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Ten April games you just can't miss

Friday, 04.01.2011 / 10:50 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Ten April games you just can't miss
With the season entering its final month, there are some games that hockey fans just can't afford to miss.
It's April Fool's Day, but the playoff races in both conferences are serious business. They still are scorching with 10 days left in 2010-11 NHL regular season as teams battle for position while others remain hopeful they can ram their way into the top eight with a sizzling finish.

Seventy-one games remain between now and April 10, and many of them have significant meaning. Here are the 10 games you simply can't miss over the next 10 days:

Chicago at Columbus, Friday

Why watch: Simple, really -- to see if the defending Stanley Cup champs want to be a playoff team bad enough. We should find out in this one because the Blue Jackets have nothing but pride on the line while the Blackhawks are fighting to hold onto their playoff spot -- they enter Friday's game eighth in the West, just three points ahead of ninth-place Dallas and 10th-place Calgary.

What's going on: The Blackhawks' legs seemed to abandon them halfway through their game in Boston on Tuesday. They talked about needing to be excited to play Columbus because if they're not, the Blue Jackets can play spoiler.

Season series: Chicago has won three of five against the Blue Jackets this season for six points. Columbus won the previous meeting 4-3 on Feb. 18.

Dallas at Los Angeles, Saturday

Why watch: The Stars are trying to claw their way back into the top eight in the Western Conference while the Kings are hoping injuries to leading scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams won't crush them in the final days of the season.

What's going on: Staples Center is Dallas' fourth stop on a five-game road trip that has not started well -- they're 0-2-1 so far. The Kings toppled Edmonton on Tuesday, but became the latest team to lose to Vancouver, falling 3-1 on Thursday.

Season series: Los Angeles has gained seven of a possible 10 points in the first five meetings (3-1-1). The Stars have earned four points with two wins and three regulation losses.

Anaheim at San Jose, Saturday

Why watch: This is the first of two meetings this month between the Pacific Division rivals, and if the Ducks continue at their current pace they may wind up challenging the Sharks for first place in the division.

What's going on: As it stands now Anaheim is six points behind San Jose, with Los Angeles and Phoenix in the middle, but the Ducks have been playing the best of all the teams in the division for more than a month. They finished March with 11 wins and Corey Perry had 15 goals and 21 points in 14 games. The Sharks blew out Dallas on Thursday to jump ahead of Detroit into second place in the Western Conference. San Jose is 6-0-1 in its last seven games.

Season series: The Sharks have five out of a possible eight points in the season series (2-1-1) while the Ducks have four on two wins and two regulation losses.

Buffalo at Washington, Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US)

Why watch: This has the potential of being a first-round playoff matchup. The Capitals likely will finish first or second in the Eastern Conference, while the Sabres currently are in that seven/eight range.

What's going on: Washington is coming off a shootout win against Columbus and sits just one point behind the Flyers for first in the Eastern Conference. The Caps, though, have a depleted defense with Mike Green, Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman out. The Sabres are hoping Ryan Miller will be healthy enough to start this game. The goalie was a late scratch Wednesday against the Rangers.

Season series: Washington has gained five out of six points against the Sabres this season with a pair of regulation wins and an overtime loss.

New York Rangers at Philadelphia, Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN)

Why watch: Last year these teams met on the final day of the regular season, with the winner getting a berth in the playoffs and the loser going home for the summer. Philadelphia won in one of the most well-known shootouts since the NHL adopted the game-deciding event. The NBC Game of the Week is a possible first-round playoff preview.

What's going on: The Flyers' lead in the Eastern Conference is down to just one point, but they do have a game in hand on the Capitals. The Rangers are trying to avoid having their playoff fate come down to the last weekend of the season for the second straight year.

Season series: The Flyers won the first four meetings and have eight out of a possible 10 points. The Rangers won the last meeting 7-0 to pick up their first two points of the season against Philadelphia.

Boston at New York Rangers, Monday (7:30 p.m. VERSUS)

Why watch: If they haven't already, the Bruins could be looking to clinch the Northeast Division title in this one. The Rangers will be looking to solidify their spot in the top eight.

What's going on: Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask put on a show the last time the Rangers and Bruins met, with Lundqvist making one more save for a 1-0 victory. Based on that you'd have to assume Rask would be getting the start. The Bruins want to keep Rask and Tim Thomas fresh for the playoffs. The Rangers, though, don't have that luxury with Lundqvist, who was in net for four of the six goals the Islanders scored on Thursday.

Season series: The Rangers have won two of the three meetings for four points. The Bruins won the other in regulation and have two points.

Los Angeles at San Jose, Monday (10 p.m. ET, VERSUS, NHLN-CA)

Why watch: All it will take is a mini-streak and a mini-slump for the Kings to get close to San Jose and first place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks, though, could be looking either to wrap up the division title or at least solidify their position in this game.

What's going on: The Kings' chances of overtaking the Sharks for first in the division took a major hit Thursday when they lost to Vancouver and the Sharks beat Dallas. L.A. is five points behind the Sharks in third place in the Pacific Division. While it's a longshot for them to win the division, they can finish as the fourth seed and gain the home-ice advantage that comes with that. The Sharks have won six of seven (6-0-1) to climb over the Red Wings and into second place in the conference.

Season series: They each have six points in the season series, but the Kings have a 3-2-0 record, while the Sharks are 2-1-2.

Chicago at Detroit, April 8 (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS)

Why watch: By this point we'll know if last season's Stanley Cup champs are teetering on the brink of a long offseason or ready to defend their title. Chicago has 90 points and is eighth in the Western Conference, but Dallas and Calgary are just three points back.

How's it going: The Red Wings already have locked up their playoff berth, but they need to get healthy and get their game back. Chicago has four games between now and the time they play the Wings -- plenty of time for them to solidify their spot. This starts a weekend home-and-home that finishes at United Center on Sunday.

Season series: The Blackhawks have won the last three meetings between the clubs and have six points in the season series. The Red Wings beat Chicago in early October and have three points against the Hawks.
 
Los Angeles at Anaheim, April 8

Why watch: The battle for supremacy in Southern California rages, with the Ducks and Kings appearing en route to the playoffs in the same season for the first time ever. This also is the front end of a home-and-home set between the rivals, who will meet again the following night at Staples Center. It's possible this could be a first-round playoff preview.

What's going on: The Ducks were one of the NHL's best teams through March as they went 11-3-0 to bolster their position in the West's top eight. They are coming off a 4-2 win against Calgary on Wednesday and have won three in a row. The Kings are looking for some offensive contributors in the absence of leading scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

Season series: The Kings have five points in four games against Anaheim (2-1-1) while the Ducks have gained four with a pair of wins, including a 2-1 overtime thriller March 19.

Detroit at Chicago, April 10 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN)

Why watch: Why not? The potential exists for this game to have many different meanings. It could be A) a game the Blackhawks have to win to make the playoffs; B) a first-round preview; C) a game the Red Wings have to win to lock up the second seed.

What's going on: Right now the Blackhawks are hit or miss while the Red Wings have been swinging and missing too often. They're both missing key players, with Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland sidelined for the Hawks, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard missing for the Wings. They played a playoff-intense game Monday, but both flopped in their next game -- Chicago getting shut out in Boston and the Wings getting blown out at home by St. Louis. Tensions could be high in this one considering they play each other two nights earlier.

Season series
: For now the Blackhawks have the edge with six points to Detroit's three.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Quote of the Day

My job was to get that puck and put it on net, and his job was not letting me do it. I got the best of that, but that game's over and to be honest I already forgot about it.

— Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk on his late game-tying goal in Montreal's 2-1 OT win
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