S-t-r-e-t-c-h run

In my best Andy Rooney voice: "You know what I hate? Calling the remainder of the NHL season after the All-Star break the 'second half of the season.'"

In an 82-game schedule, the halfway point is 41 games, but heading into play on Wednesday, no team has played fewer than 49.

OK -- rant over.

Now that the festivities in Atlanta are done, the league can get back to another stretch run for the postseason. In the East, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers each have 54 points to tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Isles having a game in hand. Only nine points separate the conference cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay Lightning from the sneaking into the postseason.

Out West, it's an even better race: just 13 points separate the fourth-place Dallas Stars from the Chicago Blackhawks, who are in 14th place. Three teams -- the Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets -- are tied for the eighth and final spot with 56 points, and the Nashville Predators are just one point in back of that logjam.

The only team that could be playing out the string, not shockingly, is the Los Angeles Kings, who have 43 points. Quick fix: fire coach Marc Crawford, make a deal for goaltender Ray Emery of the Ottawa Senators.


1. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: In his first action after the All-Star Game, Nabokov needed to make just 13 saves for his sixth shutout this season, 3-0 over the Edmonton Oilers. In Atlanta on Sunday, Nabokov stopped all eight shots he faced in his one period of play, becoming the first goalie to blank the opposition in an ASG since Nikolai Khabibulin in 2002.

2. Peter Mueller, Phoenix Coyotes: The eighth overall pick in last season's draft scored twice in the Coyotes' 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets. With 15 goals, Mueller is tied with Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks for the most this season among rookies.

3. Cristobal Huet, Montreal Canadiens: Huet stopped 35 shots -- including four from All-Star sniper Alexander Ovechkin -- in a 4-0 victory over the Washington Capitals. It was Huet's second shutout of the season, matching his total from last season, and he likely will be in net again Thursday when the Habs and Caps complete a home-and-home set at the Verizon Center. Huet also needs one win to match his career high set last season.

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