Zdeno Chara, Steve Kampfer, Roman Hamrlik, Max Pacioretty

Northeast Division Watch (March 3)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Northeast Division outlook (March 3 -March 9th)

1. Boston Bruins (37-19-7 for 81 pts; 63 Games Played)

Current streak: Six straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Tampa Bay (Thursday), home vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday) and @ Montreal (Tuesday).

Thoughts: After putting together their best road trip since 1972, the Bruins get a couple home games … unfortunately it’s against some tough opponents. After that, they’ll play five of their last six games away from home, so their division lead isn’t a sure thing.

2. Montreal Canadiens (34-23-7 for 75 pts; 64 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Florida (Thurs), @ Tampa Bay (Sat), home vs. Boston (Tues).

Thoughts: The Habs are in the middle of a tour of the non-traditional Southeast Division teams (everyone but the Washington Capitals) before the play what could be a big game against the Bruins. They need to work on their road game, though, being that they’re currently below .500 (14-15-1) away from Montreal.

3. Buffalo Sabres (30-25-7 for 67 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four road games – vs. Carolina (Thurs), Philadelphia (Sat), Minnesota (Sun) and Pittsburgh (Tues).

Thoughts: The Sabres began their seven-game road trip with a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers. They’re hoping they can match their division mates in Boston for heartiness outside of their home digs. It won’t be easy considering the fact that they play two likely playoff teams from Pennsylvania plus two teams fighting for their playoff lives. The game against Carolina tonight is obviously one of the truest tests.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-27-9 for 65 pts; 64 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away against Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Chicago (Sat) and @ Islanders (Tues).

Thoughts: The Leafs need a big week, as they trail the Hurricanes by four points while the Sabres are two points ahead of them with two less games played. If only they could play against the Penguins more often, as they beat them twice in extra innings (once in a shootout, once in overtime) in the last three games.

5. Ottawa Senators (21-33-9 for 51 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: On the road against Atlanta (Thurs), home vs. Rangers (Fri) and @ New Jersey (Tues).

Thoughts: If the Senators were in playoff contention, playing 10 road games vs. five home contests would make this March a horrible month. Instead, this is a good thing because Ottawa will (probably) lose enough to get a better draft pick. Hopefully they won’t turn on Craig Anderson because of it.

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.