Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild

Minnesota finds a way to win against Tampa Bay

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It wasn’t always pretty – especially if you exclude a particularly enthralling segment of the second period – but the Minnesota Wild managed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1. They’ve gotten to this point in about as different a way as possible, but the bottom line is that Minnesota tied the Chicago Blackhawks* for the first spot in the Western Conference tonight.

The biggest story was a bounce-back game for Wild workhorse goalie Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 32 out of 33 shots after being pulled less than nine minutes into Sunday’s contest against the Calgary Flames. Mikko Koivu also notched career goal 100 with an empty-netter.

While it doesn’t make for great hockey, new head coach Mike Yeo’s plan to revert back to Minnesota’s skin-tight defensive days seems to be paying off. Of course, it’s working mainly because of great goaltending. Backstrom is starting to look like a $6 million goalie (or as close as one can) while Josh Harding is hardly a backup in 2011-12. (For all the well-deserved hype that Cory Schneider gets, Harding might be the biggest free agent goalie target this summer because of his soon-to-be-unrestricted status.)

So can they keep it up? It’s tough to say, but on the bright side, they’re not just depending on one goalie to stay hot. If Backstrom falters, perhaps Harding can slide in and hold down the fort. It wouldn’t be shocking if they slide a few rungs down the West ladder, but a much-needed playoff berth doesn’t seem so far-fetched right now.

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* The Wild and Blackhawks share 14-7-3 records for 31 points; Minnesota has 57 goals for and 53 goals against while Chicago scored 79 goals and allowed 75 so far this season.

Islanders officially activate Johnny Boychuk (upper body) off IR

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The New York Islanders got some good news on the injury front, as they’ve activated Johnny Boychuk off injured reserve.

The 32-year-old missed a total of 11 games because of an upper-body injury he suffered in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 31 (above).

New York went 5-5-1 without Boychuk, and they conceded four goals or more in five of those contests.

In 38 games with Boychuk, the Islanders had allowed four goals or more just six times.

The Islanders currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They’re three points behind the Rangers (two games in hand) and 18 points behind the first place Capitals.

In a corresponding move, they assigned defenseman Scott Mayfield to the AHL.

Wideman’s suspension appeal will be heard in New York City on Wednesday

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Dennis Wideman‘s appeal for his 20-game suspension will take place in New York City on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

The 32-year-old has already served two games for his hit on linesman Don Henderson (above).

Gary Bettman will be the one to decide if Wideman’s suspension should be reduced. If the Commissioner decides not to reduce the suspension to six games or less, the Flames defenseman will have the right to be heard by a neutral arbitrator.

Earlier this week, Wideman apologized publicly for the incident, but maintained that he never intended to hurt Henderson.

“I feel awful about what happened,” the Flames defenseman said after he was suspended 20 games.

“I feel really bad about the whole situation. The last seven days have been tough. Never in my career have I ever disrespected, or done anything like this, to an official.”

When the suspension was handed down, the league said Wideman was diagnosed with a concussion after the game, but they aren’t using that as an excuse in this case.

“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that he was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion,” the NHL said. “However, that fact even accepted as true, cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.”

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings
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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

Colorado Avalanche v Winnipeg Jets
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.