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Around the Rink – Thursday, December 9th

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s five games. As always, all the start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Florida @ Washington

All of a sudden, the Penguins have a three-point lead over the Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington played in one less game than Pittsburgh, though, so they can make up some solid ground against the lowly Florida Panthers. With a 12-2-2 home record, odds are pretty good that the Caps will break their three game losing streak.

NY Islanders @ Boston

The Bruins just went above .500 at home with their last win against the Buffalo Sabres and they have a great opportunity to get even better in Boston against the Isles. The Islanders haven’t won a game on the road in 10 straight games … so yeah, it’s a good chance for Tim Thomas and company to gain ground against Montreal.

San Jose @ Buffalo

The Sharks absolutely stole a win from the Philadelphia Flyers last night, so they have the momentum. The Sabres, on the other hand, don’t have much momentum but do have the advantage of being well rested. One good thing is that each team is starting to get their act together as of late.

Philadelphia @ Toronto

Both of these teams might be a little angry; the Flyers dropped that game at home against the Sharks while the Maple Leafs ran into the buzz saw known as the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. We’ll see if Philly can get back on track against an up-and-down Toronto bunch.

7:30 pm

NY Rangers @ Ottawa

These teams met last weekend, with Chris Kelly scoring a hat trick to help the Senators win 3-2. The Rangers are still in a much more comfortable position to make a run for the playoffs overall, though, as they’re in the “upper middle class” while the Senators are mired in the “lower middle class.”

8:00 pm

Columbus @ St. Louis

While the Blues are just banged up (Andy McDonald recently joined the wounded ranks along with T.J. Oshie and David Perron), the Blue Jackets seem to switch between great and dreadful every couple weeks. Both teams are competitive yet flawed, just like the many middle-of-the-pack squads that comprise most of the Western Conference.

9:00 pm

Minnesota @ Phoenix

The Coyotes are starting to look like that team that gave the Detroit Red Wings serious headaches in the playoffs last summer (7-2-1 in their last 10 games) while things are bleak enough for the Wild that people are pining for the times of Jacques Lemaire.

10:30 pm

Calgary @ Los Angeles

After beating the Red Wings and Panthers in Los Angeles, the Kings now have twice as many wins at home (10) than on the road (5). It seems like the SoCal bunch is getting things together after a stunning fall from grace while the Flames are barely staying in front of the Oilers to avoid being the worst team in the Western Conference. You’d think this would be an easy one for the Kings, but you never know.

NHL On NBC: Bruins look to stay hot against desperate Stars

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 10: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars prepares to face off against Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins during the second period at TD Garden on February 10, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Stars defeat the Bruins 5-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBC networks are airing two games on Sunday, with the first one being a big matchup in Dallas featuring two teams desperately fighting for a playoff spot when the Stars host the Boston Bruins.

It’s another Star Sunday on NBC with the focus for this game falling on Stars forward (and former Bruins) Tyler Seguin and Bruins forward David Pastrnak.

Seguin has been one of the NHL’s elite offensive players since arriving in Dallas in a trade four years ago, while Pastrnak is having a breakout season in Boston that has already seen him score 26 goals in 54 games.

Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, and all of the action can be seen on NBC or via our Live Stream.

As for the game itself, it’s a pretty huge — as they all will be from now on — for both teams. The Bruins enter the game having won four of their first five games under new coach Bruce Cassidy as their offense continues its second half resurgence. They have already scored 23 goals in the five games under Cassidy, and have averaged more than 3.18 goals per game in their past 22 under both him and former coach Claude Julien. Now that Tuukka Rask has started to get back on track, wins are starting to come a little more frequently.

The Bruins enter play on Sunday barely holding on to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, currently owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders and sitting two points ahead of the Florida Panthers. A win on Sunday would move them into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators.

For the Stars, meanwhile, things are a little more dire.

Even with wins in back-to-back games entering Sunday their playoff chances should probably be described as a complete long shot at this point, sitting nine points back of the St. Louis Blues for a wild card spot.

They are looking to win three games in a row for just the third time this season.

They get a little bit of help on the blue line on Sunday with the likely return of defenseman Johnny Oduya as he was activated from injured reserve Sunday morning.

On Friday, they already started selling assets by trading Patrick Eaves to the Anaheim Ducks for a draft pick.

Video: AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves brawl on … and off the ice

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The AHL’s Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves engaged in a brawl that eventually spilled out into a hallway at the Allstate Arena on Saturday — the same day the cult classic movie ‘Slap Shot’ apparently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release.

Talk about timing.

A line brawl broke out on the ice between the Wolves and Wild with less than three minutes remaining in the third period of Saturday’s game. But the fighting didn’t end there. Video highlights show several players, still in full gear, involved shortly after in an altercation off the ice.

Video shows Vince Dunn of the Wolves and Kurtis Gabriel trading punches off the ice before Gabriel is knocked to the ground and more players — and staff in the arena — intervene.

It looked like Dunn was on his way to the dressing room when Gabriel came over, leading to their off-ice bout.

The incident is sure to result in supplementary discipline from the AHL.

These teams, which combined for 70 penalty minutes Saturday, meet again Sunday. So, that could be interesting — to say the least.

Canucks GM Benning says mumps outbreak won’t impact trade deadline plans

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: Jim Benning of the Vancouver Canucks attends round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Let’s set the scene for what the Vancouver Canucks were facing Saturday:

— On Friday, it was announced the team was dealing with an outbreak of the mumps. Rookie defenseman Troy Stecher was the first confirmed case and four others — Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Markus Granlund and Mike Chaput — were all showing symptoms.

— Currently out of a playoff spot, the Canucks were facing the Pacific Division-leading Sharks.

— The Canucks were playing their first game out of the bye week and many other teams have struggled in the first game back from their mandated week off.

— The trade deadline is looming and the Canucks are expected to be sellers next week.

Pressure is growing in Vancouver ahead of the trade deadline, especially after last year’s debacle. The Canucks had a 1.3 per cent chance of making the playoffs before Saturday’s 4-1 loss to San Jose. The playoff dream is over. It has been for a long time. But the Canucks do have veteran players — the names Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Ryan Miller have been brought up — other teams in contention might be willing to trade for, which would help Vancouver add draft picks or perhaps even some quality prospects.

In an interview with TSN 1040 on Friday, GM Jim Benning admitted he’s asked players with no-trade clauses to submit a list of teams they would accept a trade to ahead of the deadline.

From the Vancouver Sun:

Winger Alex Burrows, a 12-year-Canuck who like Miller is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will draw trade interest but can veto a move with his NTC.

Not so Miller and Hansen, who can limit Benning’s trade field but cannot fully prevent a deal.

Miller, 36, submitted a list of five teams he can be traded to, while Hansen was required to identify eight potential trade destinations.

Now, how will this recent mumps outbreak impact Benning’s plans leading up to Wednesday?

“I don’t know if it will have any effect on that or not,” Benning said in his radio interview.

“This happened to other teams a few years ago and once the players go through the five-day incubation period, they’re fine. And so they can keep playing. I don’t think it will have any effect on that.”

Despite their playoff hopes hanging by a thread and a lineup with three AHL call-ups in Alex Grenier, Joseph LaBate and Evan McEneny, the Canucks somehow kept this close until midway through the third period.

LaBate planted Melker Karlsson with a hit and was eventually challenged to a fight in the third period. Karlsson left the game but did return for the third period.

At times, they actually outplayed the visitors through two periods but couldn’t find the lead and eventually the Sharks took over in the third period. Patrick Marleau gave them the lead late in the second period and Mikkel Boedker essentially put it out of reach.

For the Canucks, there was another case of illness Saturday.

Defenseman Luca Sbisa left the game and didn’t return with what the club said was a stomach flu, although given the situation in Vancouver, it will be worth monitoring to see if that diagnosis changes.

Crosby, Penguins deliver blow to Flyers’ playoff chances in Stadium Series

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PITTSBURGH — The first time the Pittsburgh Penguins played a game at Heinz Field, Sidney Crosby was on top of the NHL and having one of the most dominant offensive seasons in recent history. That was the game he was on the receiving end of the Dave Steckel hit that started the chain of events that basically cost him two of the prime years of his career.

The Heinz Field experience was significantly better for him and the Penguins this time around.

Crosby opened the scoring midway through the first period with his league-leading 34th goal of the season — finishing a slick feed from rookie forward Jake Guentzel — to help lead the Penguins to a 4-2 in the 2017 NHL Stadium Series game.

“We were thrilled for him,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked about Crosby scoring a goal in his return to Heinz Field.

“I am sure the experience of coming back here probably brought back some memories that he probably would like to forget. So to have a night like tonight, and an opportunity to play in such an exciting venue and start the game off the way he did, it did probably just helped him put that experience behind and move forward. I thought he played a solid game, his line was really good all night long and he scored a huge goal for us.”

Crosby’s goal is only part of the story in this one.

Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Chad Ruhwedel also scored goals in the win, while Matt Murray stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced.

First, for Pittsburgh, it was a huge win given the status of an undermanned defense that was playing without three of its top players. With Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta already sidelined, they were also without Kris Letang on Saturday night due to an upper body injury that currently has him listed as day-to-day. That meant they had to rely significantly on their depth.

Ron Hainsey, playing in his debut with the team after being acquired in a trade earlier this week from the Carolina Hurricanes, played more than 20 minutes in the win, including more than three minutes on the penalty kill. They also received a huge goal from Ruhwedel in the third period to help put the game away.

It wasn’t a flawless effort by the group (37 shots against illustrates that) but considering who was out of the lineup and the situation they were facing it was a huge performance to remain ahead of the New York Rangers for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and improve their record to 7-1-3 in their past 11 games.

Things are not quite as optimistic for the Flyers at the moment.

The loss on Saturday is a pretty damaging blow to their already fading playoff chances as they remain five points out of a playoff spot — with three teams ahead of them — with only 21 games to go.

They are also just 9-16-4 in their past 29 games since their 10-game winning streak ended on Dec. 14.

“It’s a tough result, walking away,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol after the game. “It’s a pretty close, tight hockey game where I thought our team played well, battled extremely well, and did a lot of good things but we walk away with the wrong result.”

That has happened a lot lately for the Flyers.

So why are they not getting the results? Well, the problem on Saturday was a familiar one for the Flyers — goaltending and defensive zone breakdowns.

Crosby’s goal to open the scoring was the result of a breakdown in defensive zone coverage that allowed the game’s best offensive player to be left wide open along the side of the net for an easy one-timer. Even though Michal Neuvirth didn’t have much of a chance on that play, he didn’t exactly play a strong game, allowing four goals on 29 shots.

The Matt Cullen goal to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the third period was a particularly tough one for Neuvirth to give up.

It is already the 10th time in 24 games this season he has given up at least three goals in a game, while his save percentage on the season remains well below the .890 mark. For a goalie that was one of the best values in the league last season in terms of performance and salary cap hit, it has been a massive regression this season.

Even though the results are not going their way at the moment Hakstol remains convinced the team is doing the right things and that the key to turning things around is just sticking with what they are doing.

“Couple little things within the game tonight,” said Hakstol. “We haven’t been able to score a whole lot. There has been a lot made of that, and fairly so. You look at the opportunities tonight, the type of opportunities we generate were pretty reasonable. You have to stick with it. We have gone through a tough stretch here, but for the vast majority we have played some pretty good hockey and we need to stick with it. We have to stay together as we have and we have to keep pushing the envelope.”

The Flyers are back in action on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.