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All eyes look to the West

by Adam Schwartz
Rookie Patrick Kane leads the Chicago Blackhawks into Ohio tonight to battle Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The two teams have split their six meetings so far this season.
The Western Conference has the stage all to itself Wednesday night.

The Chicago Blackhawks face the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Edmonton Oilers travel to Minnesota, the Colorado Avalanche host the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings renew their rivalry with the Anaheim Ducks.

Here's what to keep an eye out for:

* Chicago center Jonathan Toews, who will get heavy consideration for the Calder Trophy, has two goals and two assists for four points in his last five games. He has two goals and three assists for five points and a plus-4 rating in five games against the Blue Jackets.

* Blackhawks right wing Patrick Sharp, who leads the team with 35 goals, is tied for the League lead with seven shorthanded goals.

* Columbus left wing Rick Nash, whose 38 goals are second among Central Division players, has 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 30 career games against the Blackhawks, including four goals and three assists for seven points in six games this season.

* Blue Jackets right wing Nikolai Zherdev, second on the club with 25 goals, has just one goal in his last 14 games.

* The Oilers, who have won five of their last six games, have pulled within three points of the final Western Conference playoff spot. Edmonton has an 11-14-2 divisional record, and plays divisional opponents in their final five games.

* Edmonton's Tom Gilbert, who is second among rookie defensemen with 31 points, has two goals and three assists for five points in his last four games. Gilbert, selected No. 129 overall by the Avalanche in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, has the second-highest average ice time among rookies at 22:10 per game.

* The Wild, who have lost two in a row, have fallen one point behind Northwest Division-leading Calgary. Minnesota, which has sold out every game at the Xcel Energy Center in the team's history, has a 21-11-5 record at home.

* Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz leads the team with 141 blocked shots.

* Vancouver, which has lost its last two games, is just two points ahead of the ninth-place Nashville Predators in the Western Conference playoff race, and they're just four points behind the Flames for the division lead, with a game in hand.

* Canucks center Brendan Morrison, who has nine goals in 38 games this season, has scored just once in his last 11 games.

* Colorado right wing Joe Sakic, who recorded career assist No. 1,000 Saturday in the Avalanche's 7-5 loss to the Oilers, has 31 goals and 64 assists for 95 points and a plus-17 rating in 77 career games against the Canucks.

* The Avalanche enter tonight's game just two points ahead of the ninth-place Predators.

* Los Angeles defenseman Rob Blake has just one point in his last five games. Blake has the franchise record for points by a defenseman with 493.

* Only two rookie defensemen see more ice time per game than the Kings' Jack Johnson, who plays 21:41 per game. He's also second among Kings defensemen with 84 hits.

* Anaheim, which has the fewest home losses in the League with eight, will play four of their final five games at Honda Center. The Ducks, currently fourth in the Western Conference, are just 18-18-4 on the road.

* Midway through Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger's eight-game suspension, the Ducks are 3-1 and have not yielded more than two goals in any game during that span.

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