Tonight on NBCSN: No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha faces No. 16 Wisconsin in WCHA battle

The Mavericks are up and the Badgers are down in a wild WCHA race to the finish.

No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (18-12-2) vs. No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (14-11-7) – 7:30 p.m. ET

Things haven’t gone as planned for the Wisconsin Badgers. They had to spend the first part of the season without Nic Kerdiles thanks to a silly NCAA suspension and they started off abysmal going 1-7-2 in their first 10 games. Once the calendar flipped to December, they caught fire going 8-0-3 over their next 11.

Things have slowed down in the second half though and after splitting with No. 2 Minnesota, they split at home with D-I newcomers Penn State. Their overtime loss on Monday dropped them to 26 in the Pairwise. Facing off with WCHA front-runners Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State in the final two weekends isn’t their (or anyone else’s) idea of fun except for maybe Badgers haters.

For Nebraska-Omaha, it’s been a steady roll through the season for them. Ryan Walters’ season has been outstanding and he’ll surely be in the hunt for the Hobey Baker Award. His point scoring abilities have paced the Mavericks all year and the help he’s given his teammates has been huge even with some minor drama in goal.

That said, they’re in a bit of a funk now have lost three of their last five games and sit three points back of SCSU for first in the conference. If they want a better opponent in the first round of the WCHA tournament they’ll have to fight with Minnesota, North Dakota, and Minnesota State as well as St. Cloud to do it.

NHL prospects to watch

source: Getty ImagesIf you’ve seen UNO on NBCSN before, you know all about junior forward Ryan Walters. He’s undrafted but second in the country in points with 45, trailing only St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey. The guys Walters is hooking up include sophomore forward Josh Archibald (Pittsburgh) and undrafted junior Matt White. Their top line is dynamic and senior defenseman Bryce Aneloski (Ottawa) can score from the point.

Others: Brent Gwidt (F – SR – Washington), Nick Seeler (D – FR – Minnesota), Tanner Lane (F – FR – Winnipeg), Brent Cooper (D – FR – Anaheim)

Wisconsin doesn’t have the usual bevy of big talent, but who they do have is pretty good. Junior forward Michael Mersch (Los Angeles) leads the team in goals and points with 17-9-26. While freshman Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim – pictured) missed 10 games, he’s produced well with 6-11-17 in 22 games.

Sophomore forward Joe LaBate (Vancouver), sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe (Buffalo), and senior blue liner John Ramage (Calgary) have been solid contributors. McCabe was also key in the Team USA World Junior gold medal win this year.

Others: Brendan Woods (F – SO – Carolina), Brad Navin (F – SO – Buffalo), Joe Faust (D – SR – New Jersey), Eddie Whittchow (D – FR – Florida)

(Photo: WCHA.com)

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.