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Wild hope to make jump to playoff spot

by Adam Schwartz
In the wild bottom of the Western Conference playoff hunt, the Minnesota Wild start Tuesday on the outside looking in, but all that could change when they visit the New York Rangers tonight (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS).

The Wild trail the eighth-place Predators by just a point, and a win could vault them from 10th to eighth.

The Rangers also could use the points; a win could move them into a tie with the idle Penguins for sixth in the Eastern Conference.

The Predators have their own chance to defend their playoff spot when they host the Ducks (8 p.m. ET, GCL). The Ducks also are one point behind the Predators, so a lot can change tonight.

The seventh-place Oilers also are part of that fight for the final playoff spots, and a win tonight can bring them one point behind the sixth-place Blue Jackets. It'll be a tough task, though, as they're in Detroit (9:30 p.m. ET, TSN), who will be will be looking to climb back ahead of the Sharks for the top spot in the conference.

And the Blues, who start Tuesday two points out of a playoff spot, host the Kings, who desperately are trying to stay in playoff contention (8:30 p.m. ET, GCL).

In other games, the scuffling Canadiens try to end their five-game losing streak when they host the Thrashers (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS); the Capitals aim to jump ahead of the Devils for second in the East when they visit the Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, TSN); the Blue Jackets visit the Lightning; and the Canucks, who can tie the Blackhawks for fourth in the West, visit the Stars.

Here's what to watch:

* Washington center Brooks Laich, who is two goals short of his second 20-goal season, has 2 goals in three games against the Maple Leafs this season. Laich, who averages the third-most shorthanded ice time per game among Capitals forwards at 2:56, is one of just two Washington players to skate in all 74 games this season.

* Rangers center Chris Drury is fourth on the team with 47 points, but has just 1 goal in his last eight games. Drury, who has 13 of his 29 assists in the third period, is second on the team with 200 shots on goal.

* Ron Hainsey leads Thrashers defensemen with 35 points, has the second-worst plus-minus on the team at minus-16. Hainsey has 4 assists and 6 points in five career games against the Canadiens, including 3 assists and 5 points in three games this season.

* Blue Jackets left wing Antoine Vermette has 5 goals, 8 points and a plus-5 rating in seven games since being acquired from the Senators at the March 4 trade deadline. Vermette, who scored at least 19 goals in the three previous seasons, has just 14 in 69 games this season, but has 5 goals in his last five games.

* Anaheim, which has won four of its last five games and hasn't allowed more than three goals in any game during that span, is 28-5-3 when scoring first, but just 7-26-3 when allowing the first goal.

* Blues center Patrik Berglund is tied for third among the League's rookies with 40 points, but has just 2 points in his last nine games. Berglund averages 15:04 of ice time per game, but has played more than 15 minutes in just one of his last 14 games.

* Montreal is 8-11-3 since losing Robert Lang for the season with an Achilles' tendon injury.    

* Canucks right wing Pavol Demitra, who generally plays on a line with Ryan Kesler and Mats Sundin, has 8 assists and 9 points in his last 12 games. Demitra, who has just 18 penalty minutes in 58 games, has 20 goals and 47 points in 45 career games against the Stars.

* Edmonton defenseman Sheldon Souray, who owns a pizzeria in Montreal with Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, has 21 goals this season, making him the only defenseman in the League who owns a share of his team's goal scoring lead. Souray, who has scored 10 power-play goals, has just 2 goals and 3 points in 13 career games against Detroit.

* Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, who leads the team with 207 hits and an average ice time of 24:28 per game, needs 1 point to set a new career high with 27. Robidas, who had 11 points in 18 playoff games for Dallas last season, leads Stars defensemen this season with a plus-10 rating.

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