Barret Jackman, Mikko Koivu

NHL on NBCSN: Streaking Wild look to finally beat Blues

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

The way things are shaping up, this could be a first round preview and if that’s the case, it might be good news for Minnesota.

St. Louis has the makeup of a serious Stanley Cup contender given its depth, great defense, and dominant goaltender in Ryan Miller. At the same time, the warning signs are there.

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The Blues have lost three straight games by a margin of 12-3 and that might be a case of problems catching up to them rather than just an ordinary slump. Since Jan. 10, the Blues have averaged just 2.25 games per contest, which puts them in the bottom five in the league over that span, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Listen to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and it becomes clear that’s not the only concern.

“We’re giving up power play goals and we’re not doing the job on the special teams,” Hitchcock added to the Post-Dispatch. “That’s my concern now, our special teams aren’t helping us. … That game within the game is really concerning.”

The team has also been losing steam as games go on recently.

By comparison the Minnesota Wild have been great lately and a lot of that has to do with, oddly enough, Ilya Bryzgalov. He’s stepped up with a 1.78 GAA and .923 save percentage in 11 games with Minnesota, including three shutouts.

After his infamous stint with Philadelphia, the Wild feel confident with him between the pipes.

“(He was) very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy, a lot of loose pucks that were either redirected or loose around the net that he was able to swallow up and control and give us a chance to settle things down,” Wild coach Mike Yeo told the Pioneer Press after Monday’s game against Winnipeg.

The Wild’s top players have also clicked lately, with Zach Parise (19 points in 21 games), Mikko Koivu (18 points in 19 games), and Jason Pominville (17 points in 21 games) leading the charge since the Olympic break. All three of them have more points since the Winter Games than any St. Louis Blues player over that span.

On top of that, the Wild have eight players with at least 10 points since the break while the Blues have just five.

None of this changes the fact that St. Louis has a commanding 52-20-7 record while Minnesota wasn’t able to do better than a Wild Card spot. It also can’t be ignored that St. Louis hasn’t lost to the Wild since Nov. 19, 2011.

So the Blues clearly enter this game as the favorites, but with these teams trending in different directions, they are also going into this as a squad that needs a morale-boosting performance.

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

Minnesota Wild’s Jared Spurgeon,right, keeps Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin of Russia occupied near the net in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
AP
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.

Bylsma believes league will look at Gudas’ hit on Catenacci

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Rugged Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas may get in trouble with the league once again.

At least, it will be that way if Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma has his way regarding Gudas’ five-minute charging major hit on Daniel Catenacci.

“I think there’s no question it’s head hit,” Bylsma said, according to the Buffalo News’ John Vogl. ” … I know the league will look at that hit and deal with it.”

As far as the injury portion of possible suspension considerations go:

Marcus Foligno‘s analysis of Gudas was … well just check it out.

The Flyers ended up winning 5-1. Gudas was a busy man overall, racking up 17 penalty minutes.