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.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

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When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

Here’s the Wagner goal:

You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

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Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

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So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.