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The race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts tonight when the National Hockey League regular season resumes following the All-Star break. With 26 clubs within eight points of a post-season berth the season's stretch run promises plenty of excitement.

PRESIDENTS' TROPHY RACE IS WIDE OPEN

Just nine points separate the top seven clubs in the race for the 2006-07 Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the club finishing the regular season with the NHL's best record. The winner of the Presidents' Trophy is guaranteed home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Club GP W L OT Pts
Nashville 49 34 12 3 71
Buffalo 49 33 12 4 70
Anaheim 50 30 12 8 68
Detroit 49 30 14 5 65
San Jose 48 32 16 0 64
New Jersey 48 29 14 5 63
Atlanta 50 27 15 8 62

CLOSE DIVISION RACES

Northwest -- All five clubs are separated by just six points. The first-place Calgary Flames (26-17-4, 56 points) hold a slight edge over the Vancouver Canucks (27-19-2, 56 points), Minnesota Wild (25-20-4, 54 points), Colorado Avalanche (24-20-3, 51 points) and Edmonton Oilers (23-21-4, 50 points).

The Northwest is likely to feature the closest top-to-bottom division race since 1987-88, when the six Patrick Division clubs finished seven points apart (NY Islanders 88, Washington 85, Philadelphia 85, New Jersey 82, NY Rangers 82, Pittsburgh 81).

Central -- The Nashville Predators (34-12-3, 71 points) are six points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (30-14-5, 65 points).

Pacific -- The Anaheim Ducks (30-12-8, 68 points) hold a four-point lead over the San Jose Sharks (32-16-0, 64 points) and are nine points ahead of the Dallas Stars (29-18-1, 59 points).

Southeast -- The Atlanta Thrashers (27-15-8, 62 points) hold a six-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6, 56 points) and an eight-point advantage over the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-22-2, 54 points).

CLOSE CONFERENCE RACES

Twenty-six of the NHL's 30 clubs are within eight points of a playoff berth.

In the Eastern Conference, 14 of 15 clubs are within four points of a playoff berth (#8 Pittsburgh is 21-17-8 for 50 points, #14 Florida is 18-22-10 for 46 points).

In the Western Conference, #12 St. Louis (19-21-8, 46 points), trails #8 Minnesota (25-20-4, 54 points) by eight points.

KEY DATES

* The NHL trade deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 3 p.m., ET. The date is 40 days from the conclusion of the regular season, two weeks earlier than under the prior Collective Bargaining Agreement.
* The regular season concludes Sunday, April 8.
* The Stanley Cup playoffs open Wednesday, April 11.
* The latest possible date for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday, June 11.

HOT CLUBS ENTERING THE ALL-STAR BREAK

The Detroit Red Wings have the longest current home winning streak (eight games).

The Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning have the longest current road winning streak (five games).

SINCE JAN. 1:

The Vancouver Canucks have posted January's top points percentage (7-1-1, .833), followed by the Nashville Predators (8-2-0, .800), New Jersey Devils (7-1-2, .800), Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues (7-2-1, .750) and San Jose Sharks (6-2-0, .750). The Blues, under new head coach Andy Murray, have made the League's biggest turnaround, posting a League-best 12-2-2 mark since Dec. 19. The Blues were 7-19-6 and on an 11-game winless streak prior to their recent surge.

HOT PLAYERS ENTERING THE ALL-STAR BREAK

Tampa Bay Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier has the longest current point streak (10 games, 9-7--16), followed by Washington Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin (nine games, 4-11--15).

SINCE JAN. 1:

Ottawa Senators LW Dany Heatley (10-10--20 in 10 games) has posted the most points since Jan. 1, followed by Tampa Bay Lightning RW Martin St. Louis (5-13--18 in 11 games) and Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson (7-10--17 in 10 games).

Heatley and Washington Capitals LW Alexander Semin (10 goals in nine games) share the NHL goal-scoring lead for January.

Two rookies have enjoyed standout months. Pittsburgh Penguins C Evgeni Malkin ranks fourth in the NHL in points (6-10--16 in nine games), while San Jose Sharks LW Ryan Clowe is tied for third in the League in goals (nine in eight games since coming off injured reserve Jan. 4).

Goaltenders Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks (7-1-0) and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils (7-1-2) lead all goaltenders in victories, while Brodeur (1.65), San Jose's Vesa Toskala (1.67), Minnesota's Manny Fernandez (1.70) and Luongo (1.84) have recorded sub-2.00 goals-against averages.

CROSBY SHOOTS FOR HISTORY AS YOUNGEST ART ROSS TROPHY WINNER

Pittsburgh Penguins C Sidney Crosby (24-48--72) holds a six-point lead over Tampa Bay Lightning RW Martin St. Louis (30-36--66) in the race for the 2006-07 Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the League's scoring leader. Crosby, 19, took the lead in the NHL scoring race with a six-point night Dec. 13 against Philadelphia and has stayed on top since, vying to become the youngest scoring leader in League history. Wayne Gretzky captured his first scoring title in 1980-81 at 20 years, three months. Crosby is on pace for a 132-point season.

MAURICE RICHARD TROPHY RACE WIDE OPEN

There is an unprecedented five-way tie for first place in the race for the 2006-07 Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL's goal-scoring leader. Just six goals separate the League's top 15 goal-scorers.

01. Dany Heatley, Ottawa 30
02. Marian Hossa, Atlanta 30
03. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay 30
04. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay 30
05. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim 30
06. Alex Ovechkin, Washington 29
07. Alexander Semin, Washington 27
08. Jason Blake, NY Islanders 24
09. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh 24
10. Chris Drury, Buffalo 24
11. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta 24
12. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh 24
13. B. Shanahan, NY Rangers 24
14. Martin Straka, NY Rangers 24
15. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo 24


TRIBUTES FOR DRYDEN, VERNON, BUCYK, MESSIER

Four distinguished NHL stars will be honored in pre-game ceremonies. The Montreal Canadiens will raise Ken Dryden's number 29 to the Bell Centre rafters on Jan. 29, prior to their game against the Ottawa Senators. The Calgary Flames will retire Mike Vernon's number 30 on Feb. 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins will honor John Bucyk's 50 years of service to the club on Feb. 13 against the Edmonton Oilers and the Oilers will retire Mark Messier's number 11 on Feb. 27 against the Phoenix Coyotes.


UPCOMING MILESTONES

Goals

Carolina Hurricanes C Rod Brind'Amour needs five goals to reach the NHL Milestone of 400.

Pittsburgh Penguins RW Mark Recchi needs two goals to reach 500.

Dallas Stars C Mike Modano (Livonia, Mich.) needs five goals to reach 500 and seven goals to tie Joe Mullen (New York, NY) as the all-time leading goal-scorer among U.S.-born players.

Colorado Avalanche C Joe Sakic needs six goals to become the 17th player in NHL history to reach 600.

New York Rangers RW Jaromir Jagr, with 609 career goals, is one goal shy of tying Bobby Hull for 13th place on the all-time list.

Points

New York Rangers RW Jaromir Jagr needs eight points to become the 12th player in NHL history to reach 1,500.

Games Played

St. Louis Blues RW Bill Guerin needs four games to reach the NHL Milestone of 1,000. Guerin could reach the mark Feb. 2 at Detroit.

Detroit Red Wings D Chris Chelios, with 1,518 career games, is 22 shy of tying John Bucyk for ninth place on the all-time list.

Goaltending

New Jersey Devils G Martin Brodeur has posted a League-leading 29 victories this season, one shy of an NHL-record 11th consecutive 30-win campaign.

Phoenix Coyotes G Curtis Joseph, with 439 career victories, is eight shy of tying Terry Sawchuk for fourth place on the all-time list.

Detroit Red Wings G Dominik Hasek, with 349 career victories, is six shy of tying Rogie Vachon for 14th place on the all-time list.
 

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My Predictions for the Playoff Rankings

Ok here are my predictions for my top 8 teams in each division for the playoffs
_____________________________________________________________
EAST
  1. Buffalo
  2. New Jersey
  3. Atlanta
  4. Ottawa
  5. Montreal
  6. Tampa Bay
  7. Carolina
  8. Pittsburgh
WEST
  1. Nashville
  2. Anahiem
  3. Calgary
  4. Detroit
  5. Vancouver
  6. Dallas
  7. San Jose
  8. Colorado

 

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It's going to be a shell of a race to the finish.

Even ove half way into the season that it's hard to give any sort of prediction. Things are so tight, especially the East.
 
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