three games because Ray Emery has played well since his March 13 debut.
The Stars are hoping to finish a seven-game homestand on a positive note. They're just 2-2-2 so far, and it's why they're on the outskirts of the top eight in the Western Conference now. They're coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers on Saturday, but that came after a 5-0 win against the Blackhawks. Dallas is 7-2-3 in its last 12 games.
Upcoming: This game starts a stretch of three road games in four nights for the Ducks. They go to Nashville on Thursday and Chicago on Saturday, and then come home to play Colorado on Monday. Dallas will start a five-game road trip Saturday in Nashville. The Stars play seven of their final nine games away from home.
CALGARY (37-27-11, 85 points) at SAN JOSE (42-23-8, 92 points)
Where they stand: Calgary is 10th in the West; San Jose is third in the West
What's at stake: Calgary needs a win and some help to move into a playoff position. The Flames could finish the night in eighth place, but only if they win, Chicago loses in regulation and the Ducks and Stars play a two-point game. San Jose can distance itself ever so slightly from Phoenix with a win. The Sharks lead the Coyotes in the Pacific Division by one point, but they have two games in hand and one more non-shootout win.
How it's going: The Flames have lost back-to-back games after regulation and are just 1-3-2 in their last six games. The tiebreak scenarios are not in their favor as they have only 29 non-shootout wins and have played three more games than Chicago, Anaheim and Dallas. 2008 first-round pick Greg Nemisz will make his NHL debut Wednesday, but that's because Niklas Hagman has concussion-like symptoms and is back in Calgary.
The Sharks have won three in a row after going winless in their previous three. Center Joe Pavelski is red hot -- he had 11 points in four games last week to earn the NHL's First Star of the Week honor. Patrick Marleau also is on fire, with 7 points in four games last week and 15 points in his last 12 games. Dany Heatley will return to the lineup after serving his two-game suspension for elbowing Dallas' Steve Ott in the head last week. Logan Couture is feeling better after suffering a leg injury over the weekend, but he's questionable for Wednesday's game.
Upcoming: Calgary will play just twice in the seven nights following Wednesday -- at Edmonton on Saturday and home against St. Louis next Wednesday. The Sharks travel to Phoenix and then Los Angeles for a Thursday-Saturday road trip. They won't play again until the following Thursday.
FLORIDA (29-34-10, 68 points) at CHICAGO (39-25-8, 86 points)
Where they stand: Florida is 14th in the Eastern Conference; Chicago is seventh in the West
What's at stake: Chicago can move past Los Angeles and Nashville and into fifth place with a win. The Blackhawks would have at least one more non-shootout wins than the Kings and Predators. Florida is looking to hurt the Blackhawks' playoff bid in Dale Tallon's first trip to Chicago as a visiting general manager.
How it's going: The Blackhawks are coming off a 2-1 win in Phoenix on Sunday, but it came at a price. Patrick Sharp was injured during the game, and although it is not believed to be serious, he isn't expected to return to the lineup until early next month at the earliest. Either Viktor Stalberg or Troy Brouwer will to take Sharp's spot on the top line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Brouwer has a history of playing with Kane and Toews, but Stalberg is considered the better playmaker and he practiced with the All-Star duo Tuesday.
Florida lost 1-0 to the Rangers in New York on Tuesday, despite Tomas Vokoun's strong 32-save effort. The Panthers beat Chicago on March 8.
Upcoming: The Hawks will host Anaheim on Saturday in what is a key Western Conference showdown, and then they go on the road to play Detroit, Boston and Columbus next week. Florida continues its five-game road trip in Buffalo on Friday.
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