NHL on NBC: Blues take on shorthanded Blackhawks

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NBC continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign today when the Chicago Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center at 12:30 p.m. ET.

During back-to-back games this weekend, the St. Louis Blues receive tastes of what they could face in second-round series in the 2014 playoffs, assuming they can make it that far.

On Saturday, the Blues were walloped by the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 in a game that became ugly in the end. Now they turn around for a matchup against the Avalanche’s virtually guaranteed first-round opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks, aka the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Granted, the champs might look a little different than most teams and fans are used to seeing. The Blackhawks’ two marquee stars won’t make it into action on Sunday as both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are nursing injuries from a long season that includes a normal 82-game schedule plus the 2014 Olympics.

Chicago’s goal at this point in the regular season is to keep it simple, as the team told CSNChicago.com on Thursday:

“I think if you play the right way, you give yourself a chance (to win),” Head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think keeping it simple is something that we stressed a lot. And we got ourselves up to speed here tonight. If you have balance, keep yourself mentally aware of what you need to do and play the team system well, everybody compliments each other.”

St. Louis is also likely to play a straightforward game, as that’s the Blues’ preferred style and they’re finishing up a set of back-to-back games, anyway. They’ll be a little shorthanded in their own right, as sniper Alexander Steen is out of action with an upper-body injury today.

Ultimately, it’s about tuning up and improving postseason positioning. The Blues continue to fight for the top spot in the West and the Presidents’ Trophy while the ‘Hawks still have a shot at getting home-ice advantage in the first round against Colorado.

To do so, one of these teams will need to overcome one of their biggest rivals on NBC this afternoon.

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.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.