Tonight's games: Uphill battles

Although most of tonight’s games are pretty interesting, Pittsburgh-New Jersey is far and away the biggest one. Let’s took at that battle of the Atlantic as well as the five other matches on the schedule.

Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-5, 85 pts) at New Jersey Devils (39-23-3, 81 pts) 7:00 PM ET

If you want to get technical about it, the Penguins have only won once more than the Devils in the last 10 games but they’ve taken advantage of the Devils’ slide with charity points anyway. New Jersey is struggling (in a Kovalfunk?) at the moment but they’ve manhandled Pittsburgh all season long. This game has big Atlantic division title implications.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-12, 66 pts) at Washington Capitals (45-13-9, 99 pts) 7:00 PM ET

As Brandon pointed out, Steven Stamkos is turning the Crosby-Ovechkin Richard trophy duel into a three horse race. Meanwhile, the Capitals could be the first team in the NHL to hit 100 points tonight.

Minnesota Wild (31-29-6, 68 pts) at Buffalo Sabres (36-20-9, 81 pts) 7:30 PM ET

The Wild are a horrible mess and are weak on the road while the Sabres are on a three game winning streak and feature budding media darling Ryan Miller in net. Talk about two wildly different teams.

New York Rangers (29-29-9, 67 pts) at Atlanta Thrashers (28-28-10, 66 pts) 7:30 PM ET

Both teams are currently out of the playoffs in the East. Both are on four game losing streaks. Which team will get it together and which one will slip further into Boston’s rear view mirror?

Los Angeles Kings (39-22-5, 83 pts) at Dallas Stars (29-25-12, 70 pts) 8:30 PM ET

While Jon Quick experiences/recovers from/prepares for the horrifying sight of birth gore, the Kings travel to up-and-down Dallas in this one. Los Angeles has been slapping the Stars silly lately, but you never know with Turco (good or bad).

Nashville Predators (36-26-5, 77 pts) at Anaheim Ducks (30-28-8, 68 pts) 10:00 PM ET

Barry Trotz cannot bask in the glow of his 400th coaching win for very long with Calgary and Detroit breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, Anaheim is another member of the “four losses and fading out of the playoffs” club. In fact, could it already be late for the not-so-plucky Ducks?

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    Islanders shut out Canadiens for huge road win

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18:  Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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    Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.

    Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.

    The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

    With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.

    But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.

    With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.

    It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.

    Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson leaves game against Coyotes

    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with an unspecified injury.

    The Blackhawks did not offer any update on what forced Hjalmarsson out of the game, only to say he would be out for the remainder of the evening.

    Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.

    In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.

    Blackhawks and Coyotes combine for six goals in wild first period

    CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 18:  Nick Schmaltz #8 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves against the Edmonton Oilers at the United Center on February 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Oilers defeated the Blackhawks 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The first period of Thursday’s Blackhawks-Coyotes game had just a little bit of excitement as the two teams combined for six goals, including two by the Coyotes in the final three minutes of the period to erase what had been a two-goal deficit.

    All of the action started just 37 seconds into the game when Nick Schmaltz, playing on his 21st birthday, scored his sixth goal of the season (shown above) on a feed from a still white hot Jonathan Toews.

    Seven minutes later, Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored his second goal in his as many games to get things even at one.

    That is when the chaos started to break out. The Blackhawks quickly struck for two more goals when Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane scored six minutes apart to give the Blackhawks what would end up being a very short-lived 3-1 lead. Just one minute after Kane’s goal Ryan White netted his seventh of the season to bring the Coyotes back to within one, a goal that was followed by Radim Vrbata‘s 13th of the season just one minute after that.

    Here are the two Coyotes goals that tied it.

    Chicago came into the game on Thursday on a goal scoring tear, scoring at least four goals in seven of their past eight games. They are off to a great start when it comes to reaching that mark again on Thursday.

    Trouble is, they can not seem to keep the puck out of their net on Thursday.

    WATCH LIVE: Arizona Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck against the Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Jobing.com Arena on February 7, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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    Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.

    The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.

    On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.

    Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

    Click here for the Live Stream

    Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes