Joe Corvo, Rob Niedermayer, Cam Ward

Around the Rink – Thursday, March 3rd

There are 11 games on today’s Thursday schedule, so let’s get to it. All start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Buffalo @ Carolina

There’s no reason to try to mask it; this is a huge contest for both teams. The Sabres trail the Hurricanes by only two points and hold two games in hand, but this match could swing the momentum for one of these teams. Each franchise has some positivity going lately, with Cory Stillman reigniting his old success with the Canes and Buffalo on a 3-0-1 run with new owner Terry Pegula.

Ottawa @ Atlanta

The Thrashers haven’t been winning much lately, but they don’t really have an excuse if they drop this one against the lowly Senators. Their chances seem to keep dwindling every week, so the pressure’s on Atlanta.

Tampa Bay @ Boston

The Lightning finished an epic homestand last week while the Bruins just finished up their best road trip since the 70s this week. They’re both division leaders who are facing some tough competition from their second place opponents. With the Lightning known for their explosive offense  and aversion to fighting and the Bruins for their smothering defense and physicality, this should be an interesting contrast.

Toronto @ Philadelphia

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter which team has more on the line. At least when it comes to the dominant Flyers. Meanwhile, the Leafs play against Kris Versteeg, who didn’t even make it a full season as a member of Toronto before being traded.

St. Louis @ Washington

In an ideal world, this would be the Capitals’ re-match against Jaroslav Halak. Instead, Halak is injured and St. Louis is in shambles, so instead it’s a game Washington has little excuse to lose.

Minnesota @ NY Rangers

It’s unclear if Marian Gaborik will be fit to play against the team he once was rarely fit to play for tonight, but it’s a big game either way, with both clubs on two-game losing streaks.

7:30 pm

Montreal @ Florida

With a strange March schedule coming up, the Panthers need to win these types of games if they hope to make the playoffs. Conversely, the Habs need to win these types of games to win the Northeast Division.

9:00 pm

Columbus @ Edmonton

It might look like the Blue Jackets are in bad shape, but with a couple games in hand over the bubble teams, they might be closer than it seems. If they win, that is.

10:00 pm

Nashville @ Vancouver

Much like the Maple Leafs visiting Philadelphia, the Predators go into Vancouver with desperation on their side against the best team in their conference. Will that make enough of a difference?

10:30 pm

Detroit @ San Jose

The Sharks have won seven games in a row and 12 of their last 14 games. The Red Wings defeated San Jose at the Shark Tank three times in a row, so it won’t come easily.

Phoenix @ Los Angeles

The Coyotes have lost four games in a row while Los Angeles will welcome Dustin Penner to the fold for his first contest as a member of the Kings. Anze Kopitar won two of their first three games during a six-game homestand, but matches like these will determine if it was really a success.

Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

Hemsky finds his groove on third line

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
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When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

“We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.