Mike Babcock, Drew Miller

Early Ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 17th

For recaps of the three games that had an impact on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, click here. We’ll pass along notes on the final two games later tonight, but in the mean time, here are recaps of six other contests.

Detroit 2, Columbus 0

When you become a group that only includes Scotty Bowman during his days with the golden era Montreal Canadiens and Glen Sather when he coached the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers in its ranks, you’ve done something special. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock became only the third coach in NHL history to win 300 games in six seasons. With 11 games left, the Detroit bench boss might even be able to match Sather’s 307 wins in a six season span (Bowman’s out of reach with a staggering 321).

Babcock can thank a goalie who hadn’t earned many of those wins, as Joey MacDonald earned a 37-save shutout to preserve a 1-0 lead Drew Miller created just 33 seconds into the game. Valterri Filppula scored the Red Wings’ other goal, helping the team win its fourth in a row.

Montreal 3, Tampa Bay 2 (SO)

For years, Canadiens fans salivated at the idea of having French-Canadian star Vincent Lecavalier on their team. That didn’t stop them from cheering when he was booted from tonight’s game for slashing P.K. Subban, though.

Carey Price stopped 35 shots for his 34th win of the season, while Michael Cammalleri earned the shootout winner. Nigel Dawes scored the Habs’ other shootout goal in his debut for Montreal.

This win moves Montreal three points behind Boston for the Northeast Division title and also puts the Canadiens only three points behind Tampa Bay for the fifth seed in the East.

Nashville 4, Boston 3 (OT)

Sure, the Bruins wanted to win this game, but the Predators needed to if they wanted to keep pace in the complicated West bubble. Shea Weber scored an overtime power-play goal to win the game.

It wasn’t the Vezina Trophy matchup many were hoping for, as Tuukka Rask played instead of Tim Thomas. Pekka Rinne still made a statement, though, stopping 35 out of 38 shots.

Dallas 5, Chicago 0

With this win for Dallas, the Stars and Blackhawks have identical 38-25-8 records for 81 pts. In fact, they both have the same amount of regulation wins (33), shootout wins (5) and shootout losses (5).

Kari Lehtonen lead the way with a 25-save shutout while the Stars employed a scoring by committee approach. Red-hot youngster Jamie Benn scored yet again, justifying the feeling that he would fill James Neal’s shoes (or skates?) quite comfortably.

Meanwhile, Blackhawks players called it their worst loss of the season.

Phoenix 3, Edmonton 1

After struggling mightily, the Coyotes are hot again. They earned their fourth win in a row thanks to a great performance by Ilya Bryzgalov (35 for 36 saves) and nice work by forwards Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata (both scoring a goal and an assist each).

Phoenix is only one point behind the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks. Then again, the Kings could pass them based on games remaining if they win tonight, which is perfectly reasonable in this division.

Calgary 5, Colorado 2

This was probably the least surprising result of the night. The Flames handed the Avalanche their 10th consecutive loss in a row, but if that didn’t make it foreseeable enough, Calgary apparently beat Colorado on St. Paddy’s last year. In fact, the Flames must play well with green beer in their bellies, because apparently they are 9-5-2 on the holiday.

The Flames now find themselves in eighth place, although the Predators are nipping at their heels.

‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5  of the Florida Panthers leaves the ice following warmups prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.

Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Thursday, Ekblad told reporters the injury was actually whiplash.

The 20-year-old Ekblad has had a history of concussions, including one from a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2014 — almost two full months after the Panthers selected him first overall.

He was injured again in January of last season when Matt Hendricks caught him with a dangerous hit against the end boards, resulting in a suspension for Hendricks.

Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.

“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.

“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”

The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.

Stars sign WHL d-man Vala to entry-level deal

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The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.

On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.

Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.

He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.

“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.

Related:

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

Capitals send first-round pick Johansen back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Lucas Johansen poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by the Washington Capitals in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have sent prospect defenseman Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall in this year’s NHL Draft, back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

From the Kelowna Capital News:

The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.

That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.

Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals confirmed the news via Twitter.

Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.

Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.

“For a first game, to have that kind of poise playing defense, you don’t see it very often,” Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post.

“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”

Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for three preseason games for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs of the Washington Capitals in an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.

Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.

From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.

“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”

In a bid to land a gritty forward to their lineup, the Habs acquired Shaw from the Blackhawks, who had been dealing with a cap crunch, during the NHL Draft. He later signed a six-year contract extension with Montreal.