-- Eleven days left. Eleven playoff berths still up for grabs. That's a remarkable and appropriate way to conclude a 2008-09 National Hockey League regular season that has entertained relentlessly since the first face-offs Oct. 4 in Prague and Stockholm.
The furious finish continues tonight, featuring seven matches with playoff implications. In the West, Vancouver hosts Anaheim in a matchup of red-hot clubs while St. Louis -- attempting to complete a stunning second-half surge -- is at Detroit. In the East, the Rangers visit Carolina; neither team is assured of making the playoffs though each remains in the hunt for first-round, home-ice advantage.
During each of the 10 days and nights that will follow, hopes will soar or plummet and seedings will scramble repeatedly. It may take until April 12, the 186th and final day of play, for the matchups to be finalized. Awaiting the survivors: The incomparable quest for the most revered trophy in all of sports -- the Stanley Cup.
What's Coming Up
Mad Scramble for Playoff Berths:
The six clubs ranked fourth through ninth in the Eastern Conference standings are separated by just five points, while the five clubs ranked seventh through 11th in the Western Conference standings are separated by just three points.
Presidents' Trophy Race:
The three top clubs vying for the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion are separated by four points. The San Jose Sharks
, who already have set a franchise record for points in a season, lead with 111; the Boston Bruins
, vying for their first Presidents' Trophy since 1990, have 108; and the Detroit Red Wings
, six-time winners of the Presidents' Trophy, are one back at 107.
Eighth Art Ross Trophy winner in the past eight seasons?: Pittsburgh Penguins
C Evgeni Malkin
is vying to become the eighth player in the past eight seasons to capture the Art Ross
Trophy as the NHL points leader. Malkin would join Jaromir Jagr
in 2001, Jarome Iginla
in 2002, Peter Forsberg
in 2003, Martin St. Louis
in 2004, Joe Thornton
in 2006, Sidney Crosby
in 2007 and Alex Ovechkin
in 2008. Malkin recorded his League-leading 108th point in Wednesday's 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils
and holds a seven-point lead over Ovechkin.
Back-to-Back Maurice Richard Trophies for Ovechkin?: Washington Capitals
LW Alex Ovechkin
is on track to become the first NHL goal-scoring leader in consecutive seasons since Pavel Bure
in 2000 and 2001. Ovechkin tallied his 54th goal in Wednesday's victory over the New York Islanders
, increasing his lead over New Jersey's Zach Parise
William Jennings Trophy: Tim Thomas
and Manny Fernandez
of the Boston Bruins
are the goaltenders on the club allowing the fewest regular-season goals. The Bruins have surrendered 180 through 76 games, eight fewer than the second-place San Jose Sharks
After setting the NHL's all-time wins record Mar. 17, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur
is within reach of matching Terry Sawchuk
's NHL-record 103 career shutouts. Brodeur has 101 with five games remaining in the Devils' schedule.
Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff
leads all goaltenders with 43 victories and is within five of Martin Brodeur
's single-season NHL record of 48 set in 2006-07. The Flames have six games left.
The Boston Bruins
are on pace to record 116 points, which would be their highest since posting 119 in 1971-72.
The Chicago Blackhawks
are on pace to post their highest point total since 1992-93 (106) and are one point from clinching their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2001-02. The Blackhawks, who have sold out each home game this season, also are on track to set an NHL single-season attendance record.
The Columbus Blue Jackets
broke the franchise record for points in a season Mar. 21 at Florida and are six points from clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Detroit Red Wings
are in quest of their fifth Presidents' Trophy in the past seven seasons and seventh overall - no other NHL club has captured the award more than twice.
The Florida Panthers
are one point out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference in pursuit of their first playoff berth since 1999-2000. They are on pace to record 92 points, which would equal the second-highest total in franchise history and the most since their 98-point campaign in 1999-2000.
The San Jose Sharks
have posted franchise-record point totals for three consecutive seasons; they had 107 in 2006-07, 108 in 2007-08 and are at 111 and counting in 2008-09.
The Washington Capitals
passed the century mark in points for the first time since 1999-2000 with Wednesday's 5-3 victory over the New York Islanders
. The Capitals are on pace to challenge their record 107-point season in 1985-86.
What A Season: A Look Back
The extraordinarily close races throughout the League have brought playoff-like intensity to the regular season. "We've been saying around here, 'You play 82 playoff games just to get into the playoffs,'" Columbus Blue Jackets
head coach Ken Hitchcock said earlier this week.
Overall goal-scoring is up 4% over 2007-08 and even-strength goals are up 4.5%. The increased offense has not come at the expense of five-on-five hockey. There have been 2.5% fewer power-play advantages than through the corresponding number of games in 2007-08 and steeper drops of 14% over 2006-07 and 29% over 2005-06.
The season kicked off with the first NHL regular season games ever held in continental Europe, as fans packed arenas in Prague and Stockholm to see games over the Oct. 4-5 weekend. The combination of iconic Wrigley Field, longtime 'Original Six' rivals Chicago Blackhawks
and Detroit Red Wings
and perfect New Year's Day weather made the 2009 Winter Classic a hit with the critics and television viewers. The Montreal Canadiens
, celebrating their centennial, and the city of Montreal proved perfect hosts for the NHL All-Star Celebration in late January.
Devils' Brodeur Inspires By Overcoming Adversity, Making History
New Jersey Devils
goaltender Martin Brodeur
established one of the NHL's most celebrated records by posting his 552nd career regular-season victory, more than any goaltender in League history, with a 3-2 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks
at Prudential Center on Mar.17. Brodeur had returned to action Feb. 26 after being out since Nov. 1 with a torn bicep tendon that required surgery. He recorded eight victories in his first nine starts -- including two shutouts -- to pass Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy
, who recorded 551 wins with the Montreal Canadiens
and Colorado Avalanche
from 1984-85 through 2002-03.
Capitals' Ovechkin Hits 50 Yet Again
became the Washington Capitals
' first three-time 50-goal scorer in a 5-2 victory at Tampa Bay Mar. 19. Ovechkin joined Anaheim's Teemu Selanne
as the only active NHL player with three 50-goal seasons and became the third player all-time to post three 50-goal seasons in his first four years in the NHL, matching the feat of Mike Bossy
and Wayne Gretzky
Capitals' Green Sets Goal-Scoring Marks For Defensemen
of the Washington Capitals
set an NHL record for defensemen by scoring a goal in eight consecutive games from Jan. 27 to Feb. 14. Green broke Mike O'Connell's 25-year-old League record with a power-play goal 5:33 into the second period of a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning
Feb. 14. Green had tied O'Connell's record -- set with Boston during the 1983-84 season -- by scoring twice during the second period of a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers
on Feb. 11. In addition, Green tallied his 30th goal of the season Apr. 1 against the New York Islanders
, becoming the first NHL defenseman to score 30 goals in a season since another Capital, Kevin Hatcher
, had 34 in 1992-93.
Rangers' Lundqvist Posts Unprecedented 30-Win Streak
of the New York Rangers
became the first goaltender in NHL history to record at least 30 victories in each of his first four seasons with a 4-2 victory at Nashville Mar. 12. Lundqvist also became the first Rangers goaltender to do so in any four-year period.
Bruins' Chara Blasts Way Into Record Book
defenseman Zdeno Chara
blasted a 105.4-mph slap shot to win the Cisco NHL Hardest Shot title for the third straight year at the Honda/NHL SuperSkills in Montreal. Chara broke the All-Star record of 105.2 mph set by Al Iafrate in 1993 in the Montreal Forum.
Red Wings' Chelios Continues Climb Up All-Time Games List
Detroit Red Wings
defenseman Chris Chelios
appeared in his 1,640th career game Mar. 29 against Nashville, passing Dave Andreychuk
(1,639) into fourth place on the all-time games played list. The only players with more career regular-season appearances than Chelios are Gordie Howe
(1,767), Mark Messier
(1,756) and Ron Francis
Hurricanes' Stars Set NHL Season Highs
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward
stopped 57 shots -- the most by a goaltender in the NHL this season -- in a 4-3 victory over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on October 25. Hurricanes center Eric Staal
set a career high, tied a franchise record and recorded the League's highest single-game point total this season with six points (four goals, two assists) in a 9-3 victory over Tampa Bay Mar. 7.