Vernon Fiddler, Antti Niemi

Stars expand division lead as Pacific teams falter

A surreal week got that much better for the Dallas Stars, whose fortunes look far brighter after a promising night of hockey for them – and the opposite for their divisional opponents.

Sharks shootout

Most directly, the Stars won against the San Jose Sharks for the first time this season by prevailing 4-3 via the shootout. It wasn’t easy and there were silver lining moments for San Jose, but the bottom line is that Dallas is strongly entrenched as the division leader.

(The Sharks’ pluses: they generated a charity point, Joe Thornton had three assists, Joe Pavelski scored a goal and Patrick Marleau responded to his pal Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms by finding the net.)

Blown opportunities

The Stars can delight in the fact that the other Pacific Division squads either stayed idle or took a step back too.

Following in the footsteps of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings dropped a regulation game to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s probably not melodramatic to say that the Kings may very well remember that loss with significant regret.

Speaking of the Coyotes, Dave Tippett’s team dropped another should-be-victory; this time, it was against the Minnesota Wild. The only bright side is that they salvaged a point, losing 3-2 in a shootout.

Least importantly, the Anaheim Ducks also lost in regulation as the St. Louis Blues prevailed 3-1.

Pacific outlook

Want a view of the division now that the night is over? Check out the standings, with the teams’ current Western spots in parenthesis.

Dallas (3): 79 points with 14 games remaining
Phoenix (7): 76 points with 14 GR
San Jose (8): 75 points with 16 GR
Los Angeles (9): 74 points with 15 GR
Anaheim (12): 68 points with 14 GR

As you can see, just about every Pacific team seems to have a shot at the division title or at least a playoff spot, with the likely exception of the Ducks. The Stars have certainly distanced themselves with tonight’s action, but it’s still likely to be a photo finish – and a thriller in that.

Video: Evander Kane believes he won his fights vs. Alex Petrovic

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The Florida Panthers are beating up the Buffalo Sabres where it counts – on the scoreboard – but Evander Kane was happy to highlight his perceived victories in a couple bouts.

Buffalo’s power forward fought Alex Petrovic twice on Tuesday, and Kane wasn’t shy about holding up a “2-0.”

You can watch the second fight above, and the first one below, via Hockey Fights by way of MSG:

This GIF might just say it all, really:

Update: Apparently they fought again moments after this post went up.

Probably safe to call it a rivalry between the two, right?

Fight video: Yes, a visor-breaking punch

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Some hockey players resist the urge to wear a visor, at least if they’re given that choice.

Perhaps a few will say “Hey, Nathan Beaulieu will just punch it off anyway.”

Maybe not, but Beaulieu provided a rather unique moment in his fight with Cedric Paquette during the Montreal Canadiens – Tampa Bay Lightning game. You can watch that bout in the video above, and see a cut on the Lightning pest’s face from that blow.

Want it in GIF form? OK then:

Sending a message: Flames scratch Gaudreau, Monahan, Bouma

Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Johnny Gaudreau during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Calgary, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau figure to be a big part of the Calgary Flames’ forward group, both in the present and the future.

That said, it the very specific present, they’ll be watching Tuesday’s game from the press box.

After an unsatisfactory practice amid flailing playoff hopes, Flames head coach Bob Hartley made a big statement tonight, taking Monahan, Gaudreau and Lance Bouma out of the lineup as healthy scratches against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Wow.

It’s amusing timing, too, as the Maple Leafs will roll with a bit of a skeleton crew of their own after that splashy Dion Phaneuf trade.

Some background

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector was there for the practice, which was unusually short at 25 minutes.

“He wasn’t happy with the way we were practicing,” David Jones told Spector. “It’s a little embarrassing when we’re not (making) five-foot passes.

“I think he was pretty pissed off about the way things were looking.”

Call it a combination of poor execution and maybe a tardy arrival … perhaps from a Super Bowl party or two?

Bruins pay warm tribute to Milan Lucic

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Milan Lucic may or may not spend a big chunk of his career with the Los Angeles Kings, but the Boston Bruins haven’t forgotten his contributions.

(Their fans haven’t, either.)

The Bruins shared a tribute video for Lucic, decked out in a loud, retro-style Kings sweater on Tuesday. The hulking winger seemed to appreciate the nod from his former team, and also acknowledged fans who watched him develop into one of the league’s most formidable power forwards.

(H/T to the Score by way of The Hockey Beat for the video.)