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A half dozen doozies for your consideration

by Mike G. Morreale

Don't miss the Anaheim Ducks as they take on western rivals the Detroit Red Wings on February 10.
Well, the second half of the season is upon us and that could only mean it’s time for players and coaches to up the ante for the stretch run with an eye toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This week, presents the inaugural installment of The NHL Six Pack, a look at the six most intriguing games on the docket this week. The selected games might have playoff ramifications, historic significance or could just offer a nasty rivalry that is sure to please.

The top six games on the slate this week will take place in Montreal, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Detroit. The top game on the bill comes Sunday in “Hockeytown,” where the Red Wings play host to the Anaheim Ducks in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final won by the Ducks in six games. Four of the six matches were decided by one goal and two were in overtime. This season, the Wings hold a 2-1 lead in the series, including a 2-1 triumph in the most recent meeting in Anaheim on Jan. 23.

”Detroit is the team to beat right now and they’re pulling away not only in the Western Conference, but the League,’’ Anaheim right wing George Parros told “They’re a fast team, so we have to make sure we stick to our game plan. That means a lot of hitting in order to slow them down. We’re not thinking about playoffs until they begin. For us, the next game is the most important game’’

Batten down the hatches!

Feb. 6: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m.ET) -- The Capitals are desperate for wins to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. It won’t come easy, however, as one hour before face-off, the boisterous Philly fans will be even more emotionally charged when Ron Hextall becomes the 19th member of the organization to be inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame. Hextall capped his rookie season (1987) with the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, despite the fact the Flyers dropped a memorable seven-game series to the Edmonton Oilers. Hextall was 15-11 with a 2.77 GAA and .908 save percentage in the `87 playoffs.

Mike Keenan, who coached in Philadelphia when Hextall was a rookie in 1986-87, told “In his first season, Ronnie was given a workload of a No. 1 goaltender and he lived up to all expectations, taking us to the Final and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. He was a fierce competitor and this is a well-earned accolade in Philadelphia, especially when you consider the history of that franchise.’’

Feb. 6: New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m. ET) -- It’s time to buckle the seatbelt. All three previous meetings were decided by shootout and, each time, Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur did one better than Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller. Patrik Elias ended the last two meetings with the deciding shootout goal and Zach Parise sealed the deal in the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 28. The game is critical on two fronts. First, the Sabres would certainly like to end the shootout jinx and, at the same time, gain some valuable points in the Eastern Conference playoff race, of which they would not qualify if the season were to end today. New Jersey, which lost its fifth game in seven outings following a 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Friday, needs to regain some confidence. The Devils play the final game of a five-game home stand tonight against the Penguins.

Feb. 7: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET) -- The Islanders are beginning to fade from the Eastern Conference playoff picture, so a victory over the Penguins could be the start to a turnaround. The teams have split the season series thus far, wining two apiece. The Islanders, who hold an 11-10 advantage in total goals scored in the four meetings, earned a 4-2 decision in the most recent meeting on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh. Islanders rookie right wing Blake Comeau recorded the eventual game-winner, also his first NHL goal, in the triumph.

It has been reported that Penguins center Sidney Crosby will be sidelined another six to eight weeks due to the high ankle sprain suffered in a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Jan. 18. With Sid the Kid sidelined, the Penguins are 2-3-1.

Feb. 7: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens (7: p.m. ET) – The rivalry is the oldest and most bitter, although fans in New York and on Long Island might disagree. Still, there’s no denying the passion and fervor with which these games are played, particularly this season. The Leafs have won three of the five meetings, including one in overtime and another via a shootout. Montreal scored a 4-3 overtime decision and a 4-1 triumph in the most recent meeting on Dec. 15 in Montreal. If you’ll recall, Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe broke his left hand in the game after being checked into the boards by Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn in the Canadiens’ zone. Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice was incensed by the hit, saying that McCabe’s hand was broken in three spots and that he wouldn’t return for another six to eight weeks.

”It's not a natural thing,” Maurice said on the Canadiens’ web site. “It's not like getting hit into the boards where you can recover, but when you get hog-tied around the throat and you go back into the boards, that's just brutal.”

Ring the bell, it’s Round 6!

Feb. 9: Colorado Avalanche at Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET) -- The Avalanche and Canucks entered the weekend seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Western Conference playoff race. The Canucks won the first two encounters and the Avalanche claimed a 3-1 victory on Dec. 23 as Peter Budaj made 21 saves. Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell, who suffered a fractured vertebra in a game against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 27, will miss the contest. The Canucks, incidentally, have played in front of 200 consecutive sellouts, dating back to Nov. 14, 2002, so expect another big crowd against its Northeast Division foe.

Feb. 10: Anaheim Ducks at Detroit Red Wings (NBC, 3:30 p.m. ET) -- The Ducks have been bolstered by the return of defenseman Scott Niedermayer, the winner of last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The return of 10-time All-Star Teemu Selanne will also fortify the offensive arsenal. The Red Wings own the best record in the League and have been the stingiest team behind the goaltending of Dominik Hasek, who notched his 80th career shutout on Friday, and Chris Osgood, who ranks first in the League in goals-against average (1.88). Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who was the last defenseman to win the Conn Smythe (2002) prior to Niedermayer, leads the NHL with a plus-43.

If you feel your team deserves mention in the Six Pack next week, contact Mike Morreale at

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