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Northwest Division Watch (March 11)

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.

Northwest Division outlook (March 11 -March 18th)

1. Vancouver Canucks (44-16-9 for 97 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: Four straight wins.

Week ahead: @ Calgary (Sat), home vs. Minnesota (Mon), home vs. Colorado (Wed), and home vs. Phoenix (Fri).

Thoughts: The Canucks have taken the last week to remind the entire Western Conference that they’re the team to beat this year. After a lackluster effort against the Predators at home, they came back with a couple dominating performances in southern California, a win in Phoenix, and a spectacular shootout victory in San Jose. Anyone who thought they had peaked too soon might want to take a step back. Right now they’re the best in the West and are at the top of their game.

2. Calgary Flames (36-25-9 for 81 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Vancouver (Sat), home vs. Phoenix (Tues), home vs. Colorado (Thurs).
Thoughts: Ever since Christmas, the story has been the same. The Flames win and win often. They’ll have a huge showdown with the rival Canucks over the weekend and then a rematch of the 1-0 defeat against the Coyotes on Tuesday. Jay Feaster and Brent Sutter told the team they wanted to win 2 out of every 3 games—they might need to keep up that pace just to make the playoffs.

3. Minnesota Wild (35-26-7 for 77 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Three road games: @ Dallas (Fri), @ Vancouver (Mon), @ San Jose (Thurs).
Thoughts: The good news for the Wild is they are only 2 points out of a playoff spot and would win the tie-breaker with every relevant team with 33 regulation/OT wins. The bad news is they are still in 11th place and in the time they should be making a push, they’re 4-4-2. Falling flat on their face in a big game against Nashville was not the way they wanted to start their final push.

4. Colorado Avalanche (26-32-8 for 60 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Lost two in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Anaheim (Fri), @ Nashville (Sat), @ Vancouver (Wed), @ Calgary (Thurs).
Thoughts: It seems like only a couple of months ago when people were talking about the Avs as one of the young, exciting teams in the league. Unfortunately, anything that could go wrong has gone wrong and golfing season can’t come soon enough. The best news for fans in Colorado? They’re currently looking at the 3rd overall pick in June’s draft.

5. Edmonton Oilers (23-37-8 for 54 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two losses.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Fri), @ Pittsburgh (Sun), home vs. Phoenix (Thurs).

Thoughts: As if the Oilers needed a reminder where they stand right now, they recently traveled to Philadelphia and Washington and lost by a combined score of 9-1. In 10 days, they’ve lost their top 4 scorers (3 injured, Penner via trade). Forget throwing in the towel—the Oilers might want to just forfeit the rest of their games to avoid any potential problems for next year.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.