Jonathan Toews

Race for the Playoffs: Chicago’s pursuit runs into old nemesis Detroit tonight

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

1. Vancouver – 109 pts
2. Detroit – 97 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 93 pts
5. Los Angeles – 92 pts
6. Nashville – 92 pts
7. Anaheim – 89 pts
8. Chicago – 88 pts
9. Calgary – 87 pts
10. Dallas – 86 pts

Chicago @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET

Things are getting a bit dicey for the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’ve lost five of their last eight games and they’ve slipped back in the West race to eighth place and they’re just two points away from being in tenth. If the wins don’t start coming soon, they could find themselves not even getting a chance to defend their title in the playoffs. Tonight, they’ll get to face a Detroit team playing without Jimmy Howard among others. If there was ever a good shot for Chicago to get one over on their hated Original Six rivals, this would be it.

With Anaheim in action at home against lowly Colorado, they’ll need to win to try and keep pace with the Ducks. For Detroit, a win would do them well to keep the streaking Predators off their heels. Nashville is just five points out of the division lead and while they’ve been on a tear, they’ve jumped Chicago for second place and are locked into the middle of the pack in the playoffs. While five points is a good lead, the threat of being overtaken is still there.

Detroit has been coping with different nagging injuries all year and played well and they’ll need to keep that up through the rest of the season. This is the first of three meetings between Chicago and Detroit before the end of the season as they’ll conclude the year with a home-and-home series that concludes with the NBC Game of the Week on the final day of the season from Chicago.

Colorado @ Anaheim – 10 p.m. ET

Anaheim DucksAnaheim’s hot run of play of late has gotten them into seventh in the West and with a win tonight they can keep the pressure from the likes of Calgary and Dallas off of them and move slightly closer to locking down a playoff spot in the West. Corey Perry has been a man possessed of late seemingly carrying the Ducks on his shoulders. Over his last nine games, Perry has 11 goals and four assists and the Ducks have gone 7-2-0 in those games. Doing all that with a host of different guys in goal between Dan Ellis, Ray Emery, and recently returned from vertigo Jonas Hiller makes the feat all the more impressive. The Ducks top line of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan might be the best line in the NHL right now while Lubomir Visnovsky is quietly having one of the top seasons from a defenseman.

With all those positive things working, however, all it takes is a couple bumps in the road to knock you back out of the top eight in the West. Beating teams like 14th in the West Colorado is essential to keeping the good things going. If the Ducks allow this game to play like a trap game and lose, it could be looked back on as one of the more regrettable losses of the season. The way the Ducks are rolling right now, expecting a letdown here seems unlikely.

Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

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Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.

We have a (minor league) trade to announce

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Michael Latta #17 of the Los Angeles Kings during a preseason game at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings have made a minor league trade on Saturday.

The Blackhawks acquired forward Michael Latta, who has 113 games of NHL experience with the Washington Capitals, in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta will report to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, according to the Blackhawks. In 29 games this season with the Ontario Reign, Latta has two goals and six points.

Schilling, 28, is expected to be assigned to the Reign, the team said in a release.

In 40 games this season with the IceHogs, Schilling has seven goals and 17 points.

Singing the Blues: St. Louis continues recent skid

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Make that three straight losses for the St. Louis Blues, who have only four wins in their last 10 games.

The Blues lost to the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 5-3 on Saturday. Late attempts at a comeback from four goals down were fleeting and unsuccessful. Once in competition for the Central Division, St. Louis has fallen off the pace in these times of struggle and is now part of the pack fighting for a wild card spot in the West.

In the last three games, the Blues have given up 18 goals. Eighteen goals.

That is highly uncharacteristic of a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, and the Blues have been one of the stingiest clubs in the NHL over the last five years. Jake Allen‘s struggles have been well documented and he didn’t even travel with the team to Winnipeg.

These are difficult times for the Blues, who turned to Pheonix Copley, who had never started an NHL game before today, in goal versus the Jets.

Despite giving up five goals on 29 shots, Hitchcock praised the play of Copley. And he likes the amount of scoring chances his team is producing. But their own mistakes keep piling up, and they keep piling into the St. Louis net at what is now an alarming rate.

The Blues trailed 2-1 entering the third period, but gave up a Bryan Little power play goal just over two minutes later and they fell further behind. It was a critical moment in the game for St. Louis. The floodgates opened from there for the Jets.

“We left the game out there ,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“It’s tough. Quite frankly, we’re allowing too many goals against, obviously. Too many easy scoring chances. We’re getting scored on killing penalties now. If we clean up our own end, both five-on-five and five-on-four, it will help us a lot.”

Desjardins: Horvat is ‘fine’ after taking a slap shot to the head

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Before the celebration of Henrik Sedin reaching 1,000 career points, there was plenty of concern for one of the Canucks’ top young players.

Late in the first period, Bo Horvat was skating behind the Florida net when he was struck in the back of the head by a Nikita Tryamkin slap shot. Horvat immediately hit the ice. He was down for a brief period, but did skate off under his own power.

The good news: He returned to the game after missing a brief time.

On Saturday, the Canucks sent out a photo showing the damage Horvat suffered — a fairly large cut to the back of his head, which required several stitches.

“I would assume he was forced out by the spotter,” said coach Willie Desjardins following Vancouver’s win on Friday. “Whenever you see something like that, you’ll probably check it out, especially if he was bleeding.”

“They took a look at him and he’s fine.”

More good news for the Canucks.

In his third NHL season, Horvat is emerging as a critical component of this team. He’s 21 years old, is tied with Henrik for the team lead in points, with 30 in 47 games, and is on his way to next weekend’s NHL All-Star event. Further to that, the Canucks are in a transition, with a younger core expected to eventually take over from the lasting members of the current core, most notably Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who are both 36 years old.

The Canucks are also in a fight for a playoff spot, and injury to one of their top centers, which Horvat is, would certainly make the hunt for the post-season that much more difficult.

Sitting one point out of the second wild card spot in the West, the Canucks begin a three-game road trip by facing the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.