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Canadiens, Rangers playing for bottom spots in East

by Adam Schwartz
The battle for the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff chase is highlighted Thursday as the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens both are in action.

The Canadiens enter tonight's game at the Islanders (7 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS) eighth in the East, one point behind the seventh-place Rangers and one point ahead of the ninth-place Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Rangers visit the Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET, GCL). Carolina, winners of six straight, can vault over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and claim fourth place in the East with a victory.

In the West, the still-up-for-grabs Northwest Division will be featured when the Flames visit the Stars (8:30 p.m., GCL) and the Canucks host the Ducks (10 p.m. ET, GCL).

The Ducks need a win to keep pace with the Blues. St. Louis, which trails Anaheim and Nashville for one of the final two West playoff slots, visits Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET, GCL).

Also tonight, the Sabres host the Senators; the Sharks are in Edmonton; and the Kings visit the Coyotes.

Here are some notes to ponder:

* The Bruins have won seven of their nine games without first-line center Phil Kessel this season. Kessel, the team's only 30-goal scorer, has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury, but Boston has scored 14 goals in his absence.

* Last season the Canadiens had four 25-goal scorers and the best power play in the League at 24.1 percent. With just six games remaining this season, the Habs have no players with 25 goals and have the 18th-best power play in the League at 18.3 percent.

* Rangers center Nikolai Zherdev is just 1 assist shy of tying his career-high of 35. Zherdev has 4 goals and 6 points in his last seven games, including his 13th multiple-point game of the season.

* St. Louis right wing Brad Boyes leads the Central Division and is fifth in the League with 16 power-play goals, but he has just 1 goal in his last eight games.

* Flames defenseman Jordan Leopold has just 1 goal and a minus-3 rating in 13 games since Calgary traded for him March 4.

* Despite missing 11 games with injuries earlier in the season, San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov is just one win short of recording his second straight 40-win season. Nabokov is 7-1-1 in his last 10 games, but the Sharks' defense is doing its job, limiting opponents to fewer than 35 shots in every game during that span.

* Oilers defenseman Tom Gilbert is third among American-born defensemen in the League with 43 points, and he had his third three-assist game of the season Tuesday in Edmonton's 5-3 loss to Anaheim. The big night also snapped his six-game point drought.

* Even though Anaheim right wing Bobby Ryan has played just 59 games, he still leads the League's rookies with 26 goals and 51 points. Ryan averages the third-most ice time among Pacific Division rookie forwards at 15:14 per game, and is tied for fifth among all rookies with a plus-13.

* Canucks center Ryan Kesler has obliterated his previous career-high of 37 points with 55 this season. Kesler has 6 goals in 14 career games against the Ducks, including 3 goals in three games this season.

* Los Angeles right wing Wayne Simmonds is one of four rookies to play at least 30 games with the Kings this season. He has 18 points in 76 games, and is averaging 13:39 of ice time per game.

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