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Western playoff picture: Blackhawks pick up huge comeback win, Flames keep pace

Western Conference playoff race

z – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts
x – 2. San Jose – 99 pts
3. Detroit – 98 pts
4. Phoenix – 96 pts
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Nashville – 94 pts
7. Anaheim – 93 pts
8. Chicago – 92 pts
9. Calgary – 89 pts
10. Dallas – 87 pts

z – clinched conference title
x – clinched playoff spot

Chicago 4, Columbus 3 (SO)

The Blackhawks started the game looking like a desperate team that knew they needed a win to solidify their playoff chances. They scored a pair of goals in the first six minutes of the first period—but then they seemingly shut it down and allowed the Blue Jackets to climb back into the game. Columbus increased their energy level (and watched the Blackhawks lower theirs) as they took the game for the next 40 minutes of action. But after surrendering the go-ahead goal halfway through the 3rd period, the Blackhawks caught a huge break when Bryan Bickell scored on an extremely stoppable shot from the outside. From there, the Hawks played a strong overtime period and eventually won the game in a shootout.

The win was huge as it kept the Flames three points behind the Blackhawks for the 8th and final playoff spot. Dallas fans had to hate the outcome, as well, as the idle Stars fell 5 points behind the Hawks with only 6 games to play.

Calgary 3, St. Louis 2

Leaders have a way of showing up with their best performances when their teams need them the most. Not surprisingly, in a game the Flames desperately needed to keep their dwindling playoff chances alive, Jarome Iginla played on of his best of the season. He dominated on both sides of the rink en route to 2 goal, 1 assist night in a winning effort. It’s a good thing the Flames won as well—Chicago’s come-from-behind win means the Flames needed this win to stay only three points behind the Hawks with three games left in the regular season. Alex Tanguay summed up the Flames battle down the stretch:

“We’re still crossing our fingers. Maybe we do get lucky and something good happens to us. Who knows? As far as we’re concerned we’ve worked so hard . . . we’re going to try to push it to the very end.

“If worse comes to worst, we can say that we’ve accomplished great things since Christmas. We’re certainly frustrated not to have started the year like we’ve played the last half of the season. It is what it is, our situation. We’re hoping that we can just squeeze in.”

The win also marked Daymond Langkow’s return to the ice after missing more than a year.

Colorado 4, Phoenix 3 (SO)

The Coyotes fell behind in the game 2-0 before storming back to score three straight goals. Captain Shane Doan scored the go-ahead goal with 7:37 left in the game. At the time, it just looked like another example of the Avalanche snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But Friday night would be different.

Ryan O’Reilly scored on the Avs only third period shot with just under 5 minutes left to pull even. After a scoreless overtime, O’Reilly proceeded to put his finishing touches on the game as he was the only man to score in the shootout. The win was Peter Budaj’s 100th of his career and was only the third win in their last 17 games (all coming via shootout).

With the shootout loss, the Coyotes still picked up a single point in the standings to pad their 4th place position. Phoenix now has a two-point lead on both the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators with only three games left on their schedule. Surely they would have hoped to earn two points against the lowly Avalanche, but after falling behind by a pair of goals, one point in the standings is better than none.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percenate in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.