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Around the Rink – Life after the Winter Classic edition

It’s reasonable to say that there won’t be a day in 2011 in which more people were hungover worldwide (except maybe March 9th, July 5th, May 6th or December 26th*). Yet in the puck world, the huge shadow created by the annual Winter Classic game leaves a hockey hangover itself.

But much like a hard worker fighting down a plate full of eggs shortly after hugging porcelain, the show must go on. Let’s take a look at today’s games, which include some unusual start times, which are all Eastern Standard Time (ET).

* – Get it, because those are the mornings after Mardi Gras, the Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo and Christmas? Perhaps this is an observation that only can come from someone who lives in the Southwest, by for my money, Cinco de Mayo is possibly the most underrated holiday around.

1:00 pm

Atlanta @ Montreal

It’s a match between two unexpectedly successful teams who rode some hot streaks by two unexpectedly successful goalies (Ondrej Pavelec and Carey Price respectively) who are now starting to slip back to the pack. The Thrashers are in seventh place with a 3-4-3 mark in their last 10 while the Habs are in eighth place in the East with a 3-7-0 mark in their last 10. Maybe one of these teams can start the new year off right with a solid win?

5:00 pm

Philadelphia @ Detroit

These two teams are coping with the injuries of (arguably?) their best players, with Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk out for quite some time. Each club also faces a slightly more challenging road going forward than they experienced to start off 2010-11, so building momentum could start this afternoon.

NY Rangers @ Florida

Both of these teams are admirably scrappy, only the Rangers are producing the kind of work that gives them a great chance of making the playoffs. Don’t sleep on the Panthers altogether, though.

6:00 pm

Columbus @ Nashville

Put this matchup high on the list of games that aren’t likely to headline the next Winter Classic. I cannot help but yawn just thinking about it. (Did that make you yawn? Sorry.)

Phoenix @ Minnesota

Then again, at least the prior game would feature Rick Nash and (restricted free agent contract permitting) Shea Weber. This match wouldn’t even have that going for it.

Dallas @ St. Louis

The Blues might be on the quietest hot streak in the NHL, as they’re on a five game winning streak and have the chance to go five for five in their homestand by beating the slumping Stars tonight. Give St. Louis plenty of credit for muscling through a ton of injury worries, although they’re not out of the woods just yet despite moving into fifth in the West.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Anaheim

This is an important game because a Blackhawks regulation win would boot Chicago back into the top eight and probably knock the Ducks out. I write probably because the middle quarter of the West is so clogged and convoluted that its better just to watch the action and report afterward instead of attempting to make sense of it from a day-to-day perspective.

Vancouver @ Colorado

I made a big deal out of how high-scoring the Avalanche offense is (131 goals), but the problem is that they allow almost as many tallies as they score (123 allowed). The Canucks are almost as productive (125 goals in two less games played) but also boast the least goals allowed of any Western Conference team with 91. Could it be that Vancouver is the best out West?

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings
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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

Colorado Avalanche v Winnipeg Jets
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.