San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche

NHL on NBCSN: Avs face Sharks with Conference title in sight

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the San Jose Sharks host the Colorado Avalanche at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Avalanche ranked last in the Western Conference last season. Could they finish first in 2013-14? That’s a real possibility after Colorado’s 4-2 victory over Vancouver last night.

With a 52-21-7 record, the Avalanche are just a point back of the Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks with two games remaining. Along the way, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has broken his coach, Patrick Roy’s, franchise win record with his 41st victory of the season.

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For any team that would be a huge accomplishment, but it’s especially remarkable given how far Colorado has come in so little time. That doesn’t mean the team’s ready to declare victory though.

“As a team, we haven’t done anything yet,” Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog told the Denver Post after Thursday’s win. “We’re certainly in a good spot, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

The playoffs are still what matters and tonight’s game against San Jose is important to Colorado in that regard. While the Avalanche has already secured home ice advantage in the first round, they are still competing with the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title. The winner will get to start the postseason against a Wild Card team. The loser will have to play the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The Sharks’ playoff position is already determined. No matter what happens in their final two games, they will start the first round at home against the Los Angeles Kings.

That doesn’t mean this game is meaningless to the Sharks though. They still want to go into the playoffs with some momentum after dropping six of their last nine.

“We’ve got two games left against two good teams to get ready for the playoffs,” Logan Couture said, per CSN Bay Area. “That’s got to be our focus right now, is get our game to the level it needs to be.”

On top of that, these two teams might still face each other in the postseason, even if it won’t be in the first round. After all, these are two great squads with high aspirations.

Five team stats you may find interesting

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Plus-10: The New York Rangers’ goal-differential in the first period. That’s the highest in the league. Just throwing it out there, but surely part of the reason the Rangers have been outshot in so many games is that they’ve been so good at taking early leads. Everyone knows it’s human nature to play more conservatively with a lead. At five-on-five when the score is tied, the Rangers have a plus-23 shot differential, per When they’re leading by any score — and they’ve been in that situation a lot this season — it’s an NHL-worst minus-70.

Minus-22: The Anaheim Ducks’ goal differential in the second period. No team has a worse goal differential in any period. What’s more, the Ducks actually have a positive differential in the first (+5) and third (+3) frames. It’s hard to say why the second has been such a problem for this team. That’s Bruce Boudreau’s problem to figure out. (For now, at least.)

Plus-18: The Montreal Canadiens’ goal differential in the third. No team has a better goal differential in any period. Now, the Habs have also been pretty good in the first (+5) and second (+10). Which is to say, they’ve led a lot of games after 40 minutes. That they’ve kept scoring in the third supports their reputation as one of the best counter-attacking teams in the NHL. When you’re forced to take chances against Montreal, it can turn ugly real quick.

Plus-5: Calgary’s goal differential in three-on-three overtime. Five wins, no losses. That’s our way of saying the Flames have only won three games in regulation.

20: The most games any team has led at some point in the contest, per Can you guess the two teams that have done it? ………… OK, time’s up. The first is Dallas. The Stars have won 17 games, so yeah, it makes sense they’ve led in quite a few of their games. The second team, though, is Boston. The Bruins have only won 12 games, which means they’ve blown a whole lot of leads. This must drive Claude Julien nuts.

‘Great story’ Holloway, 27, to make NHL debut tonight

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It took a while, but Bud Holloway has finally made the big leagues.

Holloway — who’s real name is “George,” by the way — will make his long-awaited NHL debut tonight when his Habs take on the Devils in New Jersey.

The 27-year-old, taken by L.A. in the third round of the 2006 draft, has traveled a long and winding road to get where he is today.

The WHL Seattle product spent all of his time in the Kings organization at the minor league level, with both ECHL Ontario and AHL Manchester (he appeared in nearly 200 games with the Monarchs over a three-year span.)

Always a capable scorer, Holloway jumped the pond in 2011 and signed in Sweden.

There, he emerged as a star — in his first year, he set a record for most points in a SHL postseason (23 in 19 games) and, in his second, became just the second player in league history to score eclipse the 70-point plateau.

In ’14-15, Holloway signed in Switzerland and continued to be a productive scorer, with 37 points in 42 games for SC Bern.

This year he’s been on fire for the AHL IceCaps, scoring 20 points in 18 games.

“This is a great story,” Habs head coach Michel Therrien told “The guy has showed a lot of resilience through his career to come back after playing a few years in Europe, and he did really well for [St. John’s].

“For him to get an opportunity to play his first game in the NHL, those are great stories and he certainly deserves to finally get a shot in the NHL because he’s had success wherever he goes.”

Based on yesterday’s line rushes, it looks like Holloway will play on Montreal’s fourth line with Paul Byron and Brian Flynn.

Related: Habs recall former Swedish league scoring ace Holloway

WATCH LIVE: Rangers at Bruins in the ’15 Thanksgiving Showdown

Ryan McDonagh, Brad Marchand
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The Boston Bruins are hosting the New York Rangers in this year’s Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC — but if you’re unable to watch on TV, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

You can watch the game online via NBC Sports’ Live Extra. Coverage begins just prior to puck drop at 1 p.m. ET.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in goal, looking for redemption after he got the hook in his last outing, a 5-1 drubbing against Montreal.

Boston will counter with Tuukka Rask, who stopped 39 of 42 shots in his last start — a win over Toronto on Monday.

While their starting goalie remains the same from the Habs loss, the Blueshirts will make chances elsewhere. On defense, Dylan McIlrath draws in for Dan Boyle while at forward, Emerson Etem with take Viktor Stalberg‘s spot.

For the Bruins, Kevan Miller — the defenseman that’s missed the last four games with an upper-body injury — could draw back into the lineup. Miller practiced this week and appears primed to skate in a pairing with Dennis Seidenberg.

Replacing Beauchemin with Bieksa hasn’t worked out so great for Anaheim


Are the Anaheim Ducks missing Francois Beauchemin more than they thought they might?

It’s a question we’ve been hearing more and more lately, as the Ducks’ goal-scoring woes of October have been replaced by defensive issues in November.

Anaheim is 3-4-2 in its last nine games. The Ducks have allowed 27 goals in regulation during that stretch — that’s three per game on average — plus two more in a pair of overtime losses.

In a related story, per the O.C. Register, here’s what coach Bruce Boudreau said the other day about offseason acquisition Kevin Bieksa:

“He’s a veteran guy that has to fight his way out of this. We count on him to not make mistakes. We will go as far as guys like him take us.”

Bieksa, 34, is minus-7 in his last four games combined. True, he’s forced to play a lot of hard minutes against good players. But then, that’s exactly what he was brought in to do. The Ducks even gave him a two-year, $8 million extension, locking him up through 2017-18.

Now consider what Boudreau said during last year’s playoff run, about the guy Bieksa was brought in to replace:

“He’s the voice. Everybody else is so young. [He] is the voice back there.”

And Beauchemin was more than just a talker. He led the Ducks in ice time. He had nine assists in 16 playoff games. Bottom line: he was a big part of a team that fell one win shy of making the Stanley Cup Final.

Beauchemin, of course, signed a three-year deal with Colorado on July 1, for a cap hit of $4.5 million. So far, he’s been as advertised for the Avs. The 35-year-old has two goals and 10 assists. He gets the most ice time on the team, an average of 23:33.

Looking back, Anaheim GM Bob Murray never did want to lose Beauchemin. The Ducks just weren’t prepared to offer what the Avs did.

“Beauch’ has been a pretty good warrior for us,” Murray said in June. “He has a one-time chance for free agency and maybe somebody will give him $5 million.… I couldn’t do that.”

One has to wonder now if Murray wishes he’d found a way.

The Ducks host the Blackhawks tonight on NBCSN.