NHL on NBC: Blues hope to position for Central Division crown by beating Red Wings

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NBC continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign today when the St. Louis Blues host the Detroit Red Wings at Scottrade Center at 12:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBC, you can watch the game online.

When the’s NHL’s schedule makers decided upon a season finale between historic (but no longer divisional or even conference) rivals, one can imagine that they were crossing their fingers that something big would be on the line for the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues.

St. Louis’ stakes

Just a week or two ago, most people probably would’ve gambled everything that this would be a glorious scrimmage for the Blues and a do-or-die skirmish for the Red Wings. Instead, both teams are already guaranteed spots in their respective conferences … but that doesn’t mean this game lacks importance.

Simply put, the Blues face this consideration: finish Sunday with more points than Detroit’s old nemesis the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis wins the Central Division (and takes on the Minnesota Wild in the first round). Fall short or tie the Avs – Colorado holds tiebreaker advantages – and the Blues must thwart the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks to avoid a first-round exit for the third season in a row.

With all due respect to the Wild, that situation provides plenty of incentive for the Blues to earn a win on Sunday. (The Avalanche face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.)

Banged-up Blues

Despite the significance of this game, the Blues won’t face the Red Wings with their full compliment of players, though head coach Ken Hitchcock explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it’s not necessarily by design.

“Anybody that can play is playing … anybody that can’t isn’t going to play,” Hitchcock said. “We’re playing that game to win and that’s going to be our attitude. Our roster is our roster, nobody is feeling sorry for us.

“But after the game is over, we’re going to move on quickly. It’s an important game. We’ve got to get a (win), but if we don’t, we’ve still got to get up Monday morning and find a roster to be able to play.”

Considering how Detroit got to this point, they can relate to that mentality.

Motivation to finish strong

Beyond that more pertinent motivation, the Blues and Red Wings would like to cut off recent struggles. Things are most glaring for St. Louis; they’re hoping to avoid finishing the season with a six-game losing streak in a 2013-14 campaign in which they don’t have any other losing streak that exceeds two contests. Detroit, meanwhile, has lost three of four games but finds itself firmly planted in a first-round series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

To some, seeing all 16 playoff teams clinched already may seem anticlimactic. Yet, with such important seeding on the line, hockey fans should find plenty to enjoy beginning with this game on Sunday.

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.