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Big week looms for playoff-hopeful Ducks

by Mike G. Morreale
The playoff hopes of the Anaheim Ducks might very well hinge on their performance this week.

That's when the 10th seeded team in the Western Conference embarks on a three-game road trip beginning in Edmonton on Tuesday and continuing Thursday in Vancouver and Saturday in San Jose before returning to Honda Center for a rematch with the Sharks on Sunday.

The club, which last failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2003-04, has built some momentum down the stretch, winning six of its last eight games. But players know they'll need a lot more.

"It's hard to even watch (the playoff race)," Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. "When you look at it every day, you kind of slip back and forth and it's all going to come down to the end anyway, so if we just worry about our team and our game, we'll see where we're at in the end."

With five of their remaining six games against Pacific Division foes, the Ducks could certainly help their own cause while keeping tabs on the out-of-town scoreboard.

"That is one of the better things that we have on our schedule; we kind of control our destiny and these will all be four-point nights so if we get our victories against those guys we should be OK at the end," Getzlaf said.

Over the last four seasons, the Ducks have posted a 58-25-9 record over the final 25 games of the schedule. In the final 25 games of 2005-06, the Ducks went 16-8-1. In their Stanley Cup season of 2006-07, they finished 15-4-6 and the club went 19-5-1 in 2007-08. This campaign, the Ducks have a 9-8-1 mark since Feb. 15.

"It's good to see our team showing the desperation when we need to and I think we're at a time in the season where we really don't have a choice anymore," Getzlaf said. "The guys are playing like that -- we're excited for the run here and want to keep it going."

Panthers pride
-- The Florida Panthers are another squad looking to string together some victories in an attempt to reestablish themselves among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers, currently ninth in the East with 85 points, hope to serve up a successful three-game homestand this week with games against Ottawa on Tuesday, Atlanta on Friday and Pittsburgh on Sunday. Of Florida's six remaining games in the regular season, four will take place in Sunrise.

"It's up to us," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're right where we want to be; we just have to take advantage. If we can't play above .500 and win some games, we don't deserve to get in."

The Cats, who have won just three of their last 10 games (3-4-3), have put together a 6-3-1 overall mark against this week's opponents, including a 1-1-1 record against the sixth-seeded Penguins. The club did snap a three-game losing skid with recent triumphs over the Flyers and Stars.

"Obviously, you want to be in a different situation, but sometimes playing under pressure like this is not bad," said Florida's Radek Dvorak.

"There's no denying the fact it's been hard on us the last few weeks," winger Gregory Campbell said. "It seems we play our best games when our backs are against the wall."

In early February and with 31 games remaining in the regular season, the Panthers' brass put quite an offer on the table for their fans, saying that if they bought a four-game pack of tickets to this year's playoff run and the team failed to qualify for the postseason, they would be eligible for four free tickets next year.

Super Saturday
-- Of the 11 games slated for Saturday, five have caught our eyes, including this intriguing clash between Columbus and Nashville in Music City U.S.A. In addition to each team vying for a higher playoff seed, the contest also offers a battle between two potential Calder Trophy candidates in goalies Steve Mason and Pekka Rinne.

Keep in mind that the five teams ranked fourth through eighth in the East are separated by just six points and the six teams ranked seventh through 12th in the West are separated by seven.

Here's a closer look (Seed-Conference and points in parenthesis):

Columbus (6-West, 86) at Nashville (7-West, 84) - Let's all hope for a scoreless game through overtime and then have these rookie keepers provide one heck of an encore in a shootout. In the home corner is Rinne, who became just the second goalie in Nashville history to record 25 wins in a season and is the 11th rookie goaltender in NHL history to win 25-plus games. Since the start of February, Rinne has started 23 of Nashville's 28 games and has held the opposition to two goals or less 14 times, going 15-3-4 with a 2.06 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts (tied for first) in that span. He ranks third in the League in overall GAA (2.24), fourth in save percentage (.922) and is tied for second in shutouts (7). When his team scores at least three goals, he's 16-0-2. For the Blue Jackets, it's Mason, who has set the club record for wins (31) and shutouts (10) while allowing two-or-fewer goals in 30 of his 53 starts. Mason leads the NHL in shutouts, is second in GAA (2.19) and is seventh in save percentage (.920). Ring the bell already!

Pittsburgh (6-East, 90) at Carolina (5-East, 91) - The Penguins have won two of the three matchups this season and hold a 50-47-12 lead in the all-time series. Both teams have really put the pedal to the metal over the last month to cover plenty of ground in the Eastern Conference race. In fact, each club fashioned an impressive 10-1-2 record in the month of March. Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has appeared in 24 of the team's last 25 games, compiling a 16-5-3 record over the span. Carolina goalie Cam Ward has started each of the Hurricanes' last 24 games, posting a 16-6-2 record.

St. Louis (8-West, 83) at Dallas (12-West, 75) - The red-hot Blues need a win to remain among the top eight and the Stars need a win to enter the conversation. The contest is the fourth meeting of the season with the Blues winning the three previous matchups to take a 112-90-45 lead in the all-time series. Since Andy McDonald's return to the line-up on Feb. 10, the Blues have gone 14-6-3 with the Strathroy, Ont., center connecting for 19 points (7 goals) over that span. Blues goalie Chris Mason has gone 20-7-5 over his last 32 games, including four shutouts, a .927 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA. Dallas center Mike Modano has notched points in six of his last 13 (6 assists, 7 points).

Vancouver (T-4-West, 91) at Edmonton (10-West, 81) - Vancouver enters the sixth and final meeting of Northwest Division rivals with a 3-2-0 lead in the season series. Six players from the Canucks have already set new career highs, including Ryan Kesler (54 points), Alex Burrows (47 points), Alex Edler (32 points), Willie Mitchell (21 points), Mason Raymond (22 points) and Kyle Wellwood (16 goals). The Oilers, meanwhile, are one of only two teams (San Jose) to have four defensemen with 30-or-more points this season, including Sheldon Souray (48), Tom Gilbert (40), Denis Grebeshkov (34) and Lubomir Visnovsky (31).

Anaheim (9-West, 82) at San Jose (1-West, 109)
- The Sharks have taken three of the four matchups this season, including consecutive shutouts by San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov. In fact, Nabokov is currently fourth among all active goalies in shutouts with 46 while his 45 goose eggs since the 2000-01 season rank second only to Martin Brodeur (59) of the Devils. Offensively, Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi became just the sixth player in franchise history to reach the 30-goal plateau. Anaheim has received quite a boost this season from first-year right wing Bobby Ryan, who has become the club's all-time rookie scoring leader with 50 points (26 goals) -- a mark previously held by Dustin Penner in 2006-07 with 45 points (29 goals). Ryan currently leads all NHL rookies in points-per-game (.84), goals (26), power-play goals (10) and is tied for first in shooting percentage (16.6).

-- The Minnesota Wild will look to keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday when they travel to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the NHL on NBC Game of the Week (12:30 p.m. ET).

The contest marks the Wild's second-ever national broadcast on NBC, having lost 4-3 in overtime in Dallas on April 15, 2006. Minnesota is 11th in the Western Conference with 78 points -- three behind eighth-seeded Edmonton. The Wild have excelled over the final 12 games in each of the last two seasons, going a combined 16-4-4. The club was 9-2-1 in the final 12 games in 2006-07 and 7-2-3 in the final dozen last season.

Minnesota, however, has won just four of the last 20 meetings (4-12-4) against Detroit, including a 5-2 decision in the most recent matchup in St. Paul on Feb. 21. The Red Wings, meanwhile, are 20-5-6 all-time against the Wild.

Air time
- The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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