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Important matchups abound tonight

by Adam Schwartz
Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes will try to hold off Mike Green and the Capitals tonight in Washington in order to expand on their two-point lead in the Southeast Division.
With just six days left in the regular season, the NHL schedule is coming down to the wire, and Tuesday night’s nine games will have heavy playoff implications.

A trio of 7 p.m. starts features the New Jersey Devils facing the New York Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes visiting the Washington Capitals and the Atlanta Thrashers hosting the Florida Panthers. A half-hour later, the Buffalo Sabres renew their rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens battle the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators continue their playoff push in St. Louis.

Later, the Calgary Flames play the second game in their season-ending four-game road trip in Vancouver and the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks face off with the Los Angeles Kings.

Here’s what to watch:

* New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored the game-winning shootout goal Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers, has a minus-7 rating in his last nine games, but had a plus-8 rating prior to that span.

* Since Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro was sidelined with a season-ending hip injury, backup Wade Dubielewicz is 2-2-1 and has not allowed more than three goals in any game during that span, including a 51-save performance last Saturday against the Flyers.

* The Hurricanes, who can clinch the Southeast Division title with a win Tuesday, have a 4-2-1 record against the Capitals, who are just two points behind Carolina for the division lead.

* Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin, who leads the League with 62 goals, has 16 goals and 12 assists for 28 points in 23 career games against the Hurricanes, including six goals and four assists for 10 points in seven games this season.

* Florida left wing David Booth, who is third among Panthers with 21 goals, has scored just one goal in his last nine games. Booth, who averages 16:12 of ice time per game, has played at least 19 minutes in four of his last five games.

* Atlanta defenseman Garnet Exelby, who plays guitar, has the most hits in the Southeast Division with 172.

* After scoring two goals and adding six assists for eight points in his first seven games as a Sabre, Steve Bernier has no points and a minus-2 rating in his last seven games while playing at least 13 minutes in five games during that span.

* After going four games without a point, Toronto right wing Nik Antropov has four assists in his last two games, including a three-assist effort Saturday in the Maple Leafs 4-2 victory against the Canadiens.

* Montreal, which had a 9-4-1 record in March, vaulted past the Senators in the Northeast Division and are now six points ahead of the Senators and could clinch the division with a win against Ottawa on Tuesday night.

* Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber, who has replaced Ray Emery as the Senators’ starting goalie, has just one win in his last five appearances and has not given up less than three goals once during that span.

* Nashville, which is just one point behind the Canucks for the final Western Conference playoff spot, will play the Blues – No. 14 in the Western Conference – two more times and the Chicago Blackhawks – No. 11 in the conference – in their final three games of the regular season.

* St. Louis defenseman Erik Johnson, selected No. 1 overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has a minus-8 rating in his last seven games while playing at least 21 minutes in six games during that span.

* Calgary right wing Owen Nolan, who has not scored 20 goals since 2003, has not scored in his last 21 games. Nolan, who is more of a depth forward at this point in his career, has 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points in 74 games while averaging just 16:27 of ice time per game.

* The Oilers, who are two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, have scored the most goals in the Northwest Division with 231, but have also yielded the most goals in the division with 247.

* Colorado left wing Andrew Brunette, whose favorite baseball team is the Toronto Blue Jays, has 14 goals and 30 assists for 44 points and a plus-10 rating in 47 career games against Vancouver, including two goals and six assists for eight points and a plus-2 rating in seven games this season.

* The Canucks, who have a 21-12-5 record at General Motors Place, play their final three games in Vancouver.

* Los Angeles goalie Erik Ersberg, who has taken the starting job for the Kings, has one regulation loss in his last five games and faced at least 38 shots in three games during that span.

* San Jose left wing Ryane Clowe, whose father Tony has a fishing boat, had an assist Sunday in the Sharks 3-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes in his first game back after being sidelined for 67 games with a knee injury.

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