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Nikolai Khabibulin’s stellar play stealing the show in Edmonton

While it’s awfully early in the season to get too excited about the play of any one player, one guy you have to think is doing especially well considering all things is Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. After an off-season filled with more questions about whether or not he would be going to jail for drunken driving rather than whether or not his injured back would hold up this year, you can’t help but think he might be a bit distracted.

Two games into the season, however, Khabibulin has answered the call after delivering stellar performances against Calgary and Florida, earning a shutout against the Flames on opening night and turning in some spectacular saves in a 3-2 win over Florida last night, including this beauty on Chris Higgins.

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The Edmonton Journal’s Dan Barnes feels that credit for the Oilers solid start to the season should go to Khabibulin, because without him, the Oilers would be dealing with highly questionable goaltending on top of already iffy defense.

If they want to be a competitive team, Khabibulin is going to be called upon to play cleanup back there in the crease and everybody knows it. But good grief, the forwards and defencemen are going to have to actually show up for all three periods one of these nights. Their first 20 minutes against Florida evoked chilling memories of their defensive lapses from last year. And the one before. They were down 11-3 on the shot clock but deadlocked at zeros on the scoreboard thanks to Khabibulin’s glove hand and deft moves against a couple of Grade A chances.

Now, the goalie is a part of the team and is expected to do his part. I get that. But the Oilers were outshot 28-13 on the night and their skaters were often abysmal.

With Khabibulin back there, the saves have been getting made. Could the same be said of his backups and heirs to the starting throne Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk? After seeing how those two performed last season in Khabibulin’s absence the answer is a resounding “no.”

That said, Khabibulin likely can’t keep up this sort of frenetic level of play all season long. Getting tighter defense from the Oilers would go a long way towards helping him out, but then again, we knew the Oilers’ defense was going to be a major hangup this season anyhow. Until things start to break down there, the Oilers should keep making the most of Khabibulin’s stellar play while they can and perhaps spin that into a run at a playoff spot later in the year.

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    Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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    The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

    The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

    The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

    Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

    The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

    Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

    Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

    The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

    ‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

    St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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    The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

    The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

    Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

    But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

    “You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

    “It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

    Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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    Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

    Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

    The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

    Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

    Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

    At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

    After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

    Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

    Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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    Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

    On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

    Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

    This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

    Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

    Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.