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Road warriors: Ducks, Caps brace for longest trips of year

For Anaheim and Washington, the next two weeks will be all about suitcases, keycards and in-flight safety demonstrations.

Oh, and some hockey.

On Monday, both teams got ready to embark on their longest road trips of the season. The Ducks flew to Toronto for an eight-game swing while the Caps boarded a plane to Winnipeg for a five-gamer.

“We’re going into some tough environments so we’ve got to be playing good hockey, but I think one of the things is there’s always a little pressure when you fail early in a game at home,” Caps head coach Adam Oates told the Washington Post. “You feel the fans are ready to get on you. On the road, mistakes can happen and it’s easier to let them go.”

Though Washington has been struggling and the road is never an easy place to play, this trip will present opportunities.

The Caps will get a Winnipeg team that’s been erratic to start the year and is just 3-4-0 at the MTS Centre, usually one of the loudest and most intimidating arenas in the NHL.

From there, Washington faces Edmonton (2-6-1), Calgary (losers of two straight), Vancouver (currently on its longest road trip of the season, a seven-gamer) and then Philly, who has just one win through eight games thus far.

As for Anaheim — well, it’s a doozy of a trip.

The Ducks begin on Tuesday in Toronto, followed by a game Thursday in Montreal, Friday in Ottawa and Sunday in Columbus. Then it’s off to Philly for a game on Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Boston Oct. 29, in Buffalo on Nov. 2 and, finally, a game against the Rangers at MSG on Nov. 4.

All told, it’s eight games in eight different cities in 13 days, an extremely tall order for the NHL’s hottest team (Anaheim’s won seven straight.)

Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Ryan Getzlaf both alluded to this lengthy trip following Sunday’s 6-3 win against Dallas at the Honda Center.

“I think we did a great job of playing for each other tonight,” Getzlaf told the OC Register (paywall). “We came out a little flat. Sometimes that happens when you’re getting ready for a long trip.”

“You want to go on the road feeling good about yourselves,” Boudreau added. “They knew that, understand it and that’s one of the reasons the good leadership came.”

Note: The Caps do have another five-game roadie this season, from Jan. 24-31 — in New Jersey, Montreal, Buffalo, Columbus and Detroit — but that trip is only seven days in length, whereas this upcoming one is nine days long.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.