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Another night filled with important matchups

by Adam Schwartz

With just five days in the NHL's regular season, the playoff race is coming down to the wire.

At 7 p.m. the Boston Bruins will look to hold onto a playoff spot when they travel to New Jersey and the Carolina Hurricanes look to gain sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Later, the Flyers look to maintain an Eastern Conference playoff spot when they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

Here's what to watch:

* The Bruins, who are one point ahead of the ninth-place Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference, have a 22-12-5 record against non-division conference opponents. Boston, which has allowed the fewest goals in the Northeast Division with 215, has also scored the fewest goals in the division with 208.

* Boston left wing Marco Sturm, who leads the team with 27 goals, has a career-high of 56 points – eight points more than his previous career-high. Sturm, who was part of the trade which saw Joe Thornton go to San Jose, is just one goal shy of his career-high of 28.

* Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya, who leads the team with a plus-26 rating, has been a minus player in just one of his last 21 games. Oduya, who averages 18:54 of ice time per game, has 15 more points this season than he had last season when he was a rookie.

* New Jersey, which has scored the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference with 200, has scored more than two goals in just one of its last seven games. The Devils, who are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 95 points, clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 overtime victory against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

* Tampa Bay center Jeff Halpern, who was involved in a trade that saw Brad Richards go to Dallas, had 24 points in 64 games with Dallas and has nine goals and eight assists for 17 points in 16 games. Halpern, whose favorite book is The Giving Tree, has a plus-3 rating in his last four games.

* Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba, whose first job was selling newspapers, has a plus-7 rating in six games against the Hurricanes this season. Kuba, whose average of 3:08 of shorthanded ice time is second among Tampa Bay players, averages 25:02 of ice time per game.

* Carolina, which has lost its last two games, is tied with the Capitals for the Southeast Division lead with 90 points. The Hurricanes, who have a 23-12-4 home record, play their last two games at RBC Center.

* Hurricanes center Tuomo Ruutu, selected No. 9 overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, has two goals and three assists for five points in four career games against the Lightning, including one goal and two assists for three points in three games this season.

* Philadelphia right wing Mike Knuble, who listens to the band Bon Jovi, is tied for the most power-play goals in the Atlantic Division with 15. Knuble is just two goals shy of his third 30-goal season.  

* Flyers left wing Vaclav Prospal, who has recorded at least 50 points in seven seasons, has three goals and four assists for seven points in his last five games. Prospal has 12 points in 15 games since being traded to the Flyers by the Lightning.

* The Penguins, who can clinch their first Atlantic Division title with a victory tonight, are tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the Eastern Conference lead with 100 points. Pittsburgh, which plays a home-and-home series with the Flyers to close out its regular season, has scored the most goals in the Atlantic Division with 243.

* Detroit left wing Henrik Zetterberg, who is tied for sixth in the League with 90 points, has five goals and seven assists for 12 points in his last seven games. Zetterberg, selected No. 210 overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, has a career-high of 49 assists this season.

* Pittsburgh right wing Ryan Malone, whose nickname is Bugsy, has three goals and six assists for nine points in his last 10 games. Malone, who leads Penguins forwards with 135 hits, has one goal and five assists for six points in six games against the Flyers this season.

* Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who is tied with teammate Pavel Datsyuk for the League lead with a plus-41 rating, has 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points and a plus-21 rating in 96 career games against the Blackhawks.

* Chicago right wing Adam Burish, who is third among rookies with an average of 2:51 of shorthanded ice time, has played less than 14 minutes in 10 of his last 12 games. 

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