COLUMBUS, Ohio - Alex Ovechkins familiar gap-toothed grin has returned with the Washington Capitals in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Wilson Ramos Jersey .Hardly anyones smiling in the West, where the standings are far more convoluted heading into the post-All-Star break of the NHL schedule, which opens with 11 games Tuesday.Its hard, St. Louis Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said during the All-Star festivities in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend. If you lose three, four games in a row, its scary because you find yourself in eighth place when you were in first a week ago.Its a tale of two conferences.In the West, seven points separate the fourth-place San Jose Sharks from the 11th-place Dallas Stars. Dont count out the 12th-place Minnesota Wild, who rode a 23-10-7 second-half surge to clinch a playoff spot last year.And then theres the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings who are a single point out of the post-season picture at the moment.Weve had some spurts where we played pretty good, Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. But we also had some moments where we didnt play very good at all.In the East, the Capitals (24-13-9) are seventh, but part of a top-eight group of contenders that have begun separating themselves from the bottom eight.And that, so far, is fine with, Ovechkin who is feeling much better after one his most trying years.Before the season, I said, its a very important year for us, for me, for the whole group of guys on the team, said Ovechkin, who made his fifth career NHL All-Star Game appearance. We all wanted to come back and show last year was maybe a little bit of no luck.The Capitals not only missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, Ovechkins frustrations were compounded on the other side of the Atlantic. Thats where he and his fellow Russians wilted under immense national pressure by failing to even sniff an Olympic medal on native soil at the Sochi Games.The Capitals have successfully made the transition under new coach Barry Trotz, and shored up their defence by adding Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.Ovechkins production has barely slowed, and put him in contention to win his fifth career and third straight scoring title. His 27 goals are one off the league-lead shared by Dallas Tyler Seguin and New York Rangers Rick Nash.And Ovechkins defensive numbers are markedly improved. After finishing third-last in the NHL with a minus-35 rating, hes currently 40th with a plus-12.Steven Stamkos, captain of the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, isnt exactly rooting for Alex The Greats return to the playoffs. But, he noted, it would be good for hockey to have such a high-profile player competing well into the spring.Its great that hes having a great year, Stamkos said. Any time you have a top player playing well it only adds to building our game.The East teams outside the playoff hunt have plenty of catching up to do. The youth-laden Florida Panthers — whose roster includes rookie No. 1 pick, defenceman Aaron Ekblad — are ninth. Ottawa and Toronto are next with 47 points, and shown few signs of consistency even after both Ontario rivals changed coaches over the past two months.The West is filled with intrigue, which shouldnt come as a surprise after many top teams spent last summer stocking up on high-profile free agents. Still, there are three teams — San Jose (fourth place), Winnipeg (seventh) and Calgary (eighth) — that are in the hunt despite not making many off-season splashes.Chicago and St. Louis both find themselves looking up in the Central Division at Nashville.Its a tough division to be in, but its also a good division to be in, Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook said. Were all playing meaningful games down the stretch, getting ready for the playoffs.Not all will make it.There is a race to watch at the other end of the standings. Buffalo (14-30-3) and Edmonton (12-26-9) have been locked in a battle for futility and, more important, the right to land the top draft prospects — Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid and U.S.-born, Boston University freshman Jack Eichel.The Sabres are suddenly gaining the edge for last place and, with it, a guaranteed top-two selection. They entered the All-Star breaking having lost 11 straight in regulation — the NHLs worst streak since Pittsburgh lost 13 in a row from January to February 2004, according to STATS. Chris Archer Jersey .com) - The Miami Heat will try to close out the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first round series. Custom Tampa Bay Rays Jerseys . Louis, MO (SportsNetwork. http://www.officialraysgearshop.com/ . Minutes before the final whistle of Sporting Kansas Citys 3-0 victory over a shorthanded Montreal Impact squad on Saturday afternoon, Saputo tweeted: "Our fans deserve better.CEDAR PARK, Texas - Cristopher Nilstorp made 20 saves as the Texas Stars blanked the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-0 on Tuesday in American Hockey League action. Justin Dowling had a pair of goals for Texas (42-17-8), while Taylor Peters and Scott Glennie also scored. 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