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Semyon Varlamov might just rise to the challenge

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If Semyon Varlamov’s goal was to prove that the Colorado Avalanche didn’t over-pay to get him, it’s unlikely that his life has been very pleasant this season.

Ultimately, the Avalanche just want the young netminder to be their go-to guy, which hasn’t happened often enough this season. When Jean-Sebastien Giguere went down with a groin injury, many believed that Colorado’s playoff run would die with it.

As it turns out, the injury instead opened the door for Varlamov to play his best hockey when his team needs it the most.

The athletic Russian goalie shut out the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on 28 shots in a 5-0 win tonight, giving him a two-game winning streak in which he’s allowed a single goal.

Two games is far from a trend in an 82-game season. In fact, his record remains below .500 at 17-18-2 with pedestrian individual stats. Still, he could redeem himself – and two some extent, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman – if Varlamov can guide the Avs to a playoff berth.

Colorado in the thick of West playoff race

It’s certainly not out of the realm of feasibility, either, as the Avalanche are in a four-way tie for eighth place with 66 points. Sure, they’re technically in last place among that quartet because they’ve played an extra game, but they also are tied with eighth-ranked Dallas with the most wins of the four at 31.

Those details matter, but ultimately it’s all about how they play through April 7. Right now, the Avalanche have to feel a lot better about their situation in net – and the potential redemption of their seemingly failed No. 1 goalie – which probably makes them more optimistic about the postseason as well.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) is knocked to the ice by Dallas Stars right wing Ales Hemsky (83) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.