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Around the rink – Monday, February 7

7:00 p.m.

Atlanta @ Toronto

Toronto is busy in-fighting with Phil Kessel and Ron Wilson squabbling while the Thrashers come into town in desperate need of a win. Which ends up being more disfunctional, the Leafs on the ice or the Thrashers defense? If Phil Kessel comes out motivated tonight, life could be made miserable for the Thrashers.

7:30 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Detroit

Can the Red Wings avoid a third straight shutout? They hope so and they’ll have Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup for the first time since December 22 to help them out. Meanwhile, the Rangers might be rolling with Martin Biron again in goal tonight. That would make for an odd way of going about things while the team has lost four in a row. One thing the Rangers could use is Marian Gaborik to find the net again. The superstar winger is struggling and frustrated with his lack of output. There’s a big game in his future and going up against the slumping Wings defense and goaltending might be the thing he needs to snap out of it. With Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen back for him to play with, Gaborik’s running out of reasons why he can’t score.

8:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Nashville

The Predators hope to keep pressure on the Red Wings and getting by the Oilers would seem like an easy thing to do to make it happen. The Oilers have lost four in a row and nine of their last ten games. The Predators snapped a four game slide of their own beating Detroit on Saturday. Keeping the momentum going would be huge for the Predators while the Red Wings have stumbled of late.

9:30 p.m.

Chicago @ Calgary

Calgary looks to get back on the winning side of things after having their six-game win streak snapped on Saturday night against the Kings. Chicago is coming off a tough loss to Vancouver on Saturday, a game that saw them go 0-fer on the power play while allowing the Canucks to boss them around late in the game. If the Flames were serious about getting back in the playoff mix beating Chicago would send the message. Whether that six game run was a last gasp for a team that played uninterested hockey for most of the season remains to be seen.

Phoenix @ Colorado

Now that Foppa watch is over with and the Avalanche await his on-ice return, they’ll look to show some disciplined and motivated play from their other players against the Coyotes. The Avs have lost five of their last six games and their defense and goaltending must get better if they’re going to hang in there in the West. Say, does Forsberg play either of those positions? The Coyotes have won just three of their last nine games but are looking to build off their 1-0 win over Minnesota on Saturday.

10:00 p.m.

Ottawa @ Vancouver

I don’t suppose we could get two teams going in opposite directions any faster than these two on tonight’s schedule. Ottawa is on a rocket ship for the basement of the Eastern Conference while the Canucks sit on top of the West like kings of the world. It helps that Vancouver is playing a mentally tougher brand of hockey than past teams have. They don’t get down when a team scores what should be a momentum-wrecking goal. Instead they fight back and keep at it to stay on top or to fight back in a game. In other words, they do everything that Ottawa doesn’t do. Ottawa is hoping that a trip to the west coast will help them snap their nine-game losing streak. Good luck with that.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.