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Around the rink – March 7; Caps and Lightning face off in Southeast showdown

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Washington @ Tampa Bay

Spice in the Southeast Division just got a little stronger now that Tampa has cooled off and the Caps keep finding ways to win. Washington now leads the division by one point and the Lightning would like to get that top spot back right away. Luckily for Tampa Bay, they’ve still got Dwayne Roloson in goal and the combination of Roloson and Tampa Bay against the Caps has been a great one this year with Roloson earning two shutouts against the Caps this year as a member of the Lightning. Tampa’s lost three in a row while the Caps have won four straight now. If there was a time to take advantage of the Caps though, this would be it as Washington is coming off an overtime win over the Panthers.

9:00 p.m.

Columbus @ St. Louis

A pair of Central Division teams going in the wrong direction here as the Jackets and Blues have both lost four straight games. These two open up a home-and-home series and something’s got to give and for St. Louis. The Blues are hoping that Jaroslav Halak might be back to help give them a lift and win a game. Columbus, meanwhile, continues to do their hot and cold routine which helps make sure the fans don’t get too excited about their decreasing chances to make the playoffs.

10:30 p.m.

Dallas @ Los Angeles

These Pacific Division rivals have plenty to hammer out in this latest matchup. The Stars are just one point ahead of L.A. in seventh place and they’d like to keep the good times rolling as they’ve won four of their last five games. The Kings are winners of four of their last six games themselves but find themselves teetering on the brink of the playoffs despite their recent success. If L.A. wants to stay strong, putting one over on Dallas and moving them closer to the danger zone at the edge of the west playoff race would be a good way to do it. One thing both teams would like to avoid here? A three-point game. Going to overtime in these sorts of games against rivals for playoff spots is painful because you can’t put any distance on your foes.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champions this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, three off his college career high set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, bumping the number of players from that program’s junior class to turn pro to four since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, a 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.