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The race is on!

by Paul Kukla
It has started. NHL fans, players, coaches and general managers are starting to talk about games played, games in-hand, road games left and home games they should win. The race is on and we still have 35-37 games to play!
The intensity is increasing as teams continue to either battle for a high playoff seeding or fight for the final spots in the round of 16.  Most teams are involved in these races, a few teams are thinking next year.
Whatever the case, the next 12 or so weeks will bring us the most exciting hockey of the season.  Every shift counts, mistakes will be magnified and coaching decisions will be second-guessed.
Once the puck drops after the All-Star break, players with injuries will start playing hurt, determination and grit takes over and the team that wants it more will become daily headlines. 
Many teams gather their executive staff and scouting department in late January and discuss the buyer or seller route for the trade deadline. Trade chatter will become prominent and we will start checking our online hockey sources for trades that are about to be made. Stars will be moved, lesser known players too and that type of trade may have a bigger impact than most of us think it will.  Depth is key come playoff time and tinkering with the third or fourth line or the fourth or fifth defenseman will give teams in the playoffs a better chance to play on.
Sure we have the "favorites" to win the Stanley Cup, in the Western Conference San Jose, Detroit and some say Calgary are looking at a long playoff run. In the Eastern Conference, take your pick- Boston, Montreal, Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the New York Rangers all have a shot at playing into June.
Of course, we have two or three teams that want to "shock the hockey world" by coming out of nowhere and get on a roll come mid-April. Can it happen, sure it can, history proves that but as far as naming the teams, your guess is as good as mine.
As a hockey fan, this is our time, the time to watch as many games as possible, keeping an eye out for teams we are competing against in the playoff race. So-and-so team lost last night, tonight we can overtake them and be in the playoffs, at least for the next 24 hours. Then it starts all over again, all the way to the end of the regular season on April 12th.
I for one will be glued to my TV on a nightly basis. There is nothing more exciting than a good playoff race and as hockey fans, we should prepare for the action that is about to begin.  Check your team's schedule, start making your viewing plans because you certainly do not want to miss the game that could determine a playoff position. 
Top 5
Now it is your turn. Lately I have read and heard about 40 players being mentioned as a "Top 5" player. Too many for my liking so let's try to settle this.
Who do you consider to be in the Top 5?  Now be fair, make sure you are not including your favorite player just to see his name in print. So, what I want from you is this -- Top 5 forwards, Top 5 defensemen and Top 5 goaltenders.  Either leave your response in the comments below and/or participate here too.

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