Tonight on Versus: First place Wild look to get right against Lightning

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Who knew that when you saw that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild were slated to face off tonight on Versus (7:30 p.m. ET) that you’d be seeing a showdown between the first place Wild (they were atop the NHL as recently as this past week) and the defensively struggling Lightning. After all, if you figured anyone was going to have a hard time being consistent in winning games, it’d be Minnesota, right? Not so much these days.

While the Wild have cooled off in their last couple games, they’re still atop the Northwest Division and they’ve got Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley to thank for it offensively. Koivu is the guy that NBC’s Pierre McGuire called “the most underrated guy in the league” and he’s showing the way in Minnesota. More impressive for the Wild is their goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. Sure the Wild aren’t scoring tons of goals, but they’re keeping the wolves at bay.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has seen Steve Stamkos bust out a bit lately with five points in his last three games and 24 points in all this season. Of course, Steve Yzerman has worries about the Lightning’s depth and considering their top scorers, it’s a prime worry. The Lightning will need that offense to continue  to counteract the troubles in goal Tampa Bay had before facing Florida over the weekend.

Mathieu Garon may have turned things around against the Panthers, but unless Dwayne Roloson can get things figured out, the Lightning might be in the hunt for a starting goalie somehow. Roloson could be in line to start against one of his former teams in the Wild and giving Guy Boucher a shot to see how he responds.

With the Wild having dropped two in a row and Tampa having won their last two, this match-up sets up to be a curious one. One thing’s for sure, we won’t have to sweat out that whole 1-3-1 thing Tampa does as the Wild will look to move the puck up the ice and get Heatley and Devin Setoguchi moving and hopefully scoring more goals.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.