Brian Elliott, David Perron

Blues challenging for the lead in Central Division

It was only a month ago when the St. Louis Blues were floundering through the 2011-12 season. The team was sitting with a lackluster 6-7-0 record and they were coming off a boring 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild—their third loss in four games. They had the worst power play in the league and looked like a mediocre team that was headed for a mediocre season. Fans expected much more from the team that was sitting in the 14th spot in the Western Conference.

Enter Ken Hitchcock.

Since Hitchcock took over the head coaching duties from Davis Payne, the Blues have gone on an 11-2-3 streak to springboard the team up the standings. They’ve gone from a team that was on the outside of the playoff hunt to a team that is only a single point behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the lead in the Central Division. They’ve used an 11-3-1 record at home and have become one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the league.  Yeah, they’ve been pretty good.

Then there are games like Saturdays contest against the San Jose Sharks when they prove that they can win in different ways. The 1-0 win over the Sharks featured a power play goal from Kevin Shattenkirk to deliver the victory for the Blues. How dangerous will this team be when they figure out how to consistently score on with the man advantage?

No matter which way you cut it, the Blues can thank their defense and goaltending for their success this season. The team is leading the league with a 2.03 goals against average this season. Even more impressively, they’ve only give up 1.50 goals per game in the 16 games since Ken Hitchcock took over the team. Brian Elliott has come out of nowhere and is leading the league in goals against average (1.45) and save percentage (.947) among goaltenders with more than two starts this season. The 12-2-0 record isn’t too bad either.

The success has been a long time coming. For the last few season, the Blues have been a team that looked like they were on the edge of turning the corner. With Hitchcock installing his coaching his philosophy and adding a little life to the locker room, the team is starting to fulfill their potential. But are they good enough to compete with the likes of the Blackhawks and Red Wings for the Central Division crown?

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”