David Legwand, Joel Ward

Joel Ward and Ryan Kesler put on a show, Predators edge Canucks 4-3

Going into Game 5, Ryan Kesler was the star and villain of this series. The Vancouver Canucks’ two-way center was outstanding again tonight, but he was forced to make room for a rival star. Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward stole the spotlight to help his team earn its first ever win while facing elimination.

Ward combined with David Legwand and Mike Fisher to absolutely dominate the should-be dominant Sedin line, helping Nashville stay alive with a 4-3 win.

Nashville 4, Vancouver 3; Canucks lead series 3-2

It makes sense that this game followed this series’ pattern of close games. It doesn’t make as much sense that possibly the best line from the regular season is getting torn apart by a group of little-known grinders, though.

The Predators are now 1-5 in franchise history when facing elimination, while the Canucks are 1-4 in elimination games in 2011.

An unexpectedly exciting first period

In a series full of drab opening frames, this game started off with a bang and rarely slowed down.

Things looked grim for Nashville when they took an early penalty, but Mikael Samuelsson* ended up making a boneheaded mistake. He turned the puck over to Ward, who sent a gorgeous pass to Legwand for a gorgeous shorthanded 1-0 tally. That man advantage wasn’t a total disaster for Vancouver, though, as Raffi Torres took advantage of a great takeaway and pass by Jannik Hansen to tie it up moments after the PP expired.

Kesler’s rise to stardom continued late in the first as he made a great play to beat Shea Weber and finish Mason Raymond’s one-timer setup.

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A strange goal leads in to the Ward-Kesler duel

The Predators have scored quite a few weird goals from behind Roberto Luongo’s net, but Legwand’s tying goal might just be the strangest. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great night for Alex Edler. (Note: Highlights of Nashville goals can be found at the bottom of this post.)

The game remained 2-2 going into the third period, which put a huge exclamation point on Ward’s amazing playoff run. The pending free agent finished a beautiful one-timer pass from Fisher to make it 3-2. Ward then he pounced on a turnover to slam home the eventual game-winning goal.

Ward almost made it a three-goal lead when he out-skated Edler for a shorthanded goal attempt, but Luongo made the save to deny his natural hat trick attempt.  Ward’s three-point night ties him for second place in the 2011 playoffs with 12 points. His seven goals is unexpected after he only scored 10 during the regular season.

Kesler continues to dominate, but couldn’t do it by himself tonight.

While Ward was the star of the night, Kesler is earning Mark Messier comparisons with his combination of grit and goal scoring prowess. He scored yet another goal with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.

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Kesler ended the game with two goals, a ridiculous 21-5 record on faceoffs, six hits and plenty of hatred from Nashville. Ward had two goals, one assist, four hits and a +3 rating in Game 5.

A quick outlook for both teams

Nashville gets an opportunity to earn a second round win at home after dropping Games 3 and 4 in their own barn. They just need to stick with it and take advantage of the nothing-to-lose energy they’ll likely take into Game 6. Their support players are coming through while Pekka Rinne remains a difference maker.

Luongo still doesn’t deserve the blame (most of those goals were unstoppable), but the Sedin twins deserve plenty of criticism for their flop tonight. Ward’s line absolutely devoured them in Game 5, leaving Daniel (-4 rating) and Henrik (-3) looking like the nobodies in this contest. The Canucks might not need them to be outright stars, but now they’re getting flat-out embarrassed.

The Canucks now must take another 12 hour flight to Nashville and play at least 60 more grinding minutes against the Predators. Even if they win in Game 6, this was a loss that could haunt them in the near future.

* – Versus reports that Samuelsson won’t travel with the Canucks to Nashville because of a lower-body injury.

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WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Sabres

Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly
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A three-game winning streak has the Buffalo Sabres right back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

They’ll go for four wins in a row when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who sit second in the Central Division, on Sunday (6 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blackhawks’ winning streak goes bye thanks to Talbot, Oilers

‘Hawks are happy with rookies’ progress

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

Sabres win third in a row to stay in playoff race

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres defends the net against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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With three consecutive wins — and six wins in their past nine — the Buffalo Sabres are trying to keep things interesting in the Eastern Conference playoff race, entering play on Saturday just two points out of a wild card spot.

One of the biggest reasons for their success in recent weeks has been the fantastic play of starting goaltender Robin Lehner.

Not only has he won four of his past five starts (including all three during the Sabres’ current winning streak), but he has probably been the driving force behind that surge with a .949 save percentage, allowing more than two goals just once during that stretch.

In three of those games he has made at least 37 saves.

Lehner has been a pretty big positive for the Sabres this season overall with a .926 save percentage.

Since joining Buffalo at the start of the 2015-16 he is at .925 putting him with the best goaltenders in the league.

They are going to need him to be great on Sunday evening again with a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are starting Scott Darling.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— In the afternoon games it was Phillip Grubauer vs. Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers-Capitals game and Matt Murray vs. Petr Mrazek in the Penguins-Red Wings game in Pittsburgh.

Mike Condon draws back in for the Ottawa Senators when they look to move into a first place tie in the Atlantic Division. Connor Hellebuyck goes for the Jets.

Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host the Nashville Predators. No official word from Nashville yet but with Pekka Rinne taking the loss on Saturday it would make sense to see Juuse Saros get the start.

Thomas Greiss gets the night off for the New York Islanders after he played on Saturday, which means Jean-Francois Berube goes when they take on the New Jersey Devils in the second half of their back-to-back. Keith Kinkaid gets the start for the Devils to give Cory Schneider a night off.

— Nothing official from Toronto yet but look for the Maple Leafs to give Curtis McElhinney the start in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have not announced their starter.

Calvin Pickard is expected to start for Colorado when the Avalanche host the Tampa Bay Lightning. No word yet from the Lightning on their starter.

— The Boston Bruins go for their fourth win in a row when they take on the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. It will be Tuukka Rask in net for the Bruins with Martin Jones going for the Sharks.

— The Kings and Ducks have not announced their starters yet.

— After leading the Canucks to a win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night Ryan Miller is going right back in the net for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers.

Devils make Cammalleri healthy scratch for second straight game

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 27:  Michael Cammalleri #13 of the New Jersey Devils looks up while waiting for a faceoff in an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center on December 27, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  Penguins won 5-2.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The New Jersey Devils made slumping forward Mike Cammalleri a healthy scratch for the first time in his career on Saturday evening for their 3-2 win over the New York Islanders, and he was not exactly thrilled about it.

He will remain a healthy scratch on Sunday night for the second half of their home-and-home series with the Islanders, most likely because NHL coaches are hesitant to make any sort of change to a lineup after a win.

That means with the Devils winning on Saturday, Cammalleri remains in the press box on Sunday.

With 17 points in his first 18 games this season Cammalleri was off to a promising start for the Devils. But everything has been downhill for him ever since with no goals in his past 18 games, only one in his past 33.

He has 12 assists during that same stretch.

VIDEO: Penguins honor Sidney Crosby for recording 1,000th career point

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This past week Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby became the 86th player in league history to record 1,000 points in the NHL when he assisted on a Chris Kunitz goal in a win over the Winnipeg Jets. He is the 11th youngest player to reach the milestone, doing so at age 29 and making an already massive accomplishment that much more impressive when you consider the low scoring era he has played in.

Before Sunday afternoon’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins’ first home game since Crosby reached the 1,000 point mark on Thursday night, the team honored with a pre-game ceremony that included a golden stick and a plaque made out of the roof of the old Civic Arena, the building in Pittsburgh that Crosby played in for the first five years of his career.

Check out the ceremony in the video above.

This season Crosby is second in the NHL scoring race with 64 points in 51 games, trailing Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid by three points (McDavid has played in eight more games). Crosby also leads the league with 31 goals entering play on Sunday.

More: Sidney Crosby records 1,000th career point