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Minnesota columnist believes Wild improved by adding ‘attitude’

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If you were to draw up a list of the “easiest” series from the 2013 postseason, Chicago’s five-game stroll against Minnesota would probably finish close to the top. To make matters worse for the Wild, some might say the team took a step back by shedding salary this summer, yet the Pioneer Press’ Tim Powers believes that they improved in a bigger picture way.

More specifically, he thinks that the Wild added some edge and attitude via Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard.

Enter Ballard and Cooke. With luck, they’ll growl and prod and, as a result, motivate. Not when things are going well. Not when the Wild have put together a nice streak. But when things are headed south. Because no team can turn a couple of bad bounces into a four-game losing streak as quickly as the mentally fragile Wild.

(Now imagine a low-budget promo video of Cooke and Ballard dramatically removing their sunglasses.)

One can easily question this concept – especially since hit machine Cal Clutterbuck is out of town – but the two players do bring some snarl to the table.

We all know the story Cooke, as the 34-year-old’s past is so checkered that the common refrain is that he’s a changed man. (Perhaps there’s a small group of Wild fans who want the “old” Cooke, then?)

Ballard, 30, isn’t a pushover either. For those who look past his formerly problematic contract and scratches, Ballard showed that he wasn’t shy to throw his body around. That was especially true when it came to his old-school hip checks:

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It’s anyone’s guess if two supporting cast members like Cooke and Ballard will really make that much of a difference, but maybe the team will be “tougher to play against,” as hockey people like to say.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”

Report: Coyotes shut down Vitale (concussion) for the season

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Joe Vitale will not play again this season.

The Arizona Coyotes have shut Vitale down for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign due to “concussion-related issues,” according to a report from Sarah McLellan of azcentral sports on Wednesday.

Vitale, a 30-year-old veteran center, appeared in only one game for the Coyotes this season. That was back on Oct. 17, when he suffered a concussion and broken orbital bone in a fight with Kevan Miller of the Boston Bruins.

Sens announce Frattin, acquired in Phaneuf deal, will stick with AHL Marlies

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Matt Frattin was traded by the Leafs to Ottawa yesterday as part of the Dion Phaneuf blockbuster.

But for now, he’s staying in Toronto.

On Wednesday, Sens GM Bryan Murray announced that Frattin will remain with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate — the Toronto Marlies — on loan, but will be available for selection should Ottawa require his services down the road.

Frattin, 28, has spent all of this season with the Marlies, scoring nine goals and 22 points in 47 games. His last NHL appearance came during the ’14-15 campaign, with the Leafs.

Prior to that, the former North Dakota standout had spent time in Los Angeles and Columbus.