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West is best, again, and it's not close

The Western Conference has had a statistical edge over the East for a while, and it has produced the Stanley Cup champion in five of the last seven seasons and 11 of the last 17. The Detroit Red Wings' four titles contributed to that dominance, but despite their move to the East this season the West has increased its superiority.

West teams are 73-29-11 for 157 points against East teams so far; East teams are 40-57-16 for 96 points. The Edmonton Oilers account for nine of the West's losses to the East, but all four of their wins were over East teams. Twelve of the East's out-of-conference wins were by Tampa Bay and Toronto, with six each.

In 2009-10 the disparity was 71 points in the West's favor and it was 33 points in 2010-11. In 2011-12 — the last season with inter-conference play — West teams had 136 wins and 313 standings points against the East, while East teams had 134 wins and 305 points against the West.

Why the big gap this season?

"I don't understand it," said Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached in the East, with Washington. "It's crazy."

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis, whose team is 7-3-1 against the East and 4-4-1 within the West, believes there's deep quality in the West.

"I think the teams are better in the West, that the way the game is played, the size and speed out here, is really strong," he said. "I think you look at these games you play against Western opponents as great games. I think overall the competition in the West right now is perhaps a little bit better."

Boudreau said West teams are more accustomed to traveling long distances and have a scouting edge.

"We get to watch all the Eastern games. And they can't watch us," he said. "I'll watch every Eastern game, or at least I'll have an idea of how they play before we play them. Sometimes when they play us I think they might not have seen us play all year."

Ducks seek happier ending

Boosted by an 8-0-1 points streak, the Ducks matched their club record for best start through 19 games at 15-3-1. They set that mark last season, but they hope the similarities end there.

They were the No. 2 West seed last season but entered the playoffs on an 8-9-2 slide and lost to Detroit in seven games. Forward Nick Bonino said players have taken that to heart.

"We had so many young guys last year getting some playoff experience. You learn from losses like that," he said. "Obviously, we all wanted to go deeper. You take a hard loss like that and go home and think about it, and we came back with the right mind-set. I think it shows already this year, getting out to the start we have."

The Ducks' depth at every position has carried them through injuries that have sidelined eight players at times. Goaltenders Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen and Viktor Fasth have excelled, giving General Manager Bob Murray a pleasantly difficult roster decision — and trading chip. Bonino, Andrew Cogliano and Mathieu Perreault have made important contributions, as has Dustin Penner since he got into shape. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm, 19, has been remarkably poised.

Heady stuff, but Boudreau is realistic. After saying the team's confidence "is right up there with championship teams that I've been on," he regained perspective. "It's way too early. We're talking November, you know?" he said.

Those who watched the Ducks' early elimination last spring know what he means. But if players truly have learned from that, a good beginning could lead to a better ending.

Stamkos injury a blow to Lightning and NHL

One look at the gruesome twist of Steven Stamkos' right leg after he collided with the goal post Monday in Boston was enough to suspect the league's leading scorer was seriously injured. Soon after, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced Stamkos had broken his tibia and will undergo surgery. The procedure was scheduled for Tuesday and General Manager Steve Yzerman said the two-time goal-scoring champion will be out indefinitely.

"The biggest concern for me, and the rest of the Lightning, is that decisions are made in Steven's best long-term interest, and we feel this is the appropriate course of action," Yzerman said in a statement.

The 23-year-old center shares the league lead with 14 goals and holds the scoring lead with 23 points. He was expected to be a key member of Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics, but that's in jeopardy now. Here's hoping he heals quickly and can resume his stellar career.

Slap Shots

Among the topics NHL general managers will tackle when they meet Tuesday in Toronto is bullying, a hot issue because of the NFL's Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin case. The GMs also will review hybrid icing and equipment rules, go over Olympic matters, and discuss extending overtime to 10 minutes and creating a coach's challenge video review. Other items likely will carry over to their extended meetings in March.


Twitter: @helenenothelen

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