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Mounting injuries may affect NHL playoff races

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There is less than a month left in the 2014 NHL season. On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, the Chicago Blackhawks became the latest team to lose a key player to injury. As the defending champs were busy beating the St Louis Blues by a score of 4-0, they learned they will be without dynamic forward Patrick Kane, for at least 3 weeks due to a hyperextended knee. There was no malice involved, rather it was just an awkward looking play in the second period involving Kane, his teammate Sheldon Brookbank, and Brenden Morrow of the Blues. Kane got the worst of it when Morrow inadvertently fell into the Chicago player's leg.

The Blackhawks are in the thick of a tight race for home ice advantage in the first round of Central division playoffs, but when one looks around the league, there will be few contending teams feeling sorry for Chicago.

Recent injuries which may cause key players to miss significant time:

Anaheim Ducks - D Cam Fowler

Detroit Red Wings - F Henrik Zetterberg, F Pavel Datsyuk, F Mikael Samuelsson D Jonathan Ericsson

Pittsburgh Penguins - D Paul Martin, F James Neal

St Louis Blues - F Vladimir Tarasenko

Toronto Maple Leafs - G Jonathan Bernier

Washington Capitals - F Brooks Laich

Eastern Conference Playoff picture:

Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have all but clinched their division crowns. Boston is riding a 10-game win streak.

The playoff contenders: Tampa Bay (83 pts), Montreal (83 pts), Toronto (80 pts), Philadelphia (79 pts), NY Rangers (78 pts), Columbus Bule Jackets (76 pts), Washington Capitals (76 pts), and Detroit Red Wings (75 pts) are playing musical chairs with less than 15 games left in the season. Eight teams vying for six playoff spots. Expect a lot of intense battles down the stretch.

Western Conference Playoff picture:

Despite recent loss to Chicago, the St.Louis Blues are firmly in control of the Central division. The Blues have a six point lead, and a game in hand on the Blackhawks team which just lost Patrick Kane. It looks like the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche are going to meet in the first round.

In the Pacific division, the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are tied for the division lead, while the Los Angeles Kings are 15 pts back of the leaders, but hold a 5 pt lead over the Phoenix Coyotes. Whomever finishes second in the division will play the third place team. This likely means an unenviable first round matchup with Los Angeles.

The musical chairs contest in the Western conference realistically has only three teams vying for the remaining two wildcard spots - Minnesota (82 pts), Phoenix (77 pts), and Dallas (75 pts). Breaking it down further, one must take into account how Minnesota has begun to separate from the pack, and then it is really down to just Phoenix or Dallas for the one remaining playoff spot.

If you still believe in miracles, then go ahead and keep an eye on Winnipeg (73 pts), and Vancouver (72 pts) as well.

Click here for latest NHL Power rankings.

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