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Another night filled with important games

by Adam Schwartz
Evgeni Nabokov and the San Jose Sharks will take on Rob Blake and the L.A. Kings tonight at the Staples Center. The Sharks still have a chance to capture the Presidents' Trophy.
Thursday night's 10-game slate is crucial for teams jockeying for playoff position, and positions surely will be shifted.

Four Eastern Conference games feature the New York Rangers playing the first half of a home-and-home series with the New York Islanders, while the Washington Capitals look to extend their winning streak to six games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ottawa Senators face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the season's final Battle of Ontario, and the Montreal Canadiens host the Buffalo Sabres.

Six Western Conference matches see the Detroit Red Wings facing the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Nashville Predators looking to hold onto their playoff spot against the St. Louis Blues, the Calgary Flames visiting the Minnesota Wild, the Dallas Stars visiting the Phoenix Coyotes, the Edmonton Oilers battling the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks visiting the Los Angeles Kings.

The Sabres need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, while a Calgary win puts them in the postseason.

Here's what to watch:

* After totaling a goal and nine assists for 10 points in 45 games with the Blues, defenseman Christian Backman was traded to the Rangers, where he has two goals and four assists for six points in 15 games.

* Islanders defenseman Freddy Meyer, who leads the team with a plus-3 rating, has two assists and a plus-4 rating in his last four games while playing at least 19 minutes in three games during that span.

* Washington center Nicklas Backstrom is second among all rookies with 67 points. Selected No. 4 overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Backstrom has a minus-3 rating in seven games against the Lightning this season.

* Lightning left wing Jussi Jokinen, who was childhood friends with Edmonton defenseman Joni Pitkanen, has one goal and nine assists for 10 points in his last 11 games, but he also has a minus-6 rating during that span.

* The Senators, who seemed destined to finish atop the Eastern Conference earlier this season, are just two points ahead of the ninth-place Capitals.

* Toronto right wing Nik Antropov, who is second on the team with a plus-10 rating, has four assists in his last two games.

* Buffalo right wing Jason Pominville, who is second among Sabres forwards with an average of 19:58 of ice time per game, has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in his last nine games.

* Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula, who has 36 points and a plus-16 rating this season, has no points and has a minus-5 rating in his last five games.

* The Canadiens, who lead the NHL with 256 goals, are just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead, with a game in hand. The Habs, who failed to make the playoffs last season, have clinched their first division title since the 1992 Adams Division title.

* Columbus left wing Rick Nash, who has scored a franchise-best 154 goals, has a career-high 67 points this season, which is the third-most in a season by a Blue Jacket.

* Blues right wing Lee Stempniak, who scored 27 goals last season, has just 13 this season.

* The Predators hold a one-point lead over Vancouver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have a 17-8-5 divisional record, which is good because the Preds' final two games are against division rivals St. Louis and Chicago.

* Flames left wing Kristian Huselius, who has been a healthy scratch lately, has one assist and a minus-6 rating in his last seven games.

* Stars left wing Brenden Morrow has five goals and two assists for seven points in his last eight games.

* Minnesota center Mikko Koivu has one goal and five assists for six points in his last three games.

* Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who has played his entire career with the Coyotes organization, has a career-high of 77 points this season. 

* Vancouver left wing Alex Burrows, who leads the team with a plus-12 rating, has three goals and one assist for four points in seven games against the Oilers this season.

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