SUN Hockey Pool

Scouting nightmare

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

What has been a marvelous regular season for the Buffalo Sabres can't end fast enough for the club's over-extended pro scouts.

The Eastern Conference leaders are trying to get the book on up to six different first-round playoff opponents.

"There's not a team that won't be a huge challenge for us," defenceman Nathan Paetsch said of the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and the Maple Leafs. "All have given us great games all season. There are a lot of interesting scenarios and obviously, we won't know until the last night. But it's something that we can't control, so we can't get too caught up following it."

The Sabres ran out of gas and defencemen last season in the Eastern Conference final, which they lost to Carolina in seven games.

"When you get a taste of being so close to winning the Stanley Cup, all you think about the whole summer and the whole season is where you were," Paetsch said. "It was just such a big thrill for the city last year and everyone wants to see that again. Spring's coming, the sun is out and it's just an electric time. We're looking forward to making another run."

Fighting words

During an interview with Ron MacLean on the hot- button topic of fighting on Saturday, NHL hockey operations boss Colin Campbell said his examination of the role of fisticuffs in the game was not ordered by commissioner Gary Bettman.

"He's never said take (fighting) out of the game, but he's concerned about injuries," Campbell said. "He usually leaves it to the hockey department. We've got enough people in the department who've played the game and have fought (himself, Mike Murphy, Kris King, etc.).

"We have a competition committee that will discuss this and at the end of the day, they'll make a recommendation to the board of governors. (Committee members) Rob Blake, Brendan Shanahan and Jarome Iginla have been in many fights. They have a good idea what should be done."

Challenged by MacLean on his personal view, Campbell said fighting has a place, but he didn't want to put himself in the position of a coach or general manager as to how any of the players in the news recently were utilized in a game.

Fall from glory

Last year, Edmonton Oilers fans dreamed of a Cup; now they are intrigued by the notion of winning the draft lottery.

After bidding farewell to their team in its final home game of the season on Saturday, a 4-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, four of their remaining six games are against playoff-bound teams. It's not impossible that the Oilers could fall as low as 14th or 15th in the West, setting up a nice lottery ticket or at least the team's highest draft position since it took Jason Bonsignore fourth overall in 1994.

The Oilers already are utilizing as many as 10 rookies a night.

Many Manny miseries

Goaltender Manny Fernandez, who has played one period for the Minnesota Wild since aggravating his sprained left knee Jan. 30, will not be back in the regular season. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have a combined 23-8-6 record and the Wild is challenging for first place in the Northwest Division. There are bets that Backstrom starts the post-season and Fernandez eventually will be traded.

In St. Louis, Blues goaltender Manny Legace (knee surgery) also is shelved.

Around the league

Chris Chelios and Trevor Linden, rivals in the NHLPA war of subterfuge, had a 20-minute chat prior to a recent Detroit Red Wings-Vancouver Canucks game. "I think we really needed a talk after everything that's happened," Chelios said. "Because of the fact he's retired as president, there's some things he wasn't aware of that I told him. As much as we've disagreed on issues during the past 18 months, there's a lot of things I feel I know that Trevor is not aware of." ... Until the Pittsburgh Penguins were held to 28 shots on Saturday, the Atlanta Thrashers had allowed 30 or more in nine games in a row. "We're the victim of our style," coach Bob Hartley said. "The way we're built up front, we're built for offence, we're not known to stack four guys at the blue line." ... Chris Pronger (broken toe) hopes to be back in the Ducks' lineup shortly ... Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock has revived an old Scotty Bowman move and put centre Sergei Fedorov on defence to cover for injuries. Fedorov is willing to help -- to a point. "I hope I'm not on the blue line next year," the one-time Hart Trophy winner said. "I'd like to still score a few goals before the end of my career."

The week ahead

Jordin Tootoo's five-game suspension for whacking Stephane Robidas ends on Saturday when Nashville faces the same Dallas Stars ... Joe Sakic takes a run at passing former Avalanche teammate Ray Bourque for ninth in career NHL points with 1,579. He was three behind Bourque before Colorado's game last night in Vancouver ... Montreal's Sheldon Souray needs two power-play goals for 19 to break the NHL record for power-play goals by a defencemen, held by Denis Potvin and Adrian Aucoin, and three to tie Yvan Cournoyer for the team record ... Detroit plays in Nashville on Thursday, a game that could decide the Central Division. The Red Wings finish with a lark of a schedule, home and home with non-playoff teams Columbus and Chicago.


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