Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey | Last updated 4/2/12
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 30: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 30, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
With the last week of the regular season upon us, let's get started with our weekly "The Week Ahead" blog.
Three Stars of the Week 1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins Doesn't it seem like we are mentioning Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar Evgeni Malkin every week? It is with good reason because this week, Malkin was his usual self in posting 7 points on 3 goals and 4 assists. Even with team captain Sidney Crosby back in the lineup, Malkin's play has not slowed down. 2. Brad Richards, New York Rangers New York Rangers' nine-year man Brad Richards is starting to produce on a much more consistent basis for his hockey club. This week, Richards had 5 points on a 1 goal and 4 assists. Richards finished the month of the March with 25 points. 3. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes Coyotes netminder Mike Smith came through in the clutch last week, posting two shutouts in as many games last week. Smith combined to make 82 saves in wins over San Jose and Anaheim, boosting his team's playoff chances in the process.
Three Players to Keep an Eye on - Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres With the Buffalo Sabres on the outside looking in when it comes to the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference, goaltender Ryan Miller is going to have to stand on his head to get the team into the postseason.
On the season, Miller is 30-20-7 with a 2.51 GAA, a .917 save percentage and 6 shutouts. He has been one of the league's best goaltenders since the All-Star break and has gotten the team back into the postseason hunt.
This week, Miller will have to work his magic against the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Bruins.
- Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars Much like the Sabres, the Dallas Stars are on the outside of the top eight in the Western Conference playoff race and will need their goaltender Kari Lehtonen to play extremely well to get them into the playoffs.
Lehtonen has been the Stars' best player this season. Lehtonen is 32-20-4 with a 2.31 GAA, a .923 save percentage and 4 shutouts.
This week, Lehtonen will have to stone the likes of the Sharks, Predators and Blues.
- Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning The Tampa Bay Lightning might not be in the playoff hunt anymore but one player on their team is in the hunt for 60 goals and that is Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos has 56 goals and 36 assists for 92 points on the season. He is four goals away from the 60-goal mark and the last player to crack 60 goals was Washington Capitals' franchise player Alex Ovechkin.
Stamkos will get his opportunity this week against the Capitals, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Jets.
Two Teams to Watch - Colorado Avalanche The Colorado Avalanche started the season as one of the best clubs in the NHL and ever since then, have been up and down.
That has led them to this point, where they find themselves two points out of a playoff spot in the extremely tight Western Conference. They kept their hopes alive with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night but with just two games left, it could be tough to get into the top eight.
The team's last two games of the season are against the Blue Jackets and Predators.
- Dallas Stars The Pacific Division has yet to be won and this will be the week that decides it all.
While the Dallas Stars may be out of a spot by two points but they are just two points behind the current division leaders, Los Angeles Kings. The Stars also have to worry about the Phoenix Coyotes as they currently hold down the seventh spot and are tied with Kings in points.
This week, the Stars will have to get it done against the Sharks, Predators and Blues.
Game of the Week Saturday April 7 -- Los Angeles @ San Jose With the Pacific Division up for grabs and this being the last week of the regular season, every game counts. The most intriguing game of the week is between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. While the Sharks currently hold down the eighth and final spot in the western Conference, they are also just one point behind the division-leading Kings. This game could mean everything for both clubs and with it being the last game of the regular season, it could end up being hockey at its best.
Other Games to Keep an Eye On Monday, April 2 Washington @ Tampa Bay
Tuesday, April 3 Pittsburgh @ Boston San Jose @ Dallas
Wednesday, April 4 Detroit @ St. Louis Thursday, April 5 New York Rangers @ Pittsburgh
Buffalo @ Philadelphia Florida @ Washington Boston @ Ottawa San Jose @ Los Angeles Friday, April 6 Phoenix @ St. Louis Saturday, April 7 Buffalo @ Boston
Washington @ New York Rangers Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh St. Louis @ Dallas Nashville @ Colorado Los Angeles @ San Jose
Photo credit: Getty Images
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