Buffalo Sabres v Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks hand Sabres another helping of misery

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Here’s a formula for making a bad situation worse: play two road games in a row against the Central Division’s most explosive teams.

The Buffalo Sabres are finding that out this week as the Chicago Blackhawks picked up where the Detroit Red Wings left off, extending the struggling Sabres’ road losing streak to 10 games with a 6-2 beating. The bigger story should be that the Blackhawks took a temporary division/conference lead and tied the New York Rangers atop the NHL with 62 points, but there’s no denying that it’s tough to look away from the Sabres’ train wreck.

Brutal Buffalo stretches

The Sabres were 10-6-0 when they lost to the Boston Bruins when that notorious Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller collision happened on Nov. 12. Since then, their record dropped to 19-22-5 (which means they went 9-16-5) in about two months.

That big picture stretch is bad enough, but things have been even worse since mid-December, as they went 3-9-2 in a disconcerting 14-game span. It’s not as if every loss has been a meltdown, but their offense has been sputtering the entire time. They’ve peaked at three goals – a mark they’ve hit three times – and have been shut out twice in those 14 contests.

The outlook

Moving the increasingly reasonable trade/firing talk aside for a moment, the Sabres’ more immediate outlook is worrisome in its own right. They’re currently eight points out of eighth place, but that could jump to nine if the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals swap the Southeast Division lead. Either way, their postseason hopes are evaporating almost as quickly as their confidence.

The good-but-mostly-bad news is that Buffalo will have plenty of opportunities to break their away game issues going forward. The last four games of December are all on the road, starting with what could be a very challenging game against a Jets team that is far more formidable in hockey-mad Winnipeg.

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Going into the season, tonight’s game probably looked like a clash between two Cup contenders from opposite conferences. With the wildly different paths both teams are taking, it instead ended up being a stark contrast between haves and have-nots.

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Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.