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Calgary Flames' Tim Jackman (L) and Edmonton Oilers' Steve MacIntyre tangle during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (DAN RIEDLHUBER)
Calgary Flames' Tim Jackman (L) and Edmonton Oilers' Steve MacIntyre tangle during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (DAN RIEDLHUBER)

The Look Ahead

Crunch time in the NHL Add to ...

With Monday marking the start of the final two weeks of the NHL season, it is magic number time.



The numbers are a little different as you go from east to west in the NHL, just like the Canadian and U.S. dollars used to be. In the Eastern Conference, it looks like 92 points will be the absolute minimum required to land one of the eight playoff spots, while Western Conference teams will probably need 98 to be sure of making the postseason.

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These numbers are a little inflated over recent seasons. A year ago, for example, the Colorado Avalanche placed eighth in the West with 95 points, while the Montreal Canadiens landed in eighth in the East with 88 points. The increase can be attributed to the large number of three-point games recently.



"It's been a very amazing race," Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. "We just know we have to take care of our own business. Watching other games it's almost like you get the worst-case scenario, but that's the way it's been going with all the three-point games."



The defending Stanley Cup champions are one of six teams fighting over the last four places in a tremendous West playoff race. Also looking to get in are the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames.



Including the Flames is rather charitable, since they shot themselves in the foot last week when they earned just two of a possible six points in a swing through California but they have two chances this week to create a miracle.



In the East, the eighth-place Sabres are the most vulnerable at this point, with the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs managing to stay in sight. The Sabres begin a stretch of four games in six nights on Tuesday that should tell the tale, with the first game, against the Leafs, being the biggest.



THIS WEEK'S KEY GAMES



Monday

Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., TSN2). Wings have injury woes and their defensive game is in a shambles.



Tuesday

Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario). Sabres have all four lines rolling and Ryan Miller back on the beam in goal.



Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (7 p.m.). Hurricanes are nowhere without goaltender Cam Ward, whom general manager Jim Rutherford says "single-handedly won us games."



Wednesday

New York Rangers at Buffalo (7 p.m.). The Leafs will fire up their NHL Centre Ice package to see this one. Rangers are on a roll with goalie Henrik Lundqvist.



Montreal Canadiens at Carolina (7 p.m., TSN/RDS) This one gets all the action on the remote's previous channel button.



Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (9:30 p.m., TSN). If Flames lose this one, it's pretty much over.



Thursday

Toronto at Boston Bruins (7 p.m., TSN/RDS). The next game-of-the-year for the Leafs.



Friday

Calgary at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m., Sportsnet Calgary). This game is important only if the Flames won their previous two.



All times Eastern



NO JOKINEN



When former Flames general manager Darryl Sutter reacquired centre Ollie Jokinen last summer, fans didn't know whether to laugh or fume considering his indifferent first tour with the team. But after the Flames lost centres Daymond Langkow, Brendan Morrison and David Moss, Jokinen stepped into the breach. As of the end of last week, he ran up 41 of his 51 points since Dec. 9. This marks the seventh consecutive season he reached 50 points, not bad for someone considered an underachiever.





WINGS CLIPPED



With the playoffs approaching, one Stanley Cup contender is having injury problems again. The Red Wings were missing forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen last week because of various nicks and scrapes.



But the Red Wings have more to worry about than that. Their defensive has gone south in the last while. They were seventh in goals-against in the NHL last season with 216 in 82 games. By the end of last week, they were 17th with 211 in 74 games.



Losing those three forwards took a lot of offence out of the lineup, which combined with their defensive problems led to the Wings losing three consecutive games last week before the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling.

QUOTABLE



"I think I've proved in the last 40-plus games that I can still be an average player in this league."



That's what Calgary Flames centre Ollie Jokinen had to say to Calgary reporters last week when they pointed out he put up 41 of his 51 points since Dec. 9. Jokinen, long criticized as a player who only shows his considerable talents when the mood strikes him, became a mainstay for the Flames in the last two months.







 

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