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Kings cap off successful road trip with victory over rival Ducks

Things were not going well for the Los Angeles Kings a month ago. Coming off a 2-6 season-long homestand, they were staring a franchise-long 10 game road trip in the face. The road trip couldn’t have come at a worse time as they struggled at the beginning of the calendar year and were engaged in the tight Western Conference playoff race. Expectations were huge at the beginning of the season, yet this was a team trapped in 12th place in the race for the playoffs.

But just before the road trip, the team started showing signs that they were going to bounce back. A three-game winning streak, including wins against Boston and San Jose, gave fans a sense that the team would be able to compete. But it didn’t change the fact that the Kings were heading out on the road for almost a full month and had a poor road record.

Fast forward to tonight and things are looking much better for the Kings. With their win against the Ducks in Anaheim, LA wrapped up their North American trek with a 6-1-3 record. Taking it a bit further, the Kings have earned points in 12 of their last 13 games. In a tight race where every point counts, this stretch couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kings.

Just about every single game was a closely contested battle on the road trip. Three of the losses came in extra time (one loss in OT, two in shootouts), and two of their wins were in the shootout. Take away the five games that went to extra time, and the Kings had two additional 1-goal wins. Razor thin margins any way you cut it. The only game where the Kings were dominated was in Long Island last weekend as they were shutout 3-0. Who would have thought the only loss in regulation would have been to the Islanders?

Some of the pessimists will tell you the Kings are a flawed team that needs to score more. Over the road trip, they only averaged 2.1 goals per game. There’s no question that rate won’t translate to a successful record over time. But for a team built on defense, the more important number would be the 1.8 goals they’re allowing per game. Yes, they need to get a sniper for their top 6; but any time a team can hold their opponents to under 2 goals per game for an extended period of time, they’re going to continue to win.

Earning 15 out of a possible 20 points is easily the most important stat for the Kings after the road trip. Teams always want to dominate, but they’ve been winning the tight checking, low scoring games that we can expect in the playoffs. From that point of view, the road trip showed they could be a team to be reckoned with in April and May.

Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the weary in Southern California as the Kings face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in another huge game with playoff implications. The teams are tied with 70 points and are currently holding the 5th and 6th places in the West. You’d think they’d deserve a little rest after such a long trip—but the rest will have to wait.

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    Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

    Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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    If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

    For instance:

    • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
    • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

    The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

    It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

    Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

    (In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

    Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

    By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

    Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

    Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

    Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

    Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

    The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

    It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

    A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

    The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

    Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

    Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

    NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

    Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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    Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

    The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

    Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

    CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

    The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

    Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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    Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

    OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

    It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

    (He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

    This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

    One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

    Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.