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Friday March 26, 2010 2:09 pm

Sharks, Blackhawks clinch playoff spots




Posted by Adrien Griffin Categories: Athletes, NHL, Playoffs,

Patrick KaneThe playoff picture became a little clearer on Thursday night as the top two seeds in the Western Conference clinched playoff spots. San Jose shut out Dallas 3-0 to both put them out of reach of ninth-place Calgary as well as leapfrog into first place over Chicago. Those same Blackhawks also clinched a berth, despite an 8-3 shellacking at the hands of Columbus. The Flames loss to the Islanders gave Chicago the edge in tie-breaking points.

The Sharks are no surprise when it comes to playoff runs. They’ve struggled since the Olympic break, but they had a good enough first half as well as an incredible home record to set them up as one of the teams to beat. The trio of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley has combined for 98 goals and 236 points, production that few other groups in hockey can boast. Evgeni Nabokov recorded his third shutout of the season and 50thd of his career against Dallas, and his 2.39 GAA and .922 save percentage in 64 games have him sixth and eighth in the league on both fronts.

The Blackhawks young team has opened a lot of eyes this season. Patrick Kane has elevated his game and already broken career numbers in goals, assists, lowest penalty minutes, plus-minus and game-winning goals. While Cristobal Huet has been given the majority of minutes in goal, he and backup Antti Niemi have combined for 10 shutouts, and Niemi even has a better save percentage (.912 to .895) and GAA (2.22 to 2.50) to that of Huet. Two hot goalies is a good problem to have, and Chicago certainly has two hot goalies.

The last two weeks of the season are easily the most exciting time of year. Finding out how things shape up and tracking the individual trophy races is more entertaining than the first couple of playoff rounds or ridiculous coverage of trade deadline day. Chicago and San Jose clinched playoff berths last night, but a handful of other teams missed their chances. While Friday’s three games have minimal impact on the standings, aside from Buffalo, the hunt for the postseason heats up on Saturday as 24 teams will be in action.

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