NHL on NBCSN: Hot Wild, Blues fight for edge in Central Division

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Minnesota Wild at the Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

In some ways, the Blues and Wild are similar stories. Both franchises are on the upswing and hungry for more after disappointing first round exits in 2013.

Neither team is one of the most popular picks to win the Stanley Cup, but both have a lot of promise. They have young forwards stepping up like Nino Niederreiter in Minnesota or Jaden Schwartz in St. Louis along with elite defensemen capable of leading a playoff team like the Wild’s Ryan Suter and Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Most importantly though, lately they have been able to do no wrong. Of the combined 23 games these two squads have participated in this month, they have only lost three in regulation. It’s no wonder that St. Louis and Minnesota have two of the best records in the league at 16-3-3 and 15-5-4 respectively.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between these two squads too.

In addition to playing a solid defensive game, the Blues have managed to crush their competition by overwhelming them offensively. That’s due in no small part to Alexander Steen’s remarkable start with 17 goals and 27 points in 22 games, but even as he starts shows signs of slowing down, St. Louis is far from vulnerable.

The Blues have six players that have recorded at least 16 points this season and 11 with a minimum of 10 points. Forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie are enjoying the best campaign of their careers and they’re still hot going into tonight’s contest.

They’ll run up against one of the best defenses in the league though. Minnesota has limited its competition to an NHL-best 25.3 shots per game. That’s helped them maintain a team 2.17 GAA, although that statistic comes with an asterisk tonight.

Goaltender Josh Harding has been a big part of the Minnesota Wild’s success, but he suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday. Harding has since gotten good news from an MRI, but the best case is that he serves as the backup tonight, according to NHL.com.

That puts the Wild’s fate in the hands of Niklas Backstrom, who was great in his recent contest against Winnipeg, but has struggled overall this season.

Combine that with the Blues’ home ice advantage and the fact that they’ve won their last five games against Minnesota and it seems fair to give them the edge. But given how good these teams have been, anything is possible.

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.