Mike Smith stops regulation-record 54 shots for third straight shutout

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Ilya Bryzgalov might have been the first star of March but Mike Smith has easily been one of the best steals of the 2011 free agent summer. Considering his struggles in Tampa Bay, it’s understandable that many downplay his accomplishments as the mere product of Dave Tippett’s system, but he’s putting up the numbers of a star whether he is one or not.

That’s been especially true lately, when Phoenix needs him to play like a Vezina winner – and he’s delivered to a stunning degree. Tonight may rank as his masterpiece, however, as he extended his shutout streak to three consecutive games by stopping 54 Columbus Blue Jackets shots in a 2-0 win.

Update: his masterpiece will go down in NHL history, by the way. Bruce McCurdy confirms that 54 saves sets the new mark for the most in a regulation game. Yeah, that’s impressive.

Sure the Coyotes were “supposed” to win, yet the Blue Jackets have delighted in playing the spoiler lately with three straight wins against playoff-level teams. Obviously Columbus didn’t just roll over against Phoenix – Jack Johnson had eight shots alone – but Smith dazzled in giving the desert dogs a great chance to win at least the seventh seed (if not the Pacific Division).

With that in mind, here’s how that fuzzy situation looks now:

3. Los Angeles – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left

7. Phoenix – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left
8. San Jose – 92 points, 33 regulation/OT wins with two games left

9. Dallas – 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with two games left
10. Colorado – 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with two games left

The Coyotes and Kings have identical records – even standard wins with 40 each – so Los Angeles likely holds the season series advantage (or perhaps a more obscure tiebreaker). The good news is that the Sharks and Kings close out their seasons with a home-and-home, so one way or another they’ll probably get some help.

Colorado is already irrelevant to Phoenix since it tops out at 92 points while the Stars would be out of the picture if the Coyotes gain a single point. So, yes, the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in Glendale – but they’re awfully close to that.

Perhaps the best news is that the Coyotes won’t have to worry about the Detroit Red Wings in the first round this time – although Smith at least wouldn’t carry the same baggage as his universe-pondering predecessor in the first place.

Report: Skinner among leading candidates for Hurricanes captaincy

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The Carolina Hurricanes went last season without a captain. That will change once training camp is over, and, according to a recent report, Jeff Skinner is one of the prime candidates to possibly wear the ‘C’ for this season.

The Hurricanes selected Skinner seventh overall in 2010. He made an instant impact on the NHL club, scoring 31 goals and 63 points in his rookie season as a teenager. He’s been a valuable offensive weapon for Carolina ever since.

This past season, he scored 37 goals — a career best. Although the consideration to potentially make him the next captain goes beyond his skills around the opposing net.

From NHL.com:

“He’s a passionate guy and he’s a passionate player,” Peters said. “He’s a real good pro in the fact that he looks after himself, he trains properly and the guys have unreal respect for the way he looks after his body. The maturity shows. I know guys bring it up quite a bit.”

To that end, Peters said he was at a staff golf outing prior to the start of training camp with about 16 people, including members of the Hurricanes’ medical and strength training staffs, and he polled as many people about the captaincy candidates as he could.

“[Skinner’s] name came up in the conversation quite a bit, and they bring up that type of stuff, the way he looks after himself and the way he prepares,” Peters said. “He’s passionate about it and he’s hungry to win.”

The Hurricanes have, over the past few years, done a nice job of building a talented young roster that has shown signs of being able to compete in the Eastern Conference. They do, however, play in a difficult Metropolitan Division, which features the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Capitals and Rangers.

The biggest change in Carolina this offseason was in net, with the addition of Scott Darling, who was the capable back-up in Chicago but is now taking over the No. 1 role with the Hurricanes.

Another change is still upcoming. Eric Staal was the captain in Carolina for six years, but the team is expected to soon name a replacement. There are other candidates for the Hurricanes captaincy, as well, like Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal.

“Someone is going to wear one, for sure,” said Peters earlier this month, per TSN. “Our leadership group is fine and we’ve got real good candidates. They’ll all provide leadership whether they wear a letter or not.”

Islanders sign 2016 first-round pick Bellows to entry-level deal

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The New York Islanders made a few roster moves Friday. That included sending 2016 first-round pick Kieffer Bellows back to the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.

Shortly after that, it was announced that Bellows and the Islanders agreed to terms on a three-year entry-level contract.

The Islanders originally selected Bellows with the 19th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The 19-year-old left winger played one year at Boston University, tallying seven goals and 14 points before deciding to leave school to play this season in the WHL, which has a completely different schedule from college.

“Play more games,” Bellows told NHL.com in July. “I think just the 72 games in the [WHL] regular season is the biggest thing. I can’t thank [Boston University coach David] Quinn enough and all the guys on the team. I had an unbelievable first year at Boston University, but I just felt it was best for me to go and play more games.”

Stamkos to make preseason debut tonight vs. Predators

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For the first time since Nov. 15, 2016, Steven Stamkos will be in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup.

Per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, the prolific scorer will play tonight for the Bolts, as they continue the preseason against the Nashville Predators.

Stamkos suffered a knee injury last November. He underwent surgery but didn’t make it back to the lineup for the remainder of the year, marking the second time in four years his regular season was derailed by a significant injury.

“Listen, I snapped my leg in half and came back and was playing the best hockey of my career,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times, referring to his broken leg suffered during the 2013-14 season.

“So this is another hurdle. I’m confident that when you put in the work, you’re going to find ways. It may be different ways. You may have to adjust certain parts of your game. But we’ll handle that when I see how it feels in a game situation. We’ll know more tonight.”

Given such a lengthy time away from game action, it might be wise — at least early on — to temper expectations of Stamkos.

He is one of the league’s most dangerous scorers. But he also hasn’t played a game in 10 months. In a conversation with the Tampa Bay Times, Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, who had the same surgery in 2010, said it “took probably a year and a half to get back to feeling back to normal.”

It appears Stamkos will center a line tonight with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, who should certainly be pleased to be playing alongside No. 91.

Habs place Redmond on waivers — again

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A number of players found themselves on waivers Friday, including Montreal depth defenseman Zach Redmond.

(CapFriendly has an extensive list of players on waivers, which you can check out here.)

Redmond is in the final year of a two-year contract with the Habs, who already had a crowded blue line with eight defensemen signed for this season and Jakub Jerabek making the move from the KHL and looking to earn a roster spot out of camp.

Noah Juulsen was also a prospect defenseman to watch in camp, however, he recently suffered a fractured foot and is out six weeks.

Redmond, who was previously placed on waivers in January, split last season between Montreal and the Habs’ AHL affiliate in St. John’s, where he had 18 points in 26 games.

Now 29 years old, Redmond has 130 games worth of NHL experience with Winnipeg, Colorado and Montreal.