The stretch drive is officially upon us.
Sunday night, the schedule will trickle down to just 100 games remaining. In fact, after the Blues and Coyotes finish their dust-up in the desert, which has all kinds Of implications on the Western standings, their will be just a dozen days and 97 games remaining in what has been an unforgettable 2011-12 season.
If teams are going to make moves in the standings -- and their are plenty of moves that can be made -- the time is now as time is running short.
Sunday, six of the seven games feature teams looking to make some sort of playoff statement, which means it will be an interesting 10 hour stretch of hockey as the night plays out for interested fans and teams across North America.Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
-- Out West, it is the Central Division that dominates the standings and two of its teams butt heads Sunday night in a nationally televised game (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). The Predators, fresh off a 3-1 win against Winnipeg that dealt the Jets a serious blow to their playoff hopes, travel to the Windy City to face a Chicago team that is just two points behind them in the battle for fifth place. Nashville is just one point behind fourth-place Detroit, which is also in the Central. For Chicago, it has won five straight games and it has been all about Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa. Crawford has won five straight with a 1.05 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage during that span. Hossa meanwhile, has two goals and 10 points during a seven-game scoring run. If Nashville wins, it will be Barry Trotz's 499th win with the Predators.Minnesota Wild at Washington Capitals
-- The Buffalo Sabres have turned up the pressure on the Capitals, passing Washington with Saturday's victory against this same Wild team. Now, if the Capitals want to reclaim eighth place, they must beat a tired Wild team that is playing its second game in as many nights. The Capitals hopes of moving up to seventh place will take a serious hit with a loss Sunday night after Ottawa's impressive win against Pittsburgh Saturday. Washington, which has won just once in its past five games and blew a 3-0 lead in a loss to Winnipeg Friday night, is a dominating 23-10-4 at home. Also, Alex Ovechkin is getting hot at the right time and has six goals during a four-game scoring streak and eight goals in his past six games as he makes a late, desperate charge at another 40-goal season.New York Islanders at Florida Panthers
-- The fading hopes of the Panthers catching Boston for second place in the East took a bit of a hit Saturday night when the Bruins won in Los Angeles to open up a three-point lead, but Florida will try to keep the pressure on with another home win against an Islander team that played -- and lost -- Saturday night and is fighting with Montreal to stay out of the Eastern Conference basement. The Panthers must also keep Washington, just four pOints behind, at bay to maintain the Southeast Division lead. This is the third of six straight games against teams outside the playoff picture for the Panthers, who are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins
-- The Atlantic Division continues to cannibalize itself as these two powers go head to head. Without the automatic seeding for divisional winners used in the NHL, the Atlantic Division would boast the top four teams in the East. Instead, the Penguins, who have 98 points and have already clinched a playoff spot, sit in fourth -- three points behind the first-place Rangers and two ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. This is Pittsburgh's game in hand on both those teams. New Jersey, meanwhile, is in sixth -- six points behind Flyers and four in front of Ottawa, which has played one more game. New Jersey is slated to get Travis Zajac back in the lineup. Zajac has missed most of the season after undergoing surgery for an Achilles' injury. Pittsburgh played Saturday night and lost to Ottawa, but Sidney Crosby scored a goal for the first time since making his own comeback two weeks ago.Boston Bruins at Anaheim Ducks
-- There is no rest for the Bruins, who wrap a Western swing by playing for a third time in four days and just 20 hours after recording a huge 4-2 victory against the Kings. Unfortunately, the game means little to the Ducks, who saw their spirited run to make the playoffs fall short with a cooling off period this month. For Boston, though, the game means everything, as Ottawa and Florida continue to apply pressure on Boston's grip on the No. 2 spot. In the Northeast Division, Ottawa is just three points Behind, but has played two more games. Florida, the Southeast Division leader, is just one point behind and also plays Sunday night. The Bruins are 7-4-0 in the second game of back-to-back scenarios this season.St. Louis Blues at Phoenix Coyotes
-- Every night, the Western Conference standings are thrown into a jumble and that will be the case again Sunday. St. Louis, after a couple of days off, rejoins the fray and just in time as its lead in the West and for the Presidents' Trophy has become quite imperiled. The Rangers actually took hold of the League's top spot with Saturday night's win, but the Blues can reclaim it with a victory or a non-regulation loss. With Vancouver's OT win Saturday night against Colorado, the Canucks are just two points behind the Blues. The Coyotes, meanwhile, earned a point Saturday night in a shootout loss to the Sharks, but their seventh-place positioning is tenuous at best as three teams are bunched just a point behind. With that said, the Coyotes could still jump all the way to third with a win of any kind as they would pass Dallas for the Pacific Division lead. The Blues will be happy to go home after this game, the conclusion of a seven-game road trip. St. Louis has won just once in its past five games.
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Managing Editor