Gabriel Bourque, Jordin Tootoo, Paul Gaustad

Predators win big one in home ice chase against Red Wings

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If the playoffs began right at this moment, the Nashville Predators would hold a crucial home-ice advantage over the Detroit Red Wings in an intriguing playoff match. Both teams still have four games to go, but Nashville made something of a statement in beating them 4-1 in Detroit.

The biggest span came in the second period when the Predators took a 2-0 lead despite an 18-7 shot disadvantage. Pekka Rinne (31 out of 32 saves) was the biggest star of that period and the game, yet one could say that Alexander Radulov’s goal ranks as the most ominous sign for a Red Wings team that isn’t very happy to see him back in the NHL.

Naturally, a one-point lead isn’t perfectly safe for the Predators, even if the Red Wings have been struggling lately. Fortunes can turn on a dime during the stretch run, as just about every part of the NHL’s playoff race has shown us.

Let’s take a look at the two teams’ final four games, then:

Predators’ remaining schedule

Saturday: vs. Chicago
April 3: vs. Minnesota
April 5: vs. Dallas
April 7: at Colorado

Red Wings’ remaining schedule

Sunday: vs. Florida
April 4: at St. Louis
April 5: vs. New Jersey
April 7: vs. Chicago

The Florida Panthers already revealed that a team’s “on paper” schedule only matters so much, but it would appear that Nashville faces a slightly easier road to the fourth seed. All four of Detroit’s opponents are likely to be in the playoffs and while the Devils might not have much to play for, the Panthers will be desperate and the two Central opponents would likely love to hand it to the team that has beguiled the entire division for its entire existence. Back-to-back games can’t help an older Red Wings team’s cause, either.

That’s not to say that it’s a cakewalk for the Predators, though. Both teams enjoy three of their last four contests at home, which likely is a bigger factor for the more home-dependent Red Wings. As much as those Central teams would like to “stick it” to Detroit, the Stars and Avalanche are likely to be desperate at the end of this season (unless Colorado ends up getting booted altogether).

A banner night for Predators franchise

It’s quite the way for Nashville head coach Barry Trotz to get his 500th career win – all with the Predators. The Associated Press frames what this win means for Trotz and Nashville’s distinguished GM David Poile.

Trotz is the fifth coach to win 500 games with one franchise, joining the New York Islanders’ Al Arbour, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Chicago’s Billy Reay and Montreal’s Toe Blake.

Predators general manager David Poile, whose savvy drafting has helped the smaller-market franchise consistently win, is the first NHL general manager to win 500 games with two teams. He helped the Washington Capitals win 594 games from 1982-97 before getting the Predators ready for the 1998-99 season, their debut in the league.

It’s the kind of franchise-building that should create a blueprint for future(?) expansion teams and makes for a worrisome opponent for the mighty Red Wings.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.