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Phoenix Coyotes take one point Pacific Division lead thanks to seventh consecutive win

Remember when it looked like the Phoenix Coyotes were primed to plummet back to mediocrity after their Cinderella 2009-10 season?

Much like fellow out of left field hot team the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Coyotes’ early season troubles are starting to seem like a distant memory at this point. After befuddling the struggling Edmonton Oilers tonight, Dave Tippett’s team is now on a seven game winning streak and are 7-0-2 in their last nine games.

This win also gave them a brief lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, although the Kings have a game in hand.

Phoenix 5, Edmonton 0

While the Blue Jackets are reaping the benefits of strong play from two goalies (Steve Mason and outstanding backup Mathieu Garon), the Coyotes are leaning heavily on their talented Russian starter Ilya Bryzgalov. He earned a 23-save shutout tonight, bringing his record in that 7-0-2 stretch to 6-0-2 (Jason LaBarbera only received one start, which began the team’s winning streak.)

The Coyotes are scoring goals by committee during this stretch, although tonight’s win featured some pretty dominating performances from a few Coyotes forwards. Lee Stempniak scored two goals and one assist, big Martin Hanzal scored two goals of his own and Eric Belanger earned the primary helpers on each of Stempniak’s tallies. Wojtek Wolski also had a nice night, scoring one goal and adding an assist.

It’s unclear if this is a blessing (for rest) or a curse (if they lose momentum), but the Coyotes won’t play again until Saturday’s game at home against their division rivals the Anaheim Ducks. The Pacific Division is still pretty brutal, but the Coyotes seem like they regained that scrappy form that propelled them to an impressive fourth seed finish last season; five of their seven consecutive wins came by one goal.

Meanwhile, the Oilers are showing faint signs of life with their big goalie Devan Dubnyk in net (1-1-1 in his three games since Nikolai Khabibulin went on the injured reserve). Still, the team must find a way to play better defense in front of him, as they allowed 42, 40 and 34 shots against in those three contests.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.