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.

Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

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For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles:

Blues blaze through Devils, even in New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Brad Hunt #77, Robby Fabbri #15 and Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Fabri's first period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.

On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.

It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.

This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.

That’s impressive stuff.

This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:

The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”

Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jake Allen, either.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Update: The Wild were able to shake off that goal, ultimately beating the Oilers 3-2 via a shootout.