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Three things to watch for as 2011 Frozen Four begins today

Even when I was a kid and had infinite amounts of time to watch every sport available, college basketball just didn’t do it for me. There’s a part of me that regrets that since I grew up in the days of the “Fab Five” and the last era in which professional stars played a little while before jumping to the NBA, but for whatever reason, it didn’t touch a chord. So let’s just say I didn’t watch a second of that much-maligned horror show between Butler and the University of Connecticut.*

The Frozen Four has been a puck-based counterargument to the Final Four for many years now, even if its profile is much lower. The first two of three matches is set to take place today, as Minnesota-Duluth takes on Notre Dame at 5:00 pm ET while Michigan and North Dakota play a fitting primetime match at 8:30 pm ET.

The best part might be that the games are taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, one of the places in which all forms of hockey are treated as epic events. If NBC ever ran a “Friday Night Lights” spin-off that focused on hockey instead of football, it would need to take place in Minnesota. ESPN’s David Albright astutely points out that if the Frozen Four ever settled on a single headquarters, it would have to be “The State of Hockey.”

Here are a few storylines to watch in these games.

1. Hobey Baker finalist at play …

While Andy Miele’s Miami of Ohio team is already out of the discussion (and he’s already a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization) and Boston College’s Cam Atkinson is now playing in the Columbus Blue Jackets system, one finalist for college hockey’s top award will be on display in the primetime game. North Dakota’s star forward Matt Frattin will play tonight.

2. A guaranteed “David and Goliath” final game.

No matter who wins, there will be one mammoth NCAA men’s hockey dynasty going up against a Cinderella team. Michigan is a nine-time champion and North Dakota has seven titles to their name, while Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth have never won a championship. If you enjoy rooting for underdogs, you’re in luck in 2011.

3. North Dakota is the biggest Goliath, though.

While Michigan features a storied hockey history and beloved coach Red Berenson, North Dakota is the clear favorite this time around. They have gone a stunning 14-0-1 since January 28th, according to ESPN’s Albright. Albright points out the fact that they are also winning in dominant fashion, as they outscored opponents 12-1 so far in the tournament.

***

While the NHL is our main area of concern here at PHT (hence the “Pro” in Pro Hockey Talk), tournaments like these often showcase future talents and high-level hockey. We’ll keep an eye on the games for you, so stay tuned for results and more.

* – Am I the only one who feels weird about writing “UConn”? Saying it is fine, but actually writing it just feels wrong to me.

Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again

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If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”

There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.

Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.

One team climbing, the other stumbling

With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.

During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.

Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.

Canadiens are facing some turbulence (and mostly passing the test)

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues checks Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens aren’t in crisis mode, but as far as this so-far outstanding 2016-17 season goes, they are finally facing some adversity.

Alex Galchenyuk, one of their most promising young players, is out indefinitely. There are murmurs that captain Max Pacioretty isn’t getting along with head coach Michel Therrien.* Tuesday presented a body blow or two to boot.

For one thing, the Canadiens gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Jaden Schwartz grabbed an assist and scored the game’s last two goals, including the OT-winner:

Losing to a contender like the Blues, especially while still grabbing a “charity point,” isn’t that big of a deal. A possible David Desharnais injury makes things a little dicey, however:

Really, though, it’s not all that bad for Montreal. They managed a 2-2-1 mark during a five-game road trip heavy on quality opponents.

Also: six of their next seven games come at home, where they’re 12-1-1. So things will look brighter soon enough.

Still, with some injuries and a big road trip to end 2016 and start 2017, there may be some moments where Montreal looks vulnerable.

Ultimately, fighting through stretches like these could very well benefit the Habs later on.

* – Ah, the old standby: “Player X isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Therrien.”

From the Blues’ side:

Ristolainen, Kane, O’Reilly push Sabres past McDavid and the Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Rasmus Ristolainen #55, Matt Moulson #26, Sam Reinhart #23, Kyle Okposo #21 and Ryan OÕReilly #90 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.

In particular, high-scoring defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, power forward Evander Kane and two-way center Ryan O'Reilly made the difference in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.

Ristolainen’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one, as it clinched the contest in OT:

Evander Kane scored two goals of his own, including one in the dying seconds of regulation to allow Buffalo to get a standings point (and then a second) in the first place.

Kane finished with two goals, O’Reilly generated two assists and Ristolainen managed a one-goal, two-assist performance.

It would be wrong to say that the marquee names didn’t show up at all. McDavid generated two assists and Eichel also nabbed a helper.

You’d be correct in saying that other young players stole the show, though, and the Sabres were the biggest beneficiaries.

Video: Brent Seabrook shaken up after awkward fall

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It wasn’t nearly as scary as the falls suffered by Travis Zajac or Philip Larsen, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still holding their breath when it comes to defenseman Brent Seabrook.

As you can see from the video above, Seabrook was tripped up by Jordan Martinook of the Arizona Coyotes during a simple puck battle. Seabrook was shaken up after falling awkwardly on that play.

At the moment, it’s unclear if this will be an ongoing issue or if the Blackhawks avoided a costly injury.

Martinook was not penalized.

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers notes that Seabrook wasn’t out to begin the third period. So far, not so good.

The Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0, so the silver lining for Chicago is that they won.