Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils

Around the rink – March 4; Devils and Blackhawks look to stay hot

7:00 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh @ New Jersey

The Devils are on a crazy run and they’re coming off a big win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. The Penguins are losers of five of their last six games and hurting for goals. The Devils during their run have been reminiscent of Devils teams from the past playing stifling defensive hockey. I think you can see where I’m going with this one and it doesn’t bode well for Pittsburgh. The Pens are five points behind Philly for the lead in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference. A win would help them keep the Caps off their heels for fourth and help them narrow the gap on the Flyers. The Devils, meanwhile, can’t afford to lose any games making virtually every game from here out like Game 7 for them.

7:30 p.m. ET

NY Rangers @ Ottawa

Things are getting awkward for the Rangers now. They’re in eighth in the East now and sit just two points ahead of Buffalo and three ahead of a hot and streaking Toronto. The Rangers can’t seem to score on anyone and facing Craig Anderson and the Senators tonight doesn’t help their prospects there. Anderson has allowed just seven goals in six games with the Sens and has a .966 save percentage over those games. The Rangers have lost three in a row and have just four goals in those three games. With Ottawa in full on spoiler mode (both for other teams and their own shot at the #1 pick) this isn’t shaping up to be a good night for New York.

8:30 p.m. ET

Carolina @ Chicago

The good news for Carolina is they’re not in eighth place anymore jumping to seventh in the East. The bad news is that they’ve got to face Jonathan Toews and the streaking Blackhawks tonight. Chicago has won six in a row and have vaulted themselves heavily into the mix for the playoffs in the West. As things go there, wins and other teams winning move you up and down the standings wildly, but Chicago is in that position now thanks to Toews. Just a couple weeks ago, they were on the outside looking in and feeling desperate. This season’s been funny like that for a lot of teams out West. Well, funny if you make the playoffs, infuriating if you miss them.

9:00 p.m. ET

Columbus @ Calgary

Remember three games ago when Columbus looked poised to join the fray fighting for a spot in the playoffs? Those were fun times. The Jackets have, instead, lost three in a row and returned to their regular place in the “also ran” category. Steve Mason’s play has returned to earth and with it so have the hopes of Columbus fans. Hockey life is cruel. Calgary comes in 5-2-1 in their last eight and looking to bounce back after a 6-4 loss to Chicago on Wednesday. Outside of that game, Miikka Kiprusoff has been outstanding for Calgary in goal of late. The Flames may be without Brendan Morrison in this one.

10:00 p.m. ET

Dallas @ Anaheim

A pair of teams looking to stay hot as Dallas goes into Anaheim on a three-game win streak while the the Ducks have won two in a row. We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the good times rolling in the Western Conference. Surprising development for Anaheim? The great play of Dan Ellis in goal. Ellis is 2-0-1 with Anaheim with a 1.93 goals against and a .929 save percentage. With Jonas Hiller out getting solid play like this from Ellis is huge for the Ducks in their efforts to get into the playoffs. Dallas, meanwhile, seems to have settled down after avoiding the Brad Richards trade drama. After a prolonged dry spell, they’ve got three wins in a row and back into the fray for the playoffs.

Hedman still isn’t ready to return for ‘desperation mode’ Lightning

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 23: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning holds his arm against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on December 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Whatever “illness” is bothering Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman must be pretty bad, as he’ll miss his third straight game as the Bolts visit the Sharks in San Jose tonight.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the team (which he considers in “desperation mode”) will evaluate Hedman on a game-by-game basis. Hey, for a squad dealing with as many injuries as Tampa Bay has been this season, it’s probably refreshing to say “game-by-game” instead of “day-to-day.”

To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’ve begun a potentially harrowing road stretch reasonably well, especially considering Hedman’s absence. Let’s look at it as a whole:

Monday: 2-1 win at Kings
Tuesday: 2-1 OT loss at Ducks
Tonight: at Sharks
Saturday: at Coyotes
Tuesday, Jan. 24: at Blackhawks
Thursday, Jan. 26: at Panthers
Tuesday: Jan. 31: begin four-game homestand vs. Bruins

That’s a pretty challenging way to head into March, especially without one of the best defensemen in the NHL. The Bolts have to hope he gets over this sickness (or unspecified injury?) soon enough.

NHL explains new All-Star Skills Competition event

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  Fans arrive for the game between the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues at the Staples Center on January 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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We wrote yesterday about the NHL’s plans to replace the “Breakaway Challenge” at the All-Star Skills Competition with something called the “Four Line Challenge.”

Today, the league explained how the new event will work:

This event involves four shooters from each team. Each shooter will shoot from one of four shooting positions; near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line.

The first shooter from each team takes two shots from the near blue line in an attempt to score goals in either the upper left or upper right corner of the net. Successful shots score one point for their team.

The second shooter from each team takes two shots from center ice in an attempt to score goals in one of the four corners of the net. Successful shots in the lower corners score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score three points for their team.

The third shooter from each team takes two shots from the far blue line in an attempt to score a goal in one of the four corners of the net or the five hole. Successful shots in the lower corners or five hole score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score five points for their team.

The fourth shooter from each team takes two shots from the far goal line in an attempt to score a goal in the five hole. Successful shots score 10 points for their team. Captains can substitute the fourth shooter with a goalie. A successful shot by a goalie is awarded 20 points for their team.

In addition, the first All-Star to score two goals in the five hole from the far goal line will win the new 2017 Honda CRV.

Sounds like fun.

Or at the very least, worth a try.

The skills competition will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Each all-star will compete in at least one of the six contests: the skills challenge relay, the four-line challenge, accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot, and the shootout.

Minor-league team involved in rollover bus crash

COLUMBUS, GA - MARCH 13:  Shannon Szabados #40 of the Columbus Cottonmouths watches the action from the bench at Columbus Civic Center on March 13, 2014 in Columbus, Georgia. The Pensacola Ice Flyers defeated the Columbus Cottonmouths 5-0. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Cottonmouths, a Georgia-based team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, was involved in a rollover crash on Thursday afternoon while traveling to an away game in Peoria.

Per the Peoria Journal-Star, the charter bus carrying the team crashed on Interstate 74 and all 24 passengers — players, coaching and traveling staff — were transported to hospital.

More:

Two had to be extricated from the vehicle and were transported immediately to the hospital, while the others followed later in another bus. Morton Fire Chief Joe Kelley said his firefighters had to cut out holes in the top of the bus to remove the two. The rest were able to get out on their own.

Twenty-three of the bus’s occupants were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Three were considered trauma patients and listed in serious condition, though OSF media relations coordinator Shelli Dankoff described their injuries as non-life threatening. The remaining 20 patients were not seriously injured. Some had already been treated at release shortly after 3 p.m. and were waiting for transport to their hotel.

The Cottonmouths have since followed up with a release, confirming all players have been accounted for and that there are no life-threatening injures to players, staff or personnel.

Pre-game reading: About that time Donald Trump considered buying the Panthers

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie discusses Paul Maurice’s status in Winnipeg. Is the Jets’ head coach on the hot seat?

— Did you know that Donald Trump once considered buying the Florida Panthers? He never did buy them, of course, but the Miami Herald’s George Richards recalls the time, “around 2000,” when Trump kicked the tires on the hockey club. The Panthers, oddly enough, are now owned by Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, Vinnie Viola. (Miami Herald)

— From The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria, Illinois: “A charter bus carrying the Columbus Cottonmouths team was in a rollover crash on Interstate 74 on Thursday afternoon as the Southern Professional Hockey League team was on its way into Peoria for a weekend series against the Peoria Rivermen.” Fortunately, there don’t appear to be any serious injuries — just some “bumps and bruises,” according to the team’s co-owner, Bart Rogers. However, two people were reportedly taken to the hospital in an ambulance. (Journal Star)

— The Washington Post spoke to Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer about the new streamlined pants that all NHL goalies must start wearing by Feb. 4. While Holtby isn’t too concerned about the changes, Grubauer had this to say: “I understand you want to get the game more exciting for the fans, but there’s a fine line between making the gear smaller and also keeping the goalies protected. If too many guys get hurt with those, it’s not a good thing. … What do you want to take away next? Goalies without sticks? Without skates?” PHT prediction: They’ll let goalies keep their skates on.  (Washington Post)

— An encouraging update from Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with MS in November. The Hurricanes forward has been taking a drug called Tysabri, and the results have been good. “I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been on the ice a couple times. … Different people react differently to different drugs and I’ve been reacting good and we’ll see how it goes.” (NHL.com)

— The Nashville Predators picked up “another teammate” on Friday, but they’re still not sure if “Mario” will last the season as their good-luck charm. (The Tennessean)

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Enjoy the games!