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Race for the Playoffs – March 23; Western Conference in focus top to bottom

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

  1. Vancouver 103 pts
  2. Detroit 95 pts
  3. San Jose 92 pts
  4. Phoenix 91 pts
  5. Los Angeles 88 pts
  6. Nashville 88 pts
  7. Chicago 86 pts
  8. Anaheim 85 pts
  9. Dallas 85 pts
  10. Calgary 85 pts

Vancouver @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET

The top two teams in the Western Conference square off and for the Canucks, it’s their opportunity to lock down the top spot in the West for good, for all intents and purposes. Vancouver’s got an NHL-best 103 points while Detroit trails them with 95 atop the Central Division. A win for Vancouver gives them a nine or ten point lead in the West with eight games left to play. That would be one tough hill to climb.

Of course a Detroit win opens up the possibility of things getting stressful towards the end of the year for the Canucks.  Vancouver’s been on top of the West all year long and haven’t had a real threat from anyone in their division or the conference. If Detroit’s able to cut their lead to six with a regulation win, the final games of the season get much more interesting. As it is, there’s no telling who either team will draw in the first round regardless given how crazy things are below them.

Florida @ Chicago – 8:30 p.m. ET

While the Panthers don’t have any fight for the playoffs sitting 13 points out of eighth in the East, Chicago’s got everything to get psyched up for. The Blackhawks are currently alone in seventh place in the West with 86 points, just two points out of fifth with Los Angeles and Nashville just ahead of them. Chicago, like everyone else in the hunt in the West, can’t afford a loss and with Anaheim facing Dallas tonight a Chicago loss would put them in more immediate peril. Playoff time is about survival and winning is the only way to stay alive. For the spot that Chicago’s in a win puts them in fifth place whereas a loss could wind up with them being knocked out of the top eight with Calgary also in action tonight.

Anaheim @ Dallas – 8:30 p.m. ET

These two teams are tied in the West with 85 points and a win in regulation would be crucial for either team to put some space between themselves and the rest of the field. Anaheim rolls into this one winners of three in a row while Dallas has lost three of their last four. Those sorts of cold streaks are killers out West and for Dallas it’s knocked them down into the “danger zone” of having their season potentially decided by a three point game that they may or may not even be playing in. Given that Anaheim is doing well without, perhaps, their best player in Jonas Hiller their run and ability to stay in the playoff hunt this well is remarkable. For Dallas, they need a win, badly, and getting one against Anaheim would do themselves a huge favor.

Calgary @ San Jose – 10:00 p.m. ET

A game that’s huge on both ends of the spectrum. For the Sharks, they’d like to keep the Coyotes off their heels and they’ve won three straight while doing just that. Calgary, meanwhile, is barely hanging on and they’ve lost five of their last six games. Calgary is running out of games as after tonight they’ll have just six games left to play. If the Flames want to make the playoffs, winning out wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Doing so against a Sharks team that’s been playing great the entire second half of the season makes for a daunting task. If Calgary can win tonight, it breathes a bit more life into their playoff hopes while a loss sets them back in a potentially big way as the teams immediately ahead of them all have a chance to add points tonight.

Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again

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If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”

There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.

Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.

One team climbing, the other stumbling

With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.

During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.

Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.

Canadiens are facing some turbulence (and mostly passing the test)

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues checks Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens aren’t in crisis mode, but as far as this so-far outstanding 2016-17 season goes, they are finally facing some adversity.

Alex Galchenyuk, one of their most promising young players, is out indefinitely. There are murmurs that captain Max Pacioretty isn’t getting along with head coach Michel Therrien.* Tuesday presented a body blow or two to boot.

For one thing, the Canadiens gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Jaden Schwartz grabbed an assist and scored the game’s last two goals, including the OT-winner:

Losing to a contender like the Blues, especially while still grabbing a “charity point,” isn’t that big of a deal. A possible David Desharnais injury makes things a little dicey, however:

Really, though, it’s not all that bad for Montreal. They managed a 2-2-1 mark during a five-game road trip heavy on quality opponents.

Also: six of their next seven games come at home, where they’re 12-1-1. So things will look brighter soon enough.

Still, with some injuries and a big road trip to end 2016 and start 2017, there may be some moments where Montreal looks vulnerable.

Ultimately, fighting through stretches like these could very well benefit the Habs later on.

* – Ah, the old standby: “Player X isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Therrien.”

From the Blues’ side:

Ristolainen, Kane, O’Reilly push Sabres past McDavid and the Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Rasmus Ristolainen #55, Matt Moulson #26, Sam Reinhart #23, Kyle Okposo #21 and Ryan OÕReilly #90 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.

In particular, high-scoring defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, power forward Evander Kane and two-way center Ryan O'Reilly made the difference in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.

Ristolainen’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one, as it clinched the contest in OT:

Evander Kane scored two goals of his own, including one in the dying seconds of regulation to allow Buffalo to get a standings point (and then a second) in the first place.

Kane finished with two goals, O’Reilly generated two assists and Ristolainen managed a one-goal, two-assist performance.

It would be wrong to say that the marquee names didn’t show up at all. McDavid generated two assists and Eichel also nabbed a helper.

You’d be correct in saying that other young players stole the show, though, and the Sabres were the biggest beneficiaries.

Video: Brent Seabrook shaken up after awkward fall

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It wasn’t nearly as scary as the falls suffered by Travis Zajac or Philip Larsen, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still holding their breath when it comes to defenseman Brent Seabrook.

As you can see from the video above, Seabrook was tripped up by Jordan Martinook of the Arizona Coyotes during a simple puck battle. Seabrook was shaken up after falling awkwardly on that play.

At the moment, it’s unclear if this will be an ongoing issue or if the Blackhawks avoided a costly injury.

Martinook was not penalized.

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers notes that Seabrook wasn’t out to begin the third period. So far, not so good.

The Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0, so the silver lining for Chicago is that they won.