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Canadiens clinch playoff spot in the East, Hawks earn a point

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Tuesday night was a rough night for any Montreal Canadiens haters out there. The Habs clinched their spot in this year’s playoffs by beating the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-1 in overtime. As if securing a playoff spot wasn’t bad enough for the anti-Habs contingent, Montreal was sent to the second season with the power of PK Subban’s 3rd game winning goal of the season (and his ensuing celebration).

For over 60 minutes the game was a beautiful goaltending exhibition. Quebec native Corey Crawford returned home for his first game in the Bell Centre and had a great showing. On the other end of the rink, Carey Price had 42 saves to help deliver the victory for the Habs. Cue the “Price for Hart” chants coming from North American francophones.

The game was not without its fair bit of controversy. With the game in overtime, Jonathan Toews took a tripping penalty on the forecheck when he brought down rookie PK Subban about 200 feet from the Chicago goal. Replays show that Toews got his stick into Subban’s skates and the officials got the call right—but the officials were late to make the call. Predictably, the Habs scored on the ensuing power play to punch their ticket to the playoffs. After the game, Joel Quenneville was not happy with the call:

“It was a tough ending for sure. I 100% dispute that call at the end… he wasn’t calling it and Jonny (Toews) didn’t touch his feet so, it was a tough call.”

Penalty or not, it was a tough way for the Hawks to lose a game they needed to win. The single point earned for the overtime loss pushes them to 93 points; but with the Stars winning at home against the Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks cushion shrinks to a mere two points for the final playoff spot in the West. They’ll play a huge game at home against the St. Louis Blues tomorrow night before their regular season ending home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Stars finish the season with a pair of games against the lowly Colorado Avalanche and another against the Minnesota Wild. Advantage: Stars.

Things are looking much better for the Canadiens. Only a week ago, they were slumping and had both the Sabres and Rangers breathing down their necks. Fast-forward to tonight, the Habs became the 9th team to clinch a playoff spot. Earning a playoff spot is impressive regardless of circumstances with the parity in the league these days, but given the Habs’ injuries, it’s even more impressive. Where would they be if they had any one of their trio of injured defensemen? Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, or Jaro Spacek certainly would help in a big way if they had them for most of the season.

Looking forward, there’s a very good chance Montreal will earn a first round match-up against their bitter rivals from Boston if they can hang onto the 6th spot. If that series comes to fruition, the big winners aren’t the Canadiens or Bruins—it’ll be the fans.

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.