Around the rink – Thursday, December 16th

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The Habs and Bruins get to renew acquaintances in Montreal tonight in an Original Six throw down of the ages. It wouldn’t be any fun without a little controversy though, wouldn’t it? Elsewhere, Dion Phaneuf returns to Calgary, the Isles try to win anything, and the Rangers look to roll on against the Coyotes. All times are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Anaheim @ NY Islanders

The Islanders look to snap out of yet another funk and they’ll have Radek Martinek and Milan Jurcina back on the blue line to make it happen. They’ll need it to shut down Anaheim’s top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Those three have been carrying the offensive load for the Ducks of late. Disappointingly, Teemu Selanne is likely out of the lineup again as he makes perhaps his final East Coast swing in his career.

Phoenix @ NY Rangers

The Rangers look to continue Phoenix’s misery hangover and build off of a big win over Pittsburgh last night. Phoenix was shutout by New Jersey last night 3-0 and they’ll need a more complete effort tonight against a Rangers team playing without Ryan Callahan who’s out at least six weeks with a broken hand.

Carolina @ Atlanta

Carolina avoided disaster against Florida last night, but if they pull the same “get down 3-0 and work back” routine against Atlanta, they could be in for a long night. Oddly enough, this is the first time these two divisional foes have met this season. Can the Thrashers handle rookie sensation Jeff Skinner? What can Carolina do to rein in defenseman Dustin Byfuglien? One thing helping Carolina tonight, they won’t have to face Ondrej Pavelec as Chris Mason gets the start.

Boston @ Montreal

These two hated rivals square off once again in an Original Six battle in Quebec. The Habs got a win over Boston in Beantown already this year winning 3-1 thanks to Carey Price. Price and Tim Thomas get to face each other again tonight and this time, the Bruins roll into town angry after a tough loss to Buffalo. The Habs, meanwhile, look to shake their tough 5-3 loss to Philly out of their minds. Expect goals to be at a premium between these two.

8:00 pm

Los Angeles @ St. Louis

The Kings roll into St. Louis and won’t have to deal with dueling Johnsons. Erik Johnson will be out of the lineup for the Blues to face off against fellow American Jack Johnson. The Kings are hoping their 5-0 win over Detroit on Monday is a sign that things are returning to normal for them. After an extended cold streak, Jonathan Quick tossed up a 51-save shutout to keep the high-powered Wings off the board while the offense blew up for five goals. If they build off that, it doesn’t bode well for the Blues who were humbled by Detroit last night 5-2.

Ottawa @ Minnesota

When these two met up in Ottawa last year, the Wild’s equipment trailers caught fire and destroyed everything they had. So far everything is safe for the Senators on their return trip. Instead, the Sens are floundering and tonight they’ll reward local boy Brian Lee with his first start in over 20 games so he can play in front of his family. It’s a nice touch and an opportunity for the Sens to showcase Lee for a potential trade.

8:30 pm

San Jose @ Dallas

Dallas gets Kari Lehtonen back in goal tonight and both teams are looking to get hot. San Jose dropped a tough one in Nashville last night, and two in a row going back to their shootout loss to Dallas on Monday night. The Sharks have lost three of their last four and they could sure use Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski getting back to normal. Logan Couture has been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting of late for the Sharks. Yeah, he’s a rookie. Dallas may be leading the Pacific Division but the Sharks are just three points behind them.

9:30 pm

Toronto @ Calgary

Dion Phaneuf makes his return to Calgary tonight. After spending almost five seasons there, count on Phaneuf getting a mixed response from Flames fans who have seen their team’s fortunes turn as ugly as they have for the Leafs of late. Perhaps everyone goes home unhappy after this one? Toronto is looking to keep it going after beating Edmonton soundly the other night. Calgary is hoping to build off their overtime win over Columbus. Keeping Jarome Iginla scoring would do a lot to help that out.

Columbus @ Edmonton

Speaking of Edmonton and Columbus, these two meet up hoping to put their previous losses behind them and for Edmonton the inconsistency is almost expected out of them. For Columbus on the other hand, it’s a bit more frustrating for them as they go from looking like one of the tougher teams in the West to complete pushovers. Which Jackets team shows up against the youthful Oilers? Rick Nash will have a say in how that goes.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2.

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?