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Post-deadline playoff sprint gets under way

by Adam Schwartz

Jonathan Cheechoo and the San Jose Sharks square off against Duvie Westcott, Pascal Leclaire and the Columbus
Blue Jackets in a Western Conference matchup tonight.
After Tuesday’s frantic trade deadline, the NHL’s focus will return to the rinks Wednesday night when 12 teams take the ice.

Four early games feature the Nashville Predators playing the Buffalo Sabres, the Columbus Blue Jackets hosting the San Jose Sharks, the Minnesota Wild visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs battling the Florida Panthers.

Later, the Phoenix Coyotes travel to Chicago to play the Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche face the Vancouver Canucks in a Northwest Division battle.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* Nashville rookie goalie Dan Ellis, who has played 16 fewer games than his counterpart Chris Mason, has just two fewer wins than Mason. Ellis also has a lower goals-against average (2.43) and a higher save percentage (.917) than Mason.

* San Jose left wing Milan Michalek, who is the Sharks’ only 20-goal scorer, had a seven-game point-scoring streak come to an end Sunday in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Michalek, whose plus-10 rating is the highest among Sharks forwards, speaks Czech, Slovak and English.

* The Sabres, who are tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 69 points, have a 16-10-4 record at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, but are 14-14-5 away from home.


* Predators captain Jason Arnott, who has four goals and seven assists for 11 points in his last eight games, leads the team in assists (37), points (59) and plus-minus rating (plus-21). Arnott, who scored the double-overtime game-winning goal for the Devils in the 2000 Stanley Cup Final, has scored at least 20 goals in nine consecutive seasons.

* After scoring four goals in his first 19 games of the season, Buffalo right wing Thomas Vanek has scored 22 goals since, and leads the team with 26.

* After losing the first three games of their current eight-game road trip, the Sharks have rebounded with victories against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Penguins. San Jose has finished the Eastern Conference part of its trip; the remaining three games include stops in Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis.

* Columbus defenseman Ron Hainsey, whose first car was a Mazda Navajo, has seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points – the most among Blue Jackets defensemen.

* Blue Jackets left wing Fredrik Modin, who has played just 17 games this season, has three goals and two assists for five points in six games since returning from a hamstring injury.


* Minnesota right wing Brian Rolston, who has scored at least 30 goals in his previous two seasons, has just one goal in his last seven games. Rolston, who was selected No. 11 overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, is second on the team with 23 goals.

* Despite losing their last four games, the Wild are just two points behind the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Northwest Division. The third-place Canucks, however, are just one point behind Minnesota with a game in hand.

* Three of the NHL’s five teams to have yielded more than 200 goals hail from the Southeast Division. The Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers have given up 208 goals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed 203 goals.

* Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich, who is a partner in Lock-Out Entertainment, a band promotion and management company, has the most hits among Southeast Division defensemen, with 147.

* The Maple Leafs, who are just one of five teams who have given up less than three four-on-four goals, is just 2-20-1 when trailing after two periods.


* Florida right wing Nathan Horton, who is one assist shy of matching his career-high of 31, is tied for the team lead with a plus-13 rating and has the second-highest average ice time among Panthers forwards at 18:30 per game.

* Coyotes defenseman Keith Ballard, whose favorite movie is Goodfellas, averages the most shorthanded ice time for Phoenix, at 3:32 per game.

* The Avalanche, who Friday signed star forward Peter Forsberg, have scored 175 goals, the second-most in the Northwest Division.

* The Canucks have won their last four games and have gotten at least a point in their last six. Vancouver, which is 17-11-3 at GM Place, is in the midst of a three-game homestand.

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