Around the rink – March 17; Goaltending battle in Nashville highlights a busy night

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Atlanta

Philly can gain a little breathing room on the Caps for the lead in the East with a win. Atlanta is fighting to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and a win helps keep them in the race four back of Buffalo. Atlanta’s been better of late but you worry that they may have slipped back far enough to be kept out of the playoffs. Four of Atlanta’s last five games have gone to overtime. Handing out the free loser point this time of year makes everyone cringe.

Detroit @ Columbus

After beating the Caps last night, Detroit looks to roll onward towards locking up the Central Division. Detroit’s got an eight point lead on Chicago for the Central and with fewer games left in the year, it’s almost inevitable the Wings are winning the division and a top three seed in the playoffs. Columbus would love to help slow that down but they’ve lost eight of their last nine games including four in overtime or the shootout.

7:30 p.m.

Tampa Bay @ Montreal

Perhaps the night’s most curious game as a Montreal win in regulation gets them to within two points of catching the Lightning for fifth in the East. Both Pittsburgh and Boston should be keeping tabs on these two teams as they’re likely who they’ll face in the first round of the playoffs in one way or another. Montreal’s won seven of their last ten games and are within four points of Boston for the Northeast Division lead. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is in a funk, losing six of their last eight games and they’re five points back of Washington for the Southeast Division lead.

New Jersey @ Ottawa

A big road game for the Devils as a win helps keep the dream alive. It’s also the first of their five remaining back-to-back sets of games as they’ll be at home tomorrow against the Capitals. Figuring out a way to navigate those sets of games and keep winning is going to be tough for them. Ottawa, meanwhile, is again looking like one of the worst teams in the league as not even Craig Anderson has been able to stand on his head enough of late to get them back to winning.

Toronto @ Florida

Speaking of keeping dreams alive, the Maple Leafs got an other-worldly performance out of James Reimer last night to give the Leafs a win to keep them within four points of Buffalo. A win tonight might make the faithful in Toronto go catatonic in fear of having their hearts broken with so few games left in the season. Florida won’t be a pushover team even in spite of them essentially being done.

8:00 p.m.

Boston @ Nashville

It’s a Vezina Trophy showdown in Nashville with Boston’s Tim Thomas facing off against Pekka Rinne of the Predators. We know that Thomas has garnered most of the praise and early ballots as the favorite for the goaltending prize, but Rinne has been there with him step for step.  Thomas leads the NHL in save percentage at .938 and Rinne is second with .928. Thomas also leads in goals against average at 2.03 while Rinne is right behind him with 2.09. We know that Rinne hasn’t been getting nearly the same attention but you wonder just where the Predators would be without Pekka Rinne. Our guess, well out of the playoffs and struggling. Perhaps there’s another trophy for Rinne to go after if he leads the Preds to the playoffs.

8:30 p.m.

Chicago @ Dallas

While Chicago hopes to jump back up the standings into the middle of the playoff pack in the West, Dallas would like to avoid being put in danger of being bounced out of the top eight. Games like this are going to make the race out West thrilling because any team taking a loss, never mind a losing streak, has a brutal effect on their chances of making the postseason. Dallas sits in seventh right now a point ahead of Anaheim and Calgary and two ahead of Nashville. Chicago is in sixth but a win could vault them up to fourth.

9:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Calgary

Colorado proved themselves worthy enough to blow a 2-0 lead to Vancouver last night to help the Canucks clinch the division and a playoff spot. Calgary hopes they’ll be woeful enough to help them jump back into the top eight of the West playoff picture. With Anaheim winning last night, Calgary slipped out of the playoff picture thanks to losing the tiebreaker with Anaheim. Calgary is banged up and could use help from recently recalled Ales Kotalik. Hey, when times get rough you get desperate and for Calgary, they’re hoping they haven’t run out of gas just yet.

Phoenix @ Edmonton

The Coyotes have been rolling of late winning four of their last five games and find themselves in fifth place in the Western Conference because of it. Dealing with the much maligned Oilers in their house tonight should work out ideally for them. On the other side of things, Edmonton is in the hunt for the #1 pick in the draft this year and they’re the leaders in the clubhouse four points worse than Ottawa. Don’t worry Oilers, Adam Larsson will be yours soon enough.

10:30 p.m.

St. Louis @ Los Angeles

All right so the Blues are essentially toast and after losing to Anaheim last night we’re sure they’ll want a measure of revenge against the Kings. Sadly for them, the Kings have been playing great of late. The Kings are on a four game win streak and sit in fourth place in the West. These standings can be fleeting but the Kings finally look like they’ve got it all together. Jon Quick continues to be incredible in goal and the addition of Dustin Penner appears to be just what they needed.

Minnesota @ San Jose

The last hurrah of the Minnesota Wild? This might just be it. The Wild are four points back of Anaheim for the last playoff spot and they’ve lost three games in a row. Another loss really sinks their hopes of making the playoffs and falling any further out of the race with so few games remaining crushes their chances. The Sharks will be without Dany Heatley who’s been suspended for cheaply elbowing Steve Ott in the head. If they can keep things rolling along, they can keep the Coyotes and Kings off their heels in the race for the Pacific Division.

Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

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Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

Housley was not happy about it.

Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

From the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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