Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

Around the rink – March 8; Habs-Bruins, Sabres-Pens highlight busy night

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh

Playoff position jockeying begins in earnest as the Sabres can jump to seventh in the East with a win over the Penguins. Meanwhile, a Penguins win paired with a Flyers regulation loss puts them in a tie with Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division. And some people say regular season hockey doesn’t have any bite to it. Silly people. Making life tougher for the Sabres is they’ll be without Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta tonight. Mark Parrish and Luke Adam get the call from the minors to help out. We’re figuring the Penguins won’t really miss dealing with Kaleta.

Ottawa @ New Jersey

Seems almost unfair that the Devils get to try and continue their winning ways against a Senators team decimated by injuries. Hey, at least they’ve got Craig Anderson in goal which means it’ll probably just be another 2-1 game. The Devils are just seven points out of eighth place and going up against the NHL’s worst team figures to be a good way to keep the good times rolling.

Toronto @ NY Islanders

The Leafs would like to keep up with the slumping Jones’ at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race and finding a way to beat the much improved Islanders would go a long way towards that. Having these two teams playing better hockey late in the season makes us nostalgic for the early part of the 2000s when these teams would play some legendary-ish games in the spring. Having some nostalgia break out on the ice tonight would make us feel at home. The Leafs are four points back of Carolina for the eighth spot in the East.

Edmonton @ Philadelphia

All right so the Flyers have lost four in a row and they’ve got what would appear to be an easy game with one of the NHL’s worst teams in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup finals from the 1980s these are not. Of course, the Oilers are winners of seven of their last ten games. We’re not going to call this a trap game, but we’re thinking that if Peter Laviolette’s reasoning for the Flyers recent slump is just a matter of fatigue, then things should return to normal for Philly.

7:30 p.m.

Boston @ Montreal

When last we left these two teams, they were putting on the foil in Boston in a big, old fashioned way in an 8-6 Bruins win featuring line brawls all over the place all night long. If we see more of that tonight in Montreal, we’d be surprised. We don’t think the Habs will be seeking revenge with their fists but would rather try to narrow the gap in the standings between themselves and the Bruins. Montreal trails Boston by five points and if they want to win the division wins are more important than payback. A Boston win and a Philly loss in regulation moves the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Chicago @ Florida

Panthers GM Dale Tallon gets to meet up with his former team in Sunrise tonight. With how hot the Blackhawks have been of late, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have a tough time dealing with the trade reduced Panthers, especially with a motivated Michal Frolik looking to beat his former team. Chicago could pull within four points of Detroit for the Central Division lead with a win.

8:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Minnesota

If the Wild are hoping to get in the mix for the playoffs, beating a downtrodden Avalanche team would go a long way towards that. Andrew Brunette may be out with illness and Guillaume Latendresse might suit up tonight. So much intrigue for the Wild! As for the Avs, they’ve lost 17 of their last 19 games including their last five. That’s stunningly awful. No pressure here Minnesota, but if you want to be taken serious as a potential playoff team you’d better beat the Avs.

9:00 p.m.

Vancouver @ Phoenix

A game with some bite to it out West as the Canucks look to keep flexing their muscles on the rest of the conference. After winning against L.A. and Anaheim the Canucks appear to have turned things around after going mild for a stretch just winning and losing on alternating nights. Phoenix may have turned around their fortunes with their comeback win in the shootout over Detroit on Saturday night. They had lost five in a row up until that point. The Coyotes could use a rally for a few different reasons and knocking off the front running Canucks would be another feather in their cap.

10:30 p.m.

Nashville @ San Jose

San Jose continues to be on fire while the Predators have slipped up of late. The Sharks did lose their last time out against Dallas, but they’d won eight in a row prior to that. Nashville’s lost six of their last eight and have fallen out of the top eight for the playoffs for the moment. They need to get consistent again and getting their offense together would go a long way toward that. Meanwhile, San Jose has a three point lead on the resurgent Stars in the Pacific Division. Keeping distance on them should be a priority for the Sharks.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net after a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: It’s Chad Johnson’s net in Calgary

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Chad Johnson #31 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Chad Johnson, the Flames’ goalie of record in eight of their last 10 games, will once again be in goal when Calgary hosts Minnesota on Friday night.

Johnson, as we’ve written about on numerous occasions, was terrific for the Flames in November, going 7-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA and .939 save percentage. He essentially wrestled the No. 1 gig away from Brian Elliott, and closed out the month in style by posting a 39-save shutout against Toronto on Wednesday.

As a result, Calgary has clawed back from a disappointing start to draw within one point of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference (granted, the Flames have played four more games than the Preds).

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other game this evening, as Montreal takes on the Sharks in San Jose. It promises to be a quality matchup as both teams are rolling with their No. 1s: Carey Price for the Habs, Martin Jones for the Sharks.