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Western Conference Notebook: Feb. 22

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
The 2011-12 NHL Season hits the 3/4 pole this week as the league enters the final stretch run to the regular season. Three weeks into February and the Western Conference actually appears more unsettled now than it did at the All-Star Break; Anaheim's incredible push (7-2-3 since All-Star Weekend & 15-3-4 since early January) has the Ducks just six points out of a playoff seed leaving only Edmonton and Columbus sitting more than 10 points outside of the playoffs.

Some of the Conference's playoff picture has started to take shape, though. Detroit and Vancouver are in strong position to claim the top two seeds in the Conference with the Pacific Division winner looking like the No. 3 seed. The No. 4/No. 5 match-up is shaping up to be a Central Division affair with the two teams likely coming from the Chicago-Nashville-St. Louis grouping (currently sitting in the No. 4-6 seeds in the Conference playoff race). Phoenix, the current No. 7 seed, is seven points out of fifth place in the Conference and No. 8 seed Los Angeles is 10 points out of the fifth slot.

But the races at the bottom of the playoff seeds are shaping up to go down to the wire. Already several playoff contenders are gearing up with trades in advance of Monday's NHL Trade Deadline. San Jose added forward Dominic Moore last Thursday and Nashville picked up defenseman Hal Gill the next day. Yesterday Colorado moved defenseman Kyle Quincey to Tampa Bay for forward Steve Downie; Detroit immediately responded by trading for Quincey was later in the day. Today, Phoenix joined the rush, adding forward Antoine Vermette from Columbus.

Central Division Notes:
While Detroit has an NHL-best 84 points, the St. Louis Blues have played two fewer games than the Wings and are just 5 points behind in the race for the Central Division title. If St. Louis makes a run at the Division crown it will need to do it on the road; the Blues (10-13-3 road record this season) will play 15 of their final 23 games away from St. Louis, including a 6-game road trip that opens this Thursday at Nashville and a 7-game road trip from March 11-25. By comparison, Detroit closes with 12 of its final 21 games on home ice ... Nashville has taken advantage of intra-divisional games this season, posting a 13-3-2 record against Central Divsion rivals. The 28 in-division points are second most in the NHL this season, just one point behind Vancouver's 29 Northwest Division points ... The Blackhawks have stabilized after a tough stretch around the All-Star Weekend. Chicago lost its last two games heading into the Break and then went 0-6-1 in the first seven games of its 9-game road trip coming out of the Break, however the Hawks are now on a 4-game winning streak to re-build an eight point cushion in the Western Conference playoff race ... The 9-game road marathon brought some balance back to Chicago's remaining schedule. The Hawks close the season with 10 home games and 11 road games.

Northwest Division Notes:
The division is home to three of the NHL's top-5 rookie scorers this season. Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is second among NHL rookies (and tops among Western Conference rookies) with 35 points, followed by Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog at 33 points and Vancouver's Cody Hodgson at 32 points. Landeskog and Hodgson are tied for second in the NHL in rookie goals (15), with Nugent-Hopkins one goal behind (14) ... Vancouver owns a 17 points lead in the Northwest Division race, the largest current lead of any division leader in the NHL. The next largest division lead is seven points (NY Rangers in the Atlantic Division) ... Vancouver leads the NHL with 14 in-division wins and 29 in-division points (14-3-1 vs. Northwest Division opponents). The Flames are tied for second in the NHL with 13 in-division wins (13-4-0) ... After Vancouver, no other division teams are in within the Conference playoff picture. Calgary is No. 9 in the Conference, followed by Colorado (No. 11), Minnesota (No. 12), and Edmonton (No. 14) ... The Flames have a favorable remaining schedule with 14 home games and just 8 road games to close out the season. Further, 12 of their remaining 22 games come against teams currently outside of a playoff seed, including 9 of their final 11 games ... Minnesota is 2-6-2 over its last 10 games, the fewest wins and fewest points (6) in the NHL over that stretch. Colorado has also struggled over its last 10 games with a 3-5-2 mark.

Pacific Division Notes:
9 points seperates first to last place in the Pacific Division, with a mere 3 point difference between the top-3 teams ... The Division title may well come down to intra-divisional games. San Jose has a whopping 11 games left inside the division, including their final 6 games of the regular season. Anaheim has 6 more divisional games on its schedule, while Dallas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix all have 5 more divisional games ... The Phoenix Coyotes are the hottest team in the NHL right now with an 8-1-1 mark over their last 10 games to jump into the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and a tie with the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division lead (San Jose still holds the No. 3 seed by virtue of 2 games in-hand against Phoenix) ... The LA Kings have allowed the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference (131), but have scored the fewest goals in the conference (128).

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