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Around the Rink – New Year’s Eve edition

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For some, seeing the year change from 2010 to 2011 will be a blessing that cannot come soon enough (and maybe not just because it means the Winter Classic will be here that much sooner). Yet for people like myself, there will be some mixed feelings, as 2010 brought along the introduction of Pro Hockey Talk and plenty of other exciting events.

Tonight’s slate of NHL action finishes the year off well, with nine games overall. Here are previews of those contests, with start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

5:00 pm

Atlanta @ New Jersey

What’s the best remedy for a team that’s on a losing streak, like Atlanta’s three-game skid? Playing against the Devils seems to be that elixir, as New Jersey is currently on a six game losing streak and sits firmly in last place in the NHL. Surely there’s a part of the Thrashers organization (maybe everyone left over from Don Waddell’s era as GM?) that relishes the fact that their team is prospering while Ilya Kovalchuk languishes in New Jersey.

Montreal @ Florida

While Kovalchuk seeing his old teammates might still be emotional, I imagine Jacques Martin’s return to Florida isn’t going to be very moving. The Canadiens are far ahead of the Panthers right now, but with Florida owning six more home games than road games for the rest of the season, perhaps the gap is smaller than it seems?

6:00 pm

Nashville @ Minnesota

The Predators are on a five game winning streak while the Wild are up and down, yet the only thing that separates these two teams is that Nashville has one more charity point this season.

7:00 pm

NY Islanders @ Detroit

The Isles just beat the Pittsburgh Penguins by ending Sidney Crosby’s point scoring streak at 25 games, so they must feel good about themselves. Cue the Red Wings’ music to make them feel sad again.

Ottawa @ Columbus

The Blue Jackets seem to be on an upward trend in the last few games, while it’s amazing the Senators are even somewhat close to a playoff spot in the East with a -26 goal differential.

8:00 pm

Vancouver @ Dallas

The Stars just hosted the top team in the West and lost 7-3 and now they face the Canucks at home on NYE. Not exactly an easy stretch for the Pacific Division leaders, right?

Philadelphia @ Anaheim

The Flyers pounded the Ducks’ division and state rivals last night, so they might be a little bit weary of another California match. Hopefully they’ll be ready to scrap too, as this is a rare contest between the NHL’s most regularly penalized teams over the last few seasons.

8:30 pm

Phoenix @ St. Louis

The Blues will try to win their fifth game in a row as part of a lengthy homestand, but they’ll need to beat the Coyotes, the team with the best road record of all non-playoff teams (10-7-3). One would expect this to be a tight checking, low scoring affair.

9:00 pm

Colorado @ Calgary

The second best team in the Northwest (Colorado) visits the second worst team in the Western Conference (Calgary) in this game. The Avs are currently in the midst of a Northwest swing, as they just beat the Oilers in a shootout, will take on the Flames tonight and then will face the Canucks on Sunday.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.