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West's best collide in Detroit

by Adam Schwartz
Mike Ribeiro leads the Dallas Stars into Detroit to take on Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has won two of three meetings.
Thursday's eight NHL games are full of playoff implications.

Four early games see the Tampa Bay Lightning playing the Boston Bruins, the Calgary Flames visiting Atlanta, the Ottawa Senators battling the Montreal Canadiens in a Northeast Division showdown, and the Dallas Stars visiting Detroit.

Later, the Nashville Predators host the Los Angeles Kings, the New Jersey Devils play the middle game of a three-game road trip in Minnesota, the Edmonton Oilers square off against the Colorado Avalanche, and the Vancouver Canucks travel to Phoenix.

Here's what to watch:

* Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith has lost five of his six starts since being traded to the Lightning. He's allowed at least three goals four times during that span despite facing more than 30 shots just once.

* Despite playing against the opposition's best offensive talents, Boston left wing P.J. Axelsson has the best plus-minus rating among Bruins forwards at plus-10. Axelsson, who averages the second-highest shorthanded ice time among Bruins at 3:24 per game, leads the team's forwards with 31 blocked shots.  

* Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr, whose plus-11 is the second-highest among Flames defensemen, has played at least 20 minutes in 10 of his last 11 games.

* Atlanta defenseman Garnet Exelby is tied for the most hits among Southeast Division defensemen with 147.

* Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson hasn't played since leaving a game March 3 with a sore back. After losing their first two games without him, the Senators rebounded Saturday and defeated the Coyotes, 4-2, and were victorious Tuesday against the Bruins, 4-1.

* The Canadiens, who have the best power-play in the League with a 24.7-percent success rate, are tied with the Senators for most goals in the NHL with 227. The Habs, who are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with 87 points, held sole possession of first place this late in a season for the first time since their last Stanley Cup-winning season of 1992-93.

* The Stars have lost three of their last four games and have slipped to second place in the Pacific Division behind the red-hot San Jose Sharks, who have won their last 10 games.

* Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios, who is the oldest player in the NHL at 46, has nine goals and 48 assists for 57 points and a plus-30 rating in 94 career games against the Stars.

* Nashville right wing Alexander Radulov, who is third on the Predators with 53 points, has just one assist in his last five games and has not scored a goal in his last eight games.
* The Kings, who are in last place in the League with 60 points, have allowed the second-most goals in the NHL, 234.  

* New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador has played at least 20 minutes in all six games since being traded to the Devils for enforcer Cam Janssen on Feb. 26. Salvador, who has just 24 giveaways, leads the team with 101 blocked shots.

* Minnesota, which has lost its last four games, has dropped to third place in the Northwest Division. They are just one point out of first place, but also just one point ahead of the fourth-place Canucks. The Wild have scored just 10 goals in their last five games and are just three points ahead of the ninth-place Nashville Predators in the Western Conference playoff race.

* Edmonton center Andrew Cogliano, who is tied for third among League rookies with 16 goals, is one of just two rookies – San Jose's Torrey Mitchell is the other – to score two shorthanded goals.

* Colorado right wing Andrew Brunette, who is tied for the team lead with seven power-play goals, has five goals and four assists for nine points and a plus-4 rating in his last seven games. He's one point shy of his sixth 50-point season.

* Canucks right wing Matt Pettinger, selected No. 43 overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals, has scored just one goal in eight games since being traded to Vancouver, but  it was a game-winning goal March 6 in Vancouver's 6-2 victory against the Predators.

* Coyotes defenseman Keith Ballard, whose favorite player growing up was Neal Broten, leads the Pacific Division with 141 blocked shots. Ballard, who leads the team with an average of 3:32 of shorthanded ice time per game, has played at least 20 minutes in five of his last six games.     

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