Steve Ott

Race for the playoffs: Do or die out West for Dallas, Kings get first real test

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

z – 1. Vancouver – 111 pts
2. Detroit – 98 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 95 pts
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Anaheim – 93 pts
7. Nashville – 92 pts
8. Chicago – 90 pts
9. Dallas – 87 pts
10. Calgary – 87 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Dallas @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. ET

Overrating a game this late season is tough to do, but for the Dallas Stars, a win tonight is virtually mandatory. With Anaheim on a roll, Chicago mostly playing well, and Nashville holding strong, the Stars cannot afford to lose. They’re three points out of eighth and fortunately they’ve got six more games after tonight. They’ve got some breathing room, but losses aren’t going to help them and they’ve had a lot of them lately losing six of their last seven games and four in a row.

For San Jose, they’re looking to keep ahead of Phoenix and Los Angeles in the race for the division title. While a playoff spot is theirs with a win in regulation, they’ve still got plenty to play for and we’re thinking that they’d really enjoy helping the Stars lose out on a playoff spot. If the Stars don’t come out fired up for this one, they might as well pack it in. A win also puts the Sharks ahead of Detroit for the second seed for the time being after Detroit was thumped by St. Louis 10-3 last night.

Los Angeles @ Vancouver – 10 p.m. ET

The Kings looked solid in beating the NHL’s worst team Edmonton 2-0 in their first game without Anze Kopitar. Taking on Vancouver tonight should provide them with a bit more of a challenge than the lowly Oilers. Vancouver has everything in the Western Conference locked up and the one thing left on their hit list before the playoffs is locking up the Presidents’ Trophy. Two more wins would do just that. With five more games left to play in Vancouver, they’re hoping to avoid injuries as much as they are hoping to keep playing great hockey. It can be a delicate balance. A Kings win would allow them to slide ahead of Phoenix for the time being and potentially draw within a point of San Jose for the division lead. It’s put up or shut up time for L.A.

Nashville @ Colorado – 9 p.m. ET

Nashville’s been playing great lately and they appear headed to another postseason appearance. Colorado is in full-on tank mode seeking out a top five draft pick. I think you can see which way this game might be headed tonight. That said, a team playing for pride can be dangerous. Whether Colorado has the pride and patience necessary to deal with the Preds tonight is another thing entirely. A win by Nashville can vault them into sixth place and potentially up to fifth.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.