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NHL races close as ever with clock ticking toward trade deadline

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Season hits three-quarter pole with 25 of 30 clubs within seven points of playoff berth

NEW YORK -- With four days remaining until the NHL trade deadline Tuesday at 3 p.m., ET, League-wide competition is as tight as ever. The 2007-08 regular season passed the three-quarter pole Thursday with 25 clubs within seven points of a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, four clubs more than last season at this stage. At the three-quarter mark of the 2003-04 season, just 19 clubs were in such contention.

In addition, 17 clubs are within seven points of a division lead and five of six division leaders are in front by four points or fewer.

Division titles up for grabs

Only the League-leading Detroit Red Wings (42-15-5, 89 points), who have built a 17-point gap atop the Central Division, own a comfortable division lead.

Northeast Division:
The Ottawa Senators (35-20-6, 76 points) are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens (33-20-9, 75 points).

Atlantic Division: The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins have identical 35-21-5 records for 75 points; the Devils currently hold the tiebreaker, based on a superior head-to-head record.

Southeast Division: The Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-5, 67 points) are four, five and six points, respectively, in front of the Washington Capitals (28-26-7), Atlanta Thrashers (29-29-4) and Florida Panthers (27-29-7), although each of the clubs in pursuit holds games in hand.

Northwest Division: The Minnesota Wild (34-22-5, 73 points) are three points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames (both 31-22-8) and seven in front of the Colorado Avalanche (30-25-6).

Pacific Division: The Dallas Stars (37-22-5, 79 points) hold a four-point edge over the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks (34-23-7) and are seven points ahead of the San Jose Sharks (32-21-8).

Top seed in Eastern Conference up for grabs

The four leading clubs in competition for the top seed in the Eastern Conference are separated by one point. The Ottawa Senators have 76 points, followed by the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens with 75. The Penguins rallied for an exciting 5-4 victory over the Canadiens last night, sparked by the one-goal, two-assist performance from NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.

Conference Standings (through games of Thursday, Feb. 21)

Eastern Conference

Club GP W L
OT GF GA Pts
Ottawa     61 35 20 6 206 180 76
New Jersey   61  35 21 5 164 145 75
Carolina 64  31 28 5 188 204 67
Pittsburgh 61 35 21 5 182 165 75
Montreal 62 33 20 9 196 177 75
Boston 60 31 23 6 160 164 68
Buffalo 61 30 23 8 182 170 68
NY Rangers 62 30 24 8 157 155 68
NY Islanders 62 30 25 7 154 176 67
Philadelphia 61 30 25 6 187 177 66
Washington 61 28 26 7 173 188 63
Atlanta 62 29 29 4 168 200 62
Florida 63 27 29 7 173 183 61
Toronto 62 25 28 9 169 199 57 
Tampa Bay 61 25 29 7 174 198 57

Western Conference

Club GP W L OT GF GA Pts
Detroit 62 42 15 5 199 136 89
Dallas 64 37 22 5 185 158 79
Minnesota 61 34 22 5 169 166 73
Anaheim 64 34 23 7 159 159 75
San Jose 61 32 21 8 159 150 72
Nashville 63 32 23 8 183 175 72
Vancouver 61 31 22 8 163 156 70
Calgary 61 31 22 8 177 177 70
Phoenix 61 31 26 4 169 168 66
Colorado 61 30 25 6 167 169 66
St. Louis 60 28 23 9 158 169 65
Columbus 63 28 26 9 153 166 65
Chicago 60 28 26 6 169 169 62
Edmonton 61 27 29 5 164 183 59
Los Angeles 63 26 34 3 181 206 55

Division title vs. missing playoffs

The position of the Northwest Division rivals Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames entering the season's final quarter typifies the exciting races. The Canucks and Flames, seeded seventh and eighth in the Western Conference with 31-22-8 records for 70 points, are three points behind the division-leading Minnesota Wild, yet at the same time are only four points ahead of the #9 Phoenix Coyotes and #10 Colorado Avalanche, and five points clear of the #11 St. Louis Blues and #12 Columbus Blue Jackets.


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