NHL on NBCSN: Wild, Hawks battle for series title

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Blackhawks became the first team in the NHL to secure their spot in the postseason on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take it easy over the final weeks of the season.

“We’ve had a good year to date and we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished,” coach Joel Queneville said in a CSN Chicago report. “But we still want to get better in games, and that’s the important thing. Finishing as high as we can is a priority as well. That’s where the motivation is.”

The Blackhawks are still in a battle for the first seed, but there’s no question that Minnesota needs these points more. The Wild have opened up a six-point lead on the ninth place Phoenix Coyotes, but they still have a shot at the Northwest Division title and the third seed that will come with it.

Even if they can’t best the Vancouver Canucks in the divisional race, only five points separate eighth and fourth place in the Western Conference, so every win counts when it comes to playoffs positioning. Then of course there’s the reality that if the Wild get on a losing streak now, they could still miss the playoffs entirely.

Playing against Chicago has been tough for any team this season, but the Wild actually enter this game with a chance to win their season series. They eked out a shootout victory over Chicago back in January to bring an end to the Blackhawks’ initial six-game winning streak. Chicago got its revenge last month when Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad led the Blackhawks to a 5-3 victory.

This will be the last meeting between these two squads in the regular season and is consequently both squads final chance to make an impression on the other before a possible playoffs series.

Probable goaltenders: CHI – Corey Crawford (15-4-4, 2.01 GAA, .922 SV%) | MIN – Niklas Backstrom (20-10-2, 2.44 GAA, .913 SV%)

Top scorers: CHI – Patrick Kane (20-26-46, 38 GP) | MIN – Mikko Koivu (9-24-33, 38 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Chicago – Forwards: Dave Bolland (lower body), Patrick Sharp (shoulder)
Minnesota – Forwards: Dany Heatley (wrist), Matt Cullen (lower body) Goaltenders: Josh Harding (symptoms related to multiple sclerosis)

Capitals’ Schmidt hurt by Leafs’ Komarov; Record 18th playoff game to OT

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Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately demeaning such efforts unsuccessful.

So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.

Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”

It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.