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Mike Smith’s Blog: Down the stretch drive

The Ducks currently hold the seventh spot in the East. (Getty Images)

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The Ducks currently hold the seventh spot in the East. (Getty Images)

The 2008-09 regular season is down to the last few days. Some teams are trying to secure a playoff spot, while others are trying to secure home-ice advantage. Every night, fans get to watch games that are critically important, intense and exciting.

On Tuesday, there were three: Vancouver, in its drive to finish third in the West, beat Minnesota 2-1 in overtime. Minnesota is part of a group of teams in the West still in the playoff hunt. Columbus beat Nashville 2-1. Both teams are competing for a berth. Anaheim beat Edmonton 5-3. Both of these clubs are in the hunt, as well.

In the East, it has come down to the New York Rangers (89 points with two home and three away games left), Montreal (88 with two and four) and Florida (87 with three and two).

In the West, there are five teams competing for two spots: Anaheim (84 with two and three), Nashville (84 with two and three), St. Louis (83 with one and four), Minnesota (81 with three and two) and Edmonton (81 with four and one).

Let’s look at how each team has performed over the past 10 games through Tuesday and their league ranking in a few critical aspects of team performance over that period. I’ll show where each team ranks in plus-minus, power play and short-handed efficiency, and team save percentage rank among the NHL’s 30 teams.

Stretch Drive Stats
Team Record +/- PP PK Save % rank
 EAST          
Rangers 6-3-1 16 27 1 22
Montreal 4-3-3 12 12 18 23
Florida 4-4-2 11 8 16 4
 WEST          
Anaheim 8-2-0 3 2 11 9
Nashville 5-2-3 15 3 28 1
St. Louis 7-2-1 7 18 7 6
Minnesota 4-4-2 19 7 21 3
Edmonton 4-5-1 23 19 10 27

Is it confusing? Maybe.

In the East, Florida’s goaltending has carried the team all year. Craig Anderson and Tomas Vokoun will have to steal a game or two. The Panthers play two against Atlanta, but the Thrashers have been playing well in the past month. The Rangers’ power play is performing poorly, but their penalty killing is the league’s best. They have a tough schedule, but one game is at home versus Montreal. The Canadiens have a game in hand, but also play the most road games – four.

In the West, Anaheim not only has the best record, but is also among the league’s leaders in team stats. Nashville’s goaltending is the league’s best, its power play is third, but its penalty killing is very poor. St. Louis has a game in hand, but five of the Blues’ remaining six are on the road. Except for the power play, the Blues’ team stats are strong. Minnesota and Edmonton are both three points out of eighth. Edmonton’s goaltending is near the bottom, penalty killing is the Oilers’ only stat in the top 10, but they do have four home games remaining.  Minnesota is performing well with the exception of the power play, but is only playing .500 over the past 10 games.

Who will make it? The race is on.

Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets and associate GM with the Maple Leafs. He also served as GM for Team USA at the '81, '94 and '95 IIHF World Championship. His Insider Blog will appear regularly only on THN.com.

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