Weekend preview: Wild-Wings doubleheader, Blues invade Pennsylvania

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A quick look ahead at some of the narratives at play this weekend…

Detroit and Minnesota go back-to-back

Two teams in the thick of their respective playoff chases will square off twice this weekend — the Wings will take on the Wild in Minnesota on Saturday, then host ’em at the Joe on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Improbably, Detroit has rallied to win three of its last four and move within one point of the Rangers for the final wild card spot in the East. The rally is improbable given their rash of injuries — in Thursday’s 5-4 OT victory over Pittsburgh, the Wings were without the services of (deep breath) Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss, Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, Dan Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson, Tomas Jurco, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson (phew).

Minnesota, meanwhile, is trending in the opposite direction — the Wild have lost six of eight, though did manage to accumulate eight points over that stretch. That’s left them with 83 going into the weekend, good enough to hold the first of two wild card spots in the Western Conference.

St. Louis to take on Philly, Pittsburgh

The Keystone State will get a good look at the NHL’s No. 1 team this weekend, as the Blues — first in the league with 101 points — take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday, then face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Boasting an 8-1-1 record since acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott at the NHL trade deadline, St. Louis has looked like a legit Cup contender in recent weeks, but did suffer a setback on Wednesday with a disappointing 4-0 loss in Chicago (y’know, the reigning Cup champ.) With that it mind, the Blues will head into this weekend looking to rebound from the Chicago loss and test itself against two of the East’s most talented teams — Pittsburgh sits atop the Atlantic Division with 45 wins and 95 points while Philly remains one of the hottest teams in the league, going 7-2-1 over its last 10 games.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.