When the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild square off tonight in St. Paul (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) it’s a match-up that sees one team getting hot and rising in the West while the other is trying not to fall out of relevancy in the playoff hunt.
The Ducks come into tonight’s game winners of nine of their last 13 games going 9-2-2 in that stretch. With a hot streak like that and teams ahead of them stumbling, it’s got people in Southern California talking about the playoffs. After the miserable start to their season that saw them change coaches getting rid of Randy Carlyle in favor of Bruce Boudreau, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Ducks can even talk about the playoffs.
Making all that talk possible is the stronger play of Jonas Hiller in goal and the steady incredible production from future Hall Of Fame winger Teemu Selanne. Hiller was lights out in January going 7-2-1 and giving up just 16 goals in 13 games. February is off to a bit of a rocky start, but the Ducks are still pulling down points and sit 10 points back of eighth place Phoenix.
Selanne meanwhile leads the team in points with 51. He along with the team’s leading goal scorer Corey Perry (26 goals) are holding things down offensively while Bobby Ryan is also scoring in bunches with 21 goals himself.
Those kinds of offensive numbers would be a welcome revelation for the low-scoring Wild. Minnesota is second to last in goals this season and while Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu are trying to do their part to keep the team afloat, Heatley’s 18 goals is best on the team.
With just five players in double figures in goals, the Wild have needed their goaltending to be perfect to win games. For the first few months of the season it was close to perfect. Since mid-December however, things have fallen off hard and Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, and Matt Hackett haven’t been able to hold it down.
With the Wild now five points back of Phoenix for eighth in the West and falling, the Wild just want to slam on the brakes of their free fall.
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.
Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.
The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.
Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.
After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
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Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:
Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds
Game 7 win is ‘a big step’ for Predators
Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.
Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.
Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.
Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.
Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.
“If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.
“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”