Olympics push lifts NHL quality

January 15, 2002 6:18 AM
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The NHL is close to hitting the halfway point, which is a good time to start sizing up some of the key match-ups each week.

The league will soon be shutting down for the Olympics so the games leading up to Salt Lake City figure to be played almost at a playoff level.

Here are the week’s best as we see them.

Tuesday, Jan. 15

NY Islanders at Calgary: The Flames won the only meeting in New York last week, 5-2. Two of the surprise teams in the NHL. Roman Turek had 35 saves, including 20 in the final period. Take CALGARY.

Wednesday, Jan. 16

Detroit at Dallas (ESPN2): The Red Wings lead the NHL in total points and are cruising with Dominik Hasek in goal. Dallas will be fired up seeing Brett Hull in a Wings jersey. The Stars have been playing their best hockey. Take DALLAS.

Thursday, Jan. 17

Phoenix at Colorado (ESPN2): The Coyotes have remained competitive despite losing Jeremy Roenick to Philly. The Avs are battling Edmonton for the Northwest lead. Tough to bet against Patrick Roy. Take COLORADO.

Friday, Jan. 18

Chicago at Tampa Bay (ESPN): The Blackhawks have an MVP candidate in Eric Daze (25 goals in first 47 games). Tampa Bay owns one of the league’s top goalies in Nikolai Khabibulin (2.02 GAA). Lightning strikes. Take TAMPA BAY.

Saturday, Jan. 19

Carolina at New Jersey: The Hurricanes ability to win on the road has helped open a commanding lead in the Southeast. The Devils have not been the dominant team of past years. NJ won only meeting in Raleigh, 2-1. Take CAROLINA.

Sunday, Jan. 20

Ottawa at Detroit (ESPN2): The Senators have played .500 hockey since their team was sold. The OVER was 6-1-1 in Ottawa’s last eight games through Jan. 12. The Wings were 20-4-2 in  26 home contests. Take DETROIT.

Monday, Jan. 21

St. Louis at Boston: The Blues were 10 games over .500 despite trailing Detroit by 14 points in the Central. Boston and Toronto are going back and forth for the lead in the Northeast. Joe Thornton (50 points in 44 games) is a budding superstar. Take BOSTON.