TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Chicago at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Just what the Leafs need, eh? A visit from the red-hot defending champs. The ‘Hawks have scored 19 goals in their last three games. Which is a lot. “We have a quiet confidence we can score goals,” d-man Duncan Keith said after Chicago’s 7-2 destruction of the Flyers. “Our talk in the room is more about playing the right way, being good defensively, being hard on pucks, checking well. We know our offense is going to take care of itself if we play that way.” Meanwhile, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle thought his team was “totally brain-dead” against the Blues. So yeah, slightly divergent takes there.

Saturday: Pittsburgh at Detroit (7 p.m. ET)

Thursday in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings lost their 11th straight game that went to a shootout, a run of futility that goes all the way back to March. How unlikely is it for a team to go that long without winning in the skills competition? To the internet calculator! OK, assuming there’s actually something that makes the Wings a below-average shootout team, let’s give them a 60 percent chance of losing each one they enter:

source:

That there super-low number is the probability they’d lose 11 straight. And in reality it’s probably less than that, since the Wings should be more than capable of holding their own in the shootout.

Saturday: Boston at Vancouver (10 p.m. ET)

The last time the Bruins visited Rogers Arena, they won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972 and the streets outside the rink turned into a war zone. The two teams have only met once since the 2011 final, in Boston on Jan. 7, 2012. Remember how that one went? Here’s a refresher:

Just don’t bank on a repeat of that intensity Saturday. Because Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis believes that game hurt his team in the long run, even though his team won it, 4-3. In April of 2012, after being eliminated in the first round by Los Angeles, Gillis said the Canucks never “collectively got their emotions together” after the Boston game, which apparently was “almost like playing a Stanley Cup final game in the middle of the season.” Also, there’s this:

Sunday: Calgary at NY Rangers (7 p.m. ET)

Remember, TGIF doesn’t just pick the games with the best teams; it picks the ones with compelling storylines, too. And what’s happening to the Rangers these days is quite compelling, especially when it comes to wealthy franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Yesterday, we mentioned in PHT Extra that King Henrik needed to be better. And what did he do right after we said that? He got pulled after allowing three goals on 13 Columbus shots. It’s already been announced that Lundqvist will start versus the Flames. So allow us to reiterate: he needs to be better.

Sunday: Los Angeles at Chicago (7 p.m. ET)

The Kings were lucky they had Martin Jones on Wednesday, or there’s very little chance they’d have beaten the Maple Leafs. And that, folks, is not something we expected to write a few weeks ago. Mostly because we thought Martin Jones was an accountant in payroll. Turns out he’s a goalie. And a pretty good one. Humble, too. “We’ve got a great team here,” the undrafted 23-year-old said after stopping 38 of 39 Toronto shots. “It’s not like I’m getting called upon to steal games.” Except he just did.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.