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Break about over, NHL teams set for furious finish

by Adam Kimelman

It's almost time for the NHL to reopen for business.

Starting at 2 p.m. local time Wednesday, teams can start holding practices for players who didn't go to the 2014 Sochi Olympics or whose teams have been eliminated. They'll have a few days together to get ready for when the season restarts with a game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 25.

With 53 days left before the regular season ends April 13, there's a lot of work left to be done for many teams.

It's almost time for the NHL to reopen for business, with teams able to start holding practices Wednesday at 2 p.m. and a hectic schedule set to get underway beginning next Tuesday. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/NHLI, Getty Images)

First up is preparing for the last two outdoor games of the 2013-14 season. The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins will play the final game of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on March 1 at Soldier Field (8 p.m. ET, NBC), and on March 2 the Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators at BC Place in the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

There's also the looming NHL Trade Deadline, set for 3 p.m. ET on March 5. Rosters have been frozen during the Olympic break, which ends at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 24, but general managers have been able to discuss anything they've wanted. That means we could see some of the players most mentioned in the rumor mill -- Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Matt Moulson, New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek, New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner among them -- start changing places.

The final eight weeks of the season also will be about the chase for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Entering the Olympic break 25 of 30 teams either were in the top eight in each conference or within five points of a playoff spot.

The hottest races could be for the wild-card spots. In the Eastern Conference the Detroit Red Wings' streak of 22 straight seasons with a playoff berth is in jeopardy. The Red Wings entered the break holding the final playoff spot with 64 points, but the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals are one point behind them, and the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils are three points back.

In the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars can end their five-season playoff drought if they can hold onto the final playoff spot, but their 64 points is the same as the Phoenix Coyotes, who lose out in a tiebreaker based on the Stars having one more regulation/overtime victory. The Vancouver Canucks are one point behind them, the Winnipeg Jets are two back and the Nashville Predators are four points out.

The races at the top of the conferences are just as interesting. The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks are tied atop the Central Division with 84 points, three behind the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference and the entire NHL. In the East, the Penguins have 83 points, five more than the Boston Bruins.


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