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.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.