Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks

Sharks take Pacific Division lead, Flames stay alive

At least one former St. Louis Blues player hopes to the Blues see the San Jose Sharks in the first round, but the odds of that happening dropped considerably Monday. Then again, considering the up-and-down nature of the West’s stretch run, the most important word is “Monday” because things seem to change drastically from night to night.

In March 26’s case, the Sharks took a slim Pacific Division lead, the Calgary Flames stayed in the hunt and everyone else took a step back. To keep things neat, I’ll go in order of where the teams are in the standings as of this writing.

(Which, again, might only hold true for a day or two.)

Sharks contain Avalanche 5-1

It’s silly to call any individual contest the biggest of the night because they’re all huge for the individual teams, so let me temper that by deeming this the most “sweeping.”

The Sharks regulation win places them atop the Pacific and in the third seed – for now – with 88 points and six games remaining. Meanwhile, the Avalanche suffer a crushing blow that’s only a little less debilitating than the one that the Winnipeg Jets received earlier tonight.

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While the Avalanche are technically only a point behind seventh and eighth place at 86 points, they only have four games left this season – the least of all the bubble teams.

It’s hardly any solace, but at least the Avalanche didn’t fall just short in this game. They lost soundly, so there’s little sense staying up all night thinking of a single bad bounce. Instead, they must just move on and hope for bounces in their favor on future nights – but things look pretty shaky.

Flames burn Stars

In fact, I’d argue that Calgary might actually have a better chance than Colorado after Monday’s festivities. Despite allowing Jamie Benn goals 26 seconds into the first period (1-0) and 44 into the second (2-1), the Flames managed to win  5-4 – and in regulation to boot. That places them in 11th overall, but they have five games left and are only two points back of one of the final two seeds. At worst, their odds are similar to Colorado’s all things considered.

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Canucks blank Kings

If the Los Angles Kings miss the playoffs, the sad symbol of their season might just be a goose egg. Los Angeles has been shut out 10 times this season after Roberto Luongo’s perfect night, guaranteeing that more than 12 percent of the Kings’ games were fruitless.

The Canucks have already clinched the lowly Northwest Division – which looks unlikely to produce a second playoff team once again – so their sites are focused on the West’s first seed. That’s far from a pipe dream, either, because the St. Louis Blues only have a two point lead for the No. 1 spot. (Although it must be noted that the Blues currently have 47 wins and 43 regulation/OT victories to 46 and 39 for Vancouver.)

Los Angeles probably wishes that its opponents had less to play for because that 1-0 loss really hurts.

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Instead of taking the Pacific lead or at least essentially tying the Sharks with 88 points, the Kings are instead seated in ninth place with 86 behind the Sharks, Stars and Coyotes.

West update

In fact, here’s a look at how the West races shake out – we’ll focus on the Pacific and final seed battles for now:

3. San Jose – 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left

7. Dallas – 87 points, 34 regulation/OT wins, six games left
8. Phoenix – 87 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, five games left

9. Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. Colorado – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, four games left
11. Calgary – 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins, five games left

As you can see, Monday didn’t really deliver a death blow or open up an easy avenue for anyone, bu the Kings, Stars and Avalanche must really be kicking themselves. The Pacific appears to be fair game, but to use a regrettable media term, San Jose “controls its own destiny.” All six of its final contests take place against Pacific teams, with just one against the irrelevant-beyond-spoilers Anaheim Ducks.

In general, there’s plenty left in play but the Flames and especially the Sharks won the biggest tonight. We’ll find out soon enough how much that matters.

Want a video summary of the night as well? NBC Sports Network has you covered:

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Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.