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East, West in tight race for head-to-head supremacy

by John Kreiser
The Western Conference has beaten up on the East in interconference matchups since the current setup was established in 2005-06. But after a slow start this season, the East has a chance to come out on top for the first time since the adoption of the shootout and the elimination of ties seven years ago.

With 255 of the 270 interconference games in the books, Western Conference teams have won 128 times (128-87-40, 502 winning percentage) to 127 (127-94-34, .498 winning percentage) for the East. It's the closest the East has been to the break-even point under the current rules -- the West has never had a winning percentage of less than .522 in the first six seasons under the current rules. San Jose's 2-1 win against Boston on Thursday kept the East from going ahead.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been especially good against the West -- Thursday's 5-1 victory against Nashville gave the Penguins a 13-2-3 mark against the opposite conference. Should the Pens and St. Louis Blues meet in the Stanley Cup Final, the battle would be especially interesting; the Blues' 14-2-2 mark against the East is the best by any team against the other conference.


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Colorado (13-4-1), Chicago (12-3-2) and San Jose (11-5-1) have also excelled against the East. Philadelphia (11-5-2) and Buffalo (10-6-1) are the only other Eastern teams to reach double figures in wins against the West.

The biggest loser in interconference play has been Columbus, whose 3-9-3 mark is the worst of any team in either conference -- and a huge drop from the Jackets' 11-4-3 record against the East last season.

Get one -- One noticeable trend in interconference play is the rising number of games that go past regulation, assuring that each team goes home with at least a point.

Through Thursday's games, 74 of this season's 255 interconference games (29.0 percent) have been decided in overtime or a shootout. That's a markedly higher percentage than intraconference games, in which 192 of 854 (22.5 percent) have gone past regulation. The 74 games that have gone past regulation are one short of the total for all of last season.

The trend of interconference games going past regulation has been growing since 2008-09, when the NHL adopted the current scheduling format with each team playing 18 out-of-conference games. While the overall percentage of overtime games has remained between 22.9 percent and 24.5 percent in the past four seasons, the percentage of interconference games going beyond regulation has grown from 20.0 percent in 2008-09 to 24.1 and 27.8 percent in the next two seasons and is approaching 30 percent this season.

Big, bad Bruins -- The Boston Bruins won't lead the NHL in victories this season, but they're a runaway leader in really big wins.

No team other than the Bruins has won a game by more than seven goals this season. The Bruins have three such wins -- a 9-0 victory against Calgary on Jan. 5 as well as 8-0 wins against Florida on Dec. 22 and against Toronto on Monday.

The Bruins also own one of the two 7-0 victories in the NHL this season -- they routed Toronto 7-0 on Nov. 5 -- and two of the eight 6-0 wins.

A night to forget -- To say the Bruins have owned the Leafs this season would be putting it mildly. Boston swept the six-game season series and outscored Toronto 36-10, scoring at least four goals in every game, including the 8-0 and 7-0 shutouts. It was the Bruins' first sweep of the Leafs since 1992-93, when they won all three games between the teams.

How bad was the 8-0 loss for the Leafs? They became the first team in more than a year to give up eight or more goals on 24 or fewer shots; the last one was also a Randy Carlyle-coached team -- the Anaheim Ducks allowed nine goals on only 23 shots against St. Louis last Feb. 19. Toronto trailed 6-0 after just 26 minutes of play, the biggest deficit the Leafs have faced at that point in a game since Jan. 25, 1988, against Calgary, a game the Flames won 11-3.

All but three Leafs had minus ratings against Boston on Monday -- including ex-Bruin Phil Kessel, who continues to struggle against his former team. Kessel was minus-2 on Monday, and in 18 games since being traded from Boston to Toronto before the start of the 2009-10 season, he has 3 goals, 9 points and is minus-18. In contrast, Kessel has 13 goals in 17 games against Ottawa in three seasons with the Leafs.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 31-14-7
GAA: 2.45 | SVP: 0.911
Firing blanks -- For the first time since the shootout was adopted in 2005, no games before the All-Star break went through 65 minutes without a goal.

However, since the start of February, goaltenders have been making up for lost time.

Los Angeles' 1-0 shootout win against St. Louis on Thursday was the fifth game in the last 51 days in which neither team scored during regulation and overtime. Three of them have come in a 12-day span since March 10 -- March is already the first month ever with as many as three 0-0 games that went to the tiebreaker.

In all, 28 games have been scoreless through 65 minutes since the adoption of the shootout. Home teams have won 12 (including wins by New Jersey and the Kings in the past week), while visiting teams have won 16. Phoenix has the best record (3-0); Ilya Bryzgalov, who won all three of those games with Phoenix, has split two with Philadelphia this season and leads all goalies with five such games and four victories.

Crazy eights -- There must be something about playing in Pennsylvania that brings out the worst in the Winnipeg Jets' defense.

The Jets played four games in Pennsylvania this season and allowed eight goals in three of them -- no mean achievement when you consider that there have been only six other games this season in which a team surrendered eight goals. The Jets actually won one of them -- they beat the Flyers 9-8 in Philadelphia in late October -- but were routed 8-5 in February and 8-4 on Tuesday in their two visits to Pittsburgh. (They did win a 2-1 game in their other trip to Philadelphia.)

Entering Friday's game at Washington, the Jets have allowed 121 goals in 35 road games -- 24 in the three eight-goal affairs in Pennsylvania and 97 in the other 32.

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