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Race for the playoffs: Do or die out West for Dallas, Kings get first real test

Mar 31, 2011, 4:51 PM EST

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Steve Ott AP

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.”

Western Conference

z – 1. Vancouver – 111 pts
2. Detroit – 98 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 95 pts
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Anaheim – 93 pts
7. Nashville – 92 pts
8. Chicago – 90 pts
9. Dallas – 87 pts
10. Calgary – 87 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Dallas @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. ET

Overrating a game this late season is tough to do, but for the Dallas Stars, a win tonight is virtually mandatory. With Anaheim on a roll, Chicago mostly playing well, and Nashville holding strong, the Stars cannot afford to lose. They’re three points out of eighth and fortunately they’ve got six more games after tonight. They’ve got some breathing room, but losses aren’t going to help them and they’ve had a lot of them lately losing six of their last seven games and four in a row.

For San Jose, they’re looking to keep ahead of Phoenix and Los Angeles in the race for the division title. While a playoff spot is theirs with a win in regulation, they’ve still got plenty to play for and we’re thinking that they’d really enjoy helping the Stars lose out on a playoff spot. If the Stars don’t come out fired up for this one, they might as well pack it in. A win also puts the Sharks ahead of Detroit for the second seed for the time being after Detroit was thumped by St. Louis 10-3 last night.

Los Angeles @ Vancouver – 10 p.m. ET

The Kings looked solid in beating the NHL’s worst team Edmonton 2-0 in their first game without Anze Kopitar. Taking on Vancouver tonight should provide them with a bit more of a challenge than the lowly Oilers. Vancouver has everything in the Western Conference locked up and the one thing left on their hit list before the playoffs is locking up the Presidents’ Trophy. Two more wins would do just that. With five more games left to play in Vancouver, they’re hoping to avoid injuries as much as they are hoping to keep playing great hockey. It can be a delicate balance. A Kings win would allow them to slide ahead of Phoenix for the time being and potentially draw within a point of San Jose for the division lead. It’s put up or shut up time for L.A.

Nashville @ Colorado – 9 p.m. ET

Nashville’s been playing great lately and they appear headed to another postseason appearance. Colorado is in full-on tank mode seeking out a top five draft pick. I think you can see which way this game might be headed tonight. That said, a team playing for pride can be dangerous. Whether Colorado has the pride and patience necessary to deal with the Preds tonight is another thing entirely. A win by Nashville can vault them into sixth place and potentially up to fifth.

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