Getting to the Stretch

Next Five Games Could Tell The Playoff Tale.

Heading into the final weeks of the 2005-06 NHL season, hockey fans are getting a great treat: a battle to the finish for the final playoff berths in both Conferences.
In the East, six teams are battling to nail down the final three spots, with only 9 points separating sixth from 11th. The Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens presently hold positions six to eight, but the Atlanta Thrashers are breathing down their collective necks.
Over in the West, the race is even tighter, with only 6 points separating fifth from 10th. The Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings hold the final four positions, with the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in 9th and 10th respectively.

Hitchcock: No favored goalie

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock says he’s not favoring Robert Esche over Antero Niittymaki. The subject was broached again yesterday as Hitchcock was quizzed on the so-called competition for the starting goalie job after it became the subject of three newspaper columns.

Leetch: ‘I didn’t want to leave’

Brian Leetch has hit the ice for countless morning skates during his 18-season NHL career.
Nearly three weeks after his 38th birthday, he showed up for one nearly 2 1/2 hours early. Dedicated? Maybe. Too excited to stay away? Most definitely.
Leetch walked into Madison Square Garden on Monday for the first time as a visitor. But in the rink he called home from 1988-2004, the stellar defenseman will never be the enemy.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Leetch said hours before he faced the New York Rangers in a Boston Bruins uniform. “I played my first game as an 18-year-old here and I got traded on my 36th birthday.”

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