Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, Henrik Lundqvist

Fourteen dates to mark in the 2014-15 season

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The NHL released the 2014-15 schedule on Sunday, unleashing a floodgate of observations for all 30 teams. There are plenty of games to get excited about, yet some stand out more than others, at least for national audiences. Hockey fans would be wise to pay special attention to these 14 dates during the upcoming campaign (just 108 days away).

Note: a few of these entries are based on reports, so outdoor games/special theme days like Hockey Day in America may vary.

Oct. 8  – The season begins with a four-game slate, including the Los Angeles Kings hosting the San Jose Sharks while raising their 2014 Stanley Cup banner (ouch).

For a list of the best home-openers, click here. A full list is here.

Oct. 11 – The first of two weekends (the other being the last day of the season) in which all 30 teams play.

Oct. 16 – Milan Lucic gets his first chance to, uh, face Dale Weise and the Montreal Canadiens.

Nov. 26 – Martin St. Louis and the New York Rangers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Nov. 28 – “Black Friday” presents a hefty 11-game slate of games, which could help distract you from all the hasty purchases you made earlier in the day.

Nov. 29 – The Blackhawks visit the Kings for their first game since that classic seven-game series.

Jan. 1 – The Washington Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic.

Jan. 8 – Kings host the Rangers in the first of two games between the 2014 Stanley Cup finalists.

Jan. 16 – For the first time ever, Barry Trotz will coach the visiting team at Bridgestone Arena as his new team the Washington Capitals visit the Nashville Predators.

Jan. 22 – 26 – The All-Star break in Columbus. One would single out the game alone, yet the skills competition is often the real highlight.

Feb. 14 – Potentially Hockey Day in Canada, according to Awful Announcing’s Steve Lepore.

Feb. 21 – Perhaps a sensible time for the Sharks to host the Kings in an outdoor game?

Also on the day – Peter Laviolette’s Predators visit the Philadelphia Flyers.

Feb. 22 – Potentially Hockey Day in America, also according to Lepore. If correct, it would make sense; all-American matchups on that day include Washington – Philadelphia, Chicago – Boston, Nashville – Buffalo, Florida – Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay – Colorado, Rangers – Columbus and Dallas – Minnesota.

April 11 – The regular season ends with all 30 teams playing during a Saturday extravaganza. Any last-minute races can be decided in dramatic fashion.

April 11 also represents the final New York Islanders regular season game at Nassau Coliseum, as they’ll move to Brooklyn in 2015-16.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.