Gustav Nyquist

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


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.

Animal activists protest Ducks’ Stoner over grizzly bear hunt

Keith Fialcowitz
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center on Monday night to call for the suspension of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada of illegally obtaining a license to shoot a grizzly bear.

While Ducks fans entered the rink for their home opener against Vancouver, about 20 protesters held signs and shouted slogans condemning Stoner. He faces five charges related to the 2013 hunt on British Columbia’s central coast.

“Killing is not a sport! Play a real sport!” the protesters shouted in unison. “Shame on the Ducks!”

Judie Mancuso, the president of Social Compassion in Legislation, compared Stoner to quarterback Michael Vick and Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, whose killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe sparked an international outcry.

“The entire globe is against trophy hunting right now,” Mancuso said. “If most of these hockey fans understood that was the issue, I think most of them would be on our side.”

Wildlife groups and First Nations leaders have been outraged by Stoner’s killing of the bear, named Cheeky. Stoner defended his actions at the time when graphic photos of the kill were publicized, but he hasn’t commented recently.

The protesters were serenaded by chants of Stoner’s name by many fans, while others stopped to look at the signs. Mancuso said her group hopes to raise awareness of Stoner’s legal troubles.

“If people didn’t have outrage with the NFL, Michael Vick would have gotten away with it,” Mancuso said. “The only way that anything is going to happen is if we do this. If there’s not public outcry, nothing is going to happen, so we’ve got to try.”

Stoner grew up on Vancouver Island, but hasn’t lived in the province full-time for several years, which authorities say made him ineligible for the hunting license used to take the bear. He played for the Minnesota Wild at the time of the shooting.

Stoner faces two counts of knowingly making a false statement to obtain a hunting license and one count apiece of hunting without a license, hunting out of season and unlawful possession of dead wildlife. His case is set for Nov. 13 in Vancouver.

The 30-year-old Stoner was in the Ducks’ lineup for their home opener, and he fought Brandon Prust in the opening minutes. Stoner is beginning his sixth full NHL season and his second with Anaheim after signing a four-year, $13 million deal as a free agent before last season.

Related: Ducks d-man Stoner charged with unlawful grizzly bear hunt

NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings face Lightning in ’15 playoff rematch

Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg
AP Photo

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game online here.

The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but their journey almost ended in the first round at the hands of the Red Wings. Detroit shutout Tampa Bay twice in that series and the two squads were locked in a scoreless tie until the third period of Game 7.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings were a mere hair away from advancing instead of Tampa Bay, the Lightning are often mentioned as serious Cup contenders while Detroit is typically regarded as a good, but not amazing team. However, that gap isn’t entirely unjustified.

After all, Tampa Bay has a very effective core of forwards that features Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. If the highly regarded Jonathan Drouin, 20, is able to build off of his strong start to the 2015-16 campaign then the Lightning’s offense could be even more dangerous this season.

Detroit certainly has some offensive star power too in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but the duo is 35 and 37 years old respectively. On top of that, injuries have been a recurring issue for Datsyuk, who isn’t expected to make his season debut until November after undergoing ankle surgery.

As good as those two forwards still are, the Red Wings have to hope that their younger players will be able to lead the charge sooner rather than later. The good news is that 19-year-old Dylan Larkin‘s campaign is off to a strong start with three points in two games while 23-year-old Teemu Pulkkinen scored twice on Saturday.

The Red Wings have opened the season with back-to-back wins against Toronto and Carolina, but tonight’s game represents their biggest test to date. Meanwhile, the Lightning are similarly undefeated after three games, but this contest will be particularly trying for them given that it’s their third game in four days.