By CHRIS NICHOLS -- SLAM! Sports
Ladies and gents: this is it.
If you're still in your fantasy hockey league race, this is the last weekend of the regular season. This is your last chance to pull a rabbit out of the hat and target those categories you need to in order to win. Luck, as always, will play its part - but if you put in the time to analyze the remaining matches vs. the hot and cold players, you can increase your chances for success. Keep in mind that when you're in dire need of stats in this final weekend, you're at the mercy of the coaches. Star players will often be rested for one or two games in the final week to avoid any possible injuries headed into the playoffs. The good news for fantasy owners this year is that with the standings in both conferences so tight and playoff positioning up for grabs; stars are more likely to be playing.
Let's break down some of the guys you might want for each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The featured fantasy game of the night is the Ottawa/ Philly rematch. In early March, these two teams met and combined for a record 419 PIM's. Should you expect a repeat of this blood bath? No. In the post-Bertuzzi climate of the NHL, Gary Bettman and his guys have made it very clear that thugary of that magnitude will not be tolerated. Still, we have to hold out hope that guys like Chris Neil and Donald Brashear will still be able to go at it. I mean, we're not figure skating now, right? Keith Primeau returned to the lineup Thursday night and he could be good for some PIM's tonight. Jeremy Roenick is back in the lineup and although he probably won't be fighting thanks to his jaw situation, he can still be a feisty player. Todd Simpson had 19 PIM's in the first tilt, but he's been a healthy scratch for the last week. The Sens don't want to be pushed around, but I wouldn't gamble on Simpson playing tonight unless you can afford to have a missed game played if he sits. The bottom line is that both teams want these two points and fights would likely only result if the game is in hand for one team late in the third period. Having said that, I've got Brashear, Roenick, Primeau and Neil going in one league. You've got to buy a lottery ticket to win the big bucks, right?
Pittsburgh and Atlanta play tonight and this has the potential to be a high-scoring game. Pittsburgh's usual cast of characters continue to shine: Aleksey Morozov, Milan Kraft and Ric Jackman are good bets. Keep in mind though, that Pittsburgh's Sunday match against Washington is a better bet for Pittsburgh scorers.
Jochen Hecht has been unreal and if you've been reading this column and taking the advice, he's been contributing massive point totals to your roster. Hecht and the Sabres take on Toronto in Buffalo tonight. Ed Belfour can throw up a shutout at any point, so there is some risk here. However, Hecht had 2G, 2A in his last game against Toronto on March 15 (Also in Buffalo) and Hecht is coming off a four-point game against the Rangers on Wednesday. Daniel Briere is riding a five-game point streak and had two points in that March 15th game. Defenseman Dimitri Kalinin has also been scoring lately, with 2G, 2A in his last 4GP. He had an assist in that March 15th game.
John-Michael Liles is back in the Colorado lineup and is a great percentage play for the game against Columbus... Matt Barnaby is still producing great stats in Colorado and is also worth a look if he's still available... Ron Tugnutt should be starting at Minnesota tonight and although it's far from a slam dunk, the percentages say it'll be a low-scoring game with a decent chance of a Dallas win... Aside from Markus Naslund, do you want to chance any scorers against the Sharks in San Jose if you have better options?
It's not a guaranteed point-getting situation, but Craig Conroy has four points in three games against the Kings this year and just had a two-point game against them in Calgary last Saturday. With the Flames having just clinched a playoff spot and Darryl Sutter knowing better than to let them take their feet off the gas with only two games left, Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy should get at least one point each tonight.
There are nine games on Saturday and nine games on Sunday. Where you max out your starts depends on which day the most of your stars are playing. Have a close look at both days and play the percentages... hopefully it will work out for you.
It's tough to recommend any free agents like Michael Nylander or Sergei Samsonov for this game against New Jersey, since Martin Broduer is the shutout king. Similarly, Boston is no slouch and the Elias/ Gomez combo will not likely run up the score on the Bruins. These two teams play a home and home series Saturday and Sunday.
The Rangers/ Washington match-up could go either way, but it's more likely that each team will score at least a couple of goals. Jeff Halpern has been a stud lately and he had two points against the Rangers on March 18th.
Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer have been collecting points from the blueline for Edmonton recently and they may be good for a power play point... Jim Vandermeer has been a steady source of PIM's lately... Robert Lang and Kris Draper are back in action and although they did not play Thursday night (Scheduled rest in back-to-back situation), they are slated to play Saturday.
The best chance for free agents points today will come from the Washington/ Pittsburgh game. Again: Morozov, Kraft, Jackman and Halpern are pretty good bets... Colorado/ Nashville could also produce some goals and Liles could still be available if he was dropped after his recent injury. Matt Barnaby has to be taken in your league, but if he's not - grab him... Eric Cairns may be good for some PIM's in the NYI/ PHI match, as could Donald Brashear.
Ask Slam! is done for the season.
This is the last Fantasy Scoop for the season.
Can you still ask fantasy hockey questions during the playoffs? Yep. If you need some help to pick your keepers for next season, I'll still be checking my email periodically.
In terms of fantasy playoff coverage here at Slam!, here's what you can look for:
Monday, April 5th: Look for an article on general playoff drafting strategies. This is Playoff Pool 101, serving as a benefit mostly to those who have little or no experience in these matters. I'll also lay out a few easy formats for an office pool in case you want to organize one on your lunch hour.
Tuesday, April 6th: I'll break down each series and give some of the best scoring bets from each team; picking both perennially good playoff picks and possible sleepers.
Wednesday, April 7th: The playoffs start and you can look for a fantasy recap every single night of the playoffs that a game is played. The recap will not be available before the last game of the night is completed.
Aside from his work with Slam! you can also find Chris through his Hard Hits column on the FHL site for ESPN, while his NHL News & Notes section is featured seven days a week through the end of the playoffs on the subscription-based mckeenshockey.com