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Trending: Radulov, Crawford, Western races

Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 10:10 AM / NHL.Countdown

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Trending: Radulov, Crawford, Western races
Radulov's return, the playoff races in the Western Conference and Corey Crawford resurgence are among the trending stories this week
Alexander Radulov's impending return, Boston's revival, the mash unit that is the Detroit Red Wings, Calgary's missed opportunity, Western Conference showdowns, the Jets' golden opportunity and Corey Crawford's renaissance are all front-burner topics in the NHL today. They are what make up the seven topics in Trending this Week.

#RadReturn

Alexander Radulov scored 44 goals in two seasons in Nashville when he was just starting his professional career. He's 25 now and has a total of six professional seasons on his resume, including the last four in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, where he widely was considered the best player on the ice in every single game.
 
No wonder the Predators want him back in their lineup so badly. No wonder they're willing to let him start satisfying the final year of his entry-level contract this late into the season.
 

RADULOV ANALYSIS

Brylin, Button believe Radulov is ready

Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer
Ex-NHL player Sergei Brylin, currently in the KHL, and analyst Craig Button both feel the Russian star has matured and is ready to perform in his return to the Predators. READ MORE ›
This isn't Sidney Crosby returning to the Penguins or Jonathan Toews re-joining the lineup in Chicago, but Radulov is the type of offensive threat that has been missing from Nashville's lineup since … well, since he bolted for Russia after the 2007-08 season.
 
Radulov, who could be in Nashville's lineup Thursday in Pittsburgh, had 26 goals and 58 points the last time he played a full season for the Predators. Nashville has had only one player (J-P Dumont) produce more points and just two players (Jason Arnott and Patric Hornqvist) score more goals in a season since Radulov left.
 
The Predators have scoring balance, with six players who have 40 or more points pacing an offense that is in the League's top 10 (2.81 goals-per game) and No. 1 in power play (21.6 percent), but Radulov immediately becomes their most dynamic forward.
 
Radulov's presence should create matchup opportunities for Mike Fisher, the Kostitsyn brothers, Martin Erat, Hornqvist and David Legwand. He will give Nashville's already potent power play an added dimension with his ability to make plays below the faceoff dots. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter should have even more space to operate at the points.

#WesternShowdowns

Feel free to go onto the standings page right now to note where Dallas, Phoenix, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Jose and Calgary currently are seeded -- just don't take too much stock in it because the blender will be positioned on high Tuesday.
 
With Colorado hosting Calgary, Dallas hosting Phoenix (8 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2), and San Jose in L.A. (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), it's possible that new favorites will emerge after a night of showdowns between the six teams all within two points of each other in the Western Conference.
 
More than likely only three of these six teams will make the playoffs.
 

2011-2012 Standings

Western Conference
GP
P
ROW

3
72
83
33
4
72
92
38
5
73
92
37
6
73
88
35
7
73
83
30
8
74
83
30
9
72
82
30
10
72
82
29
11
73
81
31
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted. For full standings tiebreakers, click here.
03/20/12 10:25AM
The Stars either can maintain their position as the Pacific Division leaders and third-place team in the conference, or they could drop to No. 9 or below. The Coyotes could jump into third, or fall out of the top eight. Any one of the Avalanche, Kings and Sharks could jump into seventh, but one of them could also fall down into 11th. The Flames can't go lower than 11th, but they can move into the top eight.
 
Of all six teams, the Sharks are the ones that could have the biggest impact on the entire race. They'll play eight of their final 10 games against teams that are within an earshot of them, including three against the Kings and two each against the Coyotes and Stars. The Sharks close the season with back-to-back home-and-homes against the Stars and Kings.
 
The Flames and Avalanche still play one more time after Tuesday. Calgary also gets two cracks at the Stars and one at the Kings while the Avalanche still have games left against the Coyotes and Sharks, not to mention a pair against Vancouver and one against Nashville.
 
Who knows if any of these teams can compete in the playoffs with the Blues, Canucks, Predators, Red Wings and Blackhawks, but three will make it and three won't. It certainly looks like they'll get to decide their fates together, starting Tuesday.

#BurningBruins

Milan Lucic's comments Monday after Boston's latest and last rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs this season were telling of how difficult it is for a Stanley Cup champion the season after.
 
"Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that Ottawa did pass us because maybe there was that fire that needed to be re-lit," Lucic said after the 8-0 win against Toronto.
 
There's no disguise or maybe about it. The Ottawa Senators are precisely what the Boston Bruins need.
 
Without any Northeast Division team legitimately challenging them after the first three months of the season the Bruins had to find it difficult to recreate the hard-work-by-committee identity they used to win four rounds, including three Game 7s, last spring. No matter how many times coach Claude Julien would ask for it, the Bruins weren't being pushed enough by other teams to worry.
 
But then the Senators got hot and all of a sudden the Bruins were being tested. All of a sudden there was a formidable challenger, a real reason to be concerned.
 
They had to fall behind in the standings last week, just like they fell behind in the playoffs last year against Montreal, Tampa Bay and Vancouver, but it seems the Bruins always do their best work when staring in the face of adversity. They've won two in a row, including a shootout win against the Flyers and a rout of the Leafs, to move ahead of Ottawa with a three-point cushion.
 
If the fire is re-lit, the Bruins again should be considered one of the top contenders in the East. Of course, they'd make it easier on themselves if they just stopped playing with fire.

#BrokenWings

Detroit's training table ought to have its own Twitter account. Imagine the 140 characters it would be tweeting these days with so many players jumping on for treatment. The Red Wings' injuries largely have been to blame for their 1-6-1 slide.
 
The latest to go down is center Darren Helm, who will be out 4-6 weeks with a left knee injury. Helm does so much as the Red Wings third-line center that he's almost irreplaceable. He plays with a great amount of speed, takes and wins a lot of faceoffs, and uses all 200 feet of the ice well while playing 14:30 per game.
 
Nicklas Lidstrom
Defense - DET
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 31
SOG: 127 | +/-: 25
Detroit clearly has no one that can replace Nicklas Lidstrom's minutes and effectiveness. The captain has missed 10 straight games with a bone bruise in his ankle that is taking much longer to heal than he initially thought.
 
The good news is Lidstrom took part in the full morning skate Monday and he's expected to take part in the full practice Tuesday. Lidstrom said he couldn't even stand with his foot in his skate boot last week. Jonathan Ericsson (fractured wrist) and Jakub Kindl (oblique strain) also are on the mend, but not quite ready to return.
 
Detroit is fifth in the West, and if the Predators are going to get better with the possible addition of Radulov, the Red Wings will have to man-up without some key players in order to finish in the top four and get home-ice advantage in the first round.

#Flameout?

If the Flames miss the playoffs this season, they won't have to look hard to find their lost points.
 
When you're one of five teams vying for what appears to be only two playoff spots, losing back-to-back games to the teams ranked 29th and 30th in the League is about as unacceptable as it gets. That is, of course, exactly what the Flames did this past weekend, taking only one of possible four points available in games against Edmonton and Columbus.
 
Calgary's recent five-game winning streak only allowed it to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. Those losses to the Oilers and Blue Jackets do not eliminate the Flames, but what a blown opportunity, especially when every team ahead of them won at least one game over the weekend.
 
If the Flames had beaten the teams they're supposed to beat this past weekend, they would have woken up Monday in seventh place with 84 points. Instead, they woke up in 11th with 81. That's where they still are Tuesday.

#JettingEast

The most important part of the Winnipeg Jets' season is upon them. It starts Tuesday in Pittsburgh and continues Friday in Washington and Saturday in Nashville.
 
Three games, all on the road -- a season defined in one week. If that seems dramatic, it's only because it is and it should be.
 
The Jets have the worst road record in the Eastern Conference (11-19-4, 26 points), but here they are facing must-win situations in three difficult buildings to win in. Realistically they probably have to gain five of a possible six points minimum to keep pace with Washington and Buffalo heading into the final seven games of the season, but the Jets haven't been that effective in three straight road games since Oct. 31-Nov. 5.
 
They watched the Capitals win in Detroit and Buffalo dominate in Tampa Bay on Monday, and now find themselves 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth-place Washington. It stings even more that the Jets could have kept pace if they had just come out with a stronger, more determined effort at home against Carolina on Sunday.
 
They didn't -- and lost 4-3 after blowing a lead heading into the third period. Jets coach Claude Noel let his frustration be known after that game, saying it was sad and silly that they disrespected each other by not coming out with a better effort.
 
You can't help but think Noel was challenging his team knowing this big road trip was coming.

#Craw'sConfidence

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford didn't have time to think last Tuesday when coach Joel Quenneville called for him to relieve Ray Emery after just over 15 minutes. The Blues scored three in a row on Emery, so it was up to Crawford to stop the bleeding and do all he can to swing the momentum.
 
Crawford's response helped the Blackhawks stay on the positive course they've trekked since the trade deadline passed.
 
Corey Crawford
Goalie - CHI
RECORD: 25-16-5
GAA: 2.83 | SVP: 0.902
He stopped all 18 shots he faced as Chicago responded with a 4-3 come-from-behind shootout win against the Blues. Behind Crawford, the Hawks won the next two handily, against Dallas and Washington, and they take a three-game winning streak into a game at Columbus on Tuesday.
 
Goaltending has been Chicago's worst enemy this season, but Crawford has elevated his play lately to allow it to become a featured element in the Hawks' winning ways. It's certainly a positive development, and a few more good games could get Crawford and the Blackhawks back into the top four in the Western Conference.
 
The Blackhawks still have two more games against the fourth-place Predators before finishing the season against the fifth-place Red Wings. They start Tuesday in sixth place, four points behind Detroit and Nashville, but for the first time all season it appears the Blackhawks are playing an all-round game with stable goaltending, solid defense, and plenty of offense.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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