Ryan Miller, Andrew Ladd, Mike Weber

Tonight on NBCSN: Sabres and Jets in a… playoff battle? You’d better believe it

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It sounds strange to say that a game between the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets from MTS Centre in Winnipeg comes with great importance. Tonight’s tilt between the two (8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) does just that as the Jets hold the eighth spot in the East while the Sabres have crawled out of the basement and sit two back of Winnipeg.

The Sabres rise from the depths comes thanks to their all-world goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has won six of his last seven starts and has two shutouts in that span while the loss came in overtime to the East-leading Rangers. With how poorly the teams in the race for eighth have played, the Sabres climb has been easy to make, relatively speaking. Perhaps the Sabres trading his friend Paul Gaustad has lit a fire under him.

Making life easier offensively for Buffalo has been newcomer Cody Hodgson. Hodgson’s addition is helping to bring Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford out of their respective shells. Whether Hodgson asked to be dealt is still a mystery, but the Sabres are reaping the benefits. If Buffalo can get their top line of Thomas Vanek-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville back on track, that gives the Sabres two potent scoring lines. Amazing what having two skilled centers can do. Heck, even Ville Leino broke out of his slump with two goals against Vancouver on Saturday night.

The Jets story, meanwhile, is another centered around stellar play of a goalie. In this case it’s Ondrej Pavelec that has often been the show-stealer for Winnipeg. Pavelec has four wins in his last six starts including a shutout in his last game against Florida. Pavelec has had his work cut out for him this season but has played strong.

Offensively, the Jets are getting a big season out of Blake Wheeler. Wheeler leads the team in points and has been a key setup man for breakout goal scorer Evander Kane. Kane’s 26 goals leads the team, six ahead of Andrew Ladd.

Winnipeg is even getting more of that offensive pop from the blue line thanks to Dustin Byfuglien whose 42 points in 50 games has him as a constant threat. They’ll have to go about it without Zach Bogosian though as he’s still saddled with a bum wrist. To say the least, however, the Jets are all in for a playoff push.

Home ice advantage: If there’s one thing that gives Winnipeg a big edge in tonight’s game it’s playing at MTS Centre. The Jets are 20-10-4 at home and they’re finding that having the smallest building in the league has its advantages with a raucous crowd that overwhelms opponents. Just think of what a pain they’d be if they made the playoffs.

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta