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Jeff Skinner is quietly putting together another outstanding season

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Don’t look now, but the Carolina Hurricanes are making a little bit of a push in the Eastern Conference.

After their 5-2 win over Buffalo on Friday night, the Hurricanes have now won four of their past five games (including wins over Columbus, Boston and St. Louis) and are now three points back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot with still two games in hand and two head-to-head matchups remaining.

Given their current point paces, the Flyers are on track to reach the 93-point mark this season, while the Hurricanes are just a little bit below on a pace for 92 points. A playoff spot, as of this moment entering the second half of the season, is certainly within reach.

Leading the way for the Hurricanes right now is winger Jeff Skinner.

With his two-goal effort in Friday’s win, he has now had consecutive three-point games and has picked up eight points in his past five games. That has helped put him on track for a career season in Carolina that really isn’t getting much attention.

Skinner has always been a productive player (he has two 30-goal seasons before age 24 in the NHL) but he is taking it to a new level this season. He is currently on pace for 34 goals and 70 points this year, all of which would be new personal bests. This should not be a huge shock because even though it seems like he has been around forever (and this is already his seventh season in the NHL) he is just now entering the portion of his career where scorers hit their peak production, something we noted back in August during our Hurricanes preview day.

For Skinner, that peak production is putting him among the NHL’s current elites when it comes to goal and point production.

The only players to hit the 34/70 marks a season ago were Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Joe Pavelski.

This season the only players other than Skinner on pace for it are are Crosby, Ovechkin, Tarasenko, Jeff Carter, Cam Atkinson, Auston Matthews, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine (though, Laine’s injury probably takes him out of that running).

Skinner’s name always seemed to get mentioned in trade rumors in recent seasons, but fortunately for the Hurricanes they have remained just that. Rumors. Because you’re probably not going to find many other players in their mid-20s that produce like he does and are still signed for two more full seasons at less than $6 million per year.

The Hurricanes are at the halfway point and they are still very much in the playoff race. Skinner’s career year has been a big reason why.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.

Penguins’ Hornqvist hurt after blocking shot vs. Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had to shuffle their forward combinations in the second period, after Patric Hornqvist was hurt blocking a shot in the first period of Game 2 versus the Capitals.

The Penguins forward was in obvious pain after taking a shot right around the ankle, which is a concerning development for Pittsburgh.

Per reports, he didn’t re-join the Penguins at the bench when the second period began.

Hornqvist can be a frustrating player to go up against, and he’s productive, too, with two goals and five points in six playoff games prior to Saturday.

Moving on up: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery, secure No. 1 overall pick

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The New Jersey Devils entered the Draft Lottery with an 8.5 per cent chance of winning it. They will leave with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

The Devils finished the regular season with just 70 points, tied with Arizona for the third fewest in the overall standings. They’ve also had plenty of difficulty scoring goals in recent years, and this provides them with an opportunity to land a player — forwards Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are expected to be the top two players selected in June — that can help remedy that.

It’s become quite a close race between the two heading into the draft, which goes June 23-24 in Chicago.

From Bob McKenzie of TSN:

For TSN’s Draft Lottery edition, five scouts ranked the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick No. 1; five scouts ranked the 6-foot-1, 176-pound Hischier No. 1. The Swiss pivot has closed the gap with his dynamic play, which came at a time when Patrick’s injury-riddled season was ended prematurely by an upper-body ailment that wasn’t related to the groin/abdominal issues that plagued him for the first half of the season.

While the Devils emerged as the overall winners, the Philadelphia Flyers had an enormous rise up the board. So, too, did the Dallas Stars.

The Flyers had just a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the lottery, yet they moved all the way up into the No. 2 selection spot when it was over. The Stars, with a 5.8 per cent chance of winning the lottery, also had a good day, moving up into the No. 3 overall spot.

Here is the 2017 draft order:

  1. New Jersey Devils
  2. Philadelphia Flyers
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Colorado Avalanche
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Vegas Golden Knights
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Detroit Red Wings
  10. Florida Panthers
  11. L.A. Kings
  12. Carolina Hurricanes
  13. Winnipeg Jets
  14. Tampa Bay Lightning
  15. New York Islanders

As you see, there were a few other key developments in this lottery.

Vegas was given a 10.3 per cent chance at winning the top pick — the same odds given to the 28th place team — however, the Golden Knights will pick sixth overall. The Colorado Avalanche, which finished with a miserable 48 points and had the best odds to win lottery, now pick fourth overall.

And once again, the Canucks endured more disappointment at the lottery.

Last year, they dropped two spots, from third to fifth. Needing an impact forward in order to help kickstart their rebuild, they dropped three spots, from No. 2 to No. 5 overall, on Saturday.

Related: Report: Devils GM plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week