Tyler Ennis

NHL on NBCSN: Stars begin season-defining stretch vs. Sabres

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Dallas Stars host the Buffalo Sabres at American Airlines Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

With just 22 games left, the Stars are at the center of the battle for one of the final postseason positions.

Dallas holds the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but only by the slimmest of margins. Had the Vancouver Canucks or Phoenix Coyotes won yesterday, the Stars would be on the outside looking in again, but they caught a break and now Dallas needs to capitalize on it.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s late NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Sabres might be out of the running and their franchise player, Ryan Miller, has been traded to St. Louis, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be an easy opponent. Buffalo’s goaltenders have a lot to prove right now as Jhonas Enroth fights to show he’s ready to be a starter and Jaroslav Halak fights for his next contract as he faces the possibility that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Halak isn’t unique in that regard. The Sabres have 11 players with contracts that are set to expire and thus have plenty of motivation to play for at least themselves if not for the team.

“(The Sabres) are a team that hasn’t lost a game since the break,” Stars forward Vernon Fiddler pointed out, per the Stars’ website. “They are playing carefree. They have a lot of young guys with a lot to prove. They have great coaching. We’ve got to be ready for them.”

All the same, this is the type of game that Dallas has to win because getting points is only going to get harder from here. After this contest, the Stars will play five straight games against teams that have either currently possess a playoff spot or are in serious contention for one. Dallas is also starting a stretch of 15 games over 27 days, so these contests will only get harder as fatigue starts to set in.

The Stars make-or-break stretch is starting now and this game could set the tone.

Lightning strikes: Bolts even series with Islanders

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Tyler Johnson began the playoffs as a game-time decision for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s now among the top point producers this post-season.

Needing a win to even the series before it shifts north to Brooklyn, the Lightning earned a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Series tied, 1-1. As for Johnson, the diminutive but skilled forward, he led the Bolts with a three-point night and is up to 10 points in the playoffs.

He opened the scoring versus the Islanders and finished it with an empty-netter to negate any late comeback attempt.

Still without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning got another strong game from Jonathan Drouin, who entered this series without a goal. But he changed that, giving the host team a two-goal lead in the opening period of Game 2. That goal would be the eventual winner.

Corey Perry: ‘I take a lot of blame for what happened’ after Ducks bounced in first round

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After a first-round playoff loss that resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, players were forced to answer for such a disappointing end to the Anaheim Ducks’ season.

The Ducks were last in the West at the holiday break but went flying up the standings in the second half of the season, claiming the Pacific Division. But they couldn’t close out the Nashville Predators in the opening round, despite a 3-2 series lead, and Boudreau was sent packing.

Ducks GM Bob Murray then let the players have it, blasting the core group and their performance, especially in the first two games of the series, and strongly suggesting there would be some big changes in Anaheim leading up to next season.

“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Corey Perry, as per the Ducks’ website. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”

In seven games, the 30-year-old Perry, who just concluded the third year of an eight-year contract with a cap hit of $8.625 million, had four assists. But, as he said, no goals.

On Boudreau’s dismissal, Perry added: “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”

 

Marquette, Michigan is your Kraft Hockeyville 2016 winner

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Huge congrats to the community of Marquette, MI and the Lakeview Arena — after an exciting voting process, Marquette has been named the winner of the Kraft Hockeyville 2016 competition.

As a result, Lakeview will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades, and will host an Oct. 4 preseason game broadcast on NBCSN between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

More, from the NHL:

Marquette is rich in hockey heritage and Lakeview Arena stands as a pillar of the community, stimulating the local economy since it opened in 1973. Lakeview Arena’s semi-pro Marquette Iron Rangers signed the first female professional hockey player in North American history, Karen Koch.

Lakeview Arena will prioritize energy efficiency updates with the grand prize money in addition to other arena upgrades to ensure future generations of Marquette players are able to enjoy skating at Lakeview Arena for years to come.

“We’ve seen amazing participation across the country in Kraft Hockeyville USA’s second year,” said Nina Barton, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Kraft Heinz. “This year’s contest led to millions of votes from passionate hockey fans, and we’re so proud America has chosen the spirited, well-deserving community of Marquette as Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016.”

Marquette was just one of more than a thousand communities across the country that submitted stories showing their hockey spirit and passion.

The runner-up, Rushmore Thunderdome of Rapid City, S.D., will receive $75,000 to use toward arena upgrades.

For more on this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, click here.

2016 Lady Byng finalists: Barkov, Eriksson and Kopitar

Slovenia forward Anze Kopitar, left, and Sweden forward Loui Eriksson battle for the puck in the second period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The low penalty minutes and high point totals are in, and thus we have the 2016 NHL Awards’ three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy: Aleksander Barkov, Loui Eriksson and Anze Kopitar.

OK, the actual definition for the award is that it goes “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Same difference, eh?

Barkov really made a breakthrough this season with the Florida Panthers, scoring 59 points versus just eight penalty minutes. He only has 34 PIM in 191 career regular season contests.

You can see Eriksson and Kopitar representing their respective countries in this post’s main image. Eriksson enjoyed his best (and maybe last?) season with the Boston Bruins while Kopitar hopes to win the 2016 Selke as the Los Angeles Kings’ defensively adept – yet apparently courteous – forward.

It’s unclear who wins this “fight,” but one would assume it wouldn’t be a dirty one.