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Season's final weekend will be a busy one

by Adam Schwartz

Can Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes lock up the Southeast Division title? They'll have to defeat Olli Jokinen and the Florida Panthers tonight in Raleigh to do it.
The NHL's final weekend kicks off Friday night with six divisional matchups that will effect playoff positioning.

The night starts at 7 p.m. when the New York Islanders play the New York Rangers in the second half of a back-to-back set, the New Jersey Devils look to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they visit the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Carolina Hurricanes try to clinch the Southeast Division title when they host the Florida Panthers.

Later, the Ottawa Senators look to nail down a playoff spot when they face the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks battle the Nashville Predators and the Phoenix Coyotes take on the Dallas Stars.

Here's what to keep an eye out for:

* Islanders goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who was handed the starting job when Rick DiPietro was sidelined with a hip injury, has lost his last three decisions, but has allowed no more than three goals in any of those games while facing an average of 39.3 shots per game.

* Rangers defenseman Marc Staal leads Atlantic Division rookies who have played at least 60 games with an average of 18:43 of ice time per game.

* After playing more than 12 minutes just twice in 15 games with the San Jose Sharks, defenseman Rob Davison was traded to the Islanders, where he has played fewer than 15 minutes in just two of 18 games.

* With a win Friday night, the Rangers would finish no worse than fifth in the Eastern Conference, which would guarantee a playoff match up against the Devils, who have not beaten the Rangers in seven games this season.

* New Jersey right wing Dainius Zubrus, who is playing on a line with David Clarkson and Mike Rupp, has four goals and one assist for five points and a plus-5 rating in seven games against the Flyers this season.

* Philadelphia center Jim Dowd, a native of Brick, N.J., has two of his five goals this season against the Devils. Dowd helped the Devils win their first Stanley Cup in 1995.

* Florida defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who has a career minus-41 rating, leads the team with a plus-19 rating. Cullimore, who averages 17:58 of ice time per game, is fourth on the team with 65 blocked shots.

* Senators right wing Dany Heatley, who has 10 multi-goal games this season, scored twice Thursday in Ottawa's 8-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Heatley, who leads the Northeast Division with 41 goals, has 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points in 32 career games against the Bruins, including four goals and three assists for seven points in six games this season. 

* Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican, who played for the United States in the 2006 Olympics, has a career-high plus-18 rating this season. Hedican, selected No. 198 in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, is second on the team with 107 blocked shots.

* The Bruins can finish the regular season as high as fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but currently are just one point ahead of the ninth-place Flyers. Boston, which has allowed eight more goals than they have scored, has the No. 27 penalty kill in the League.

* The Predators clinched a playoff spot for the fourth straight season Thursday night, but they are one of three teams – the Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers are the others – to never have won a playoff series.

* After totaling 18 points in 43 games with the Hurricanes, left wing Andrew Ladd has five goals and seven assists for 12 points in 18 games with the Blackhawks. Ladd, selected No. 4 overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, has a career-high plus-14 rating this season.

* Phoenix center Peter Mueller, who is second among NHL rookies with 22 goals, has scored just once in his last 11 games. Mueller leads the team with 93 missed shots, and is second with an average of 4:01 of power-play ice time.

* Dallas left wing Niklas Hagman, who is second in the League among Finnish-born players with 27 goals, has a career-high 39 points this season – 10 more than his previous high. Hagman has scored two goals in his last three games after suffering a season-high nine-game goal drought.

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