NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks, Wild fight for first place in Central

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The game of the night in the NHL on Sunday is in Chicago where divisional foes the Blackhawks and Wild meet for the first time this season.

It just so happens to be for the top spot in the Central.

For the Wild, they come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NHL thanks to their current run dating back to the start of December that has seen then go 16-1-2 in their past 19 games. When the month of December started the Wild were in third place in the division and eight points back of Chicago. Since then they have completely eliminated that gap and raced to the top of the standings even though they enter Sunday’s game having played four fewer games than the Blackhawks on the season.

They are doing it with a balanced scoring attack that has been led by an offensive resurgence from Eric Staal, who has turned out to be one of the best offseason pickups in the entire league this year, and the continued dominance of Devan Dubnyk in net as he plays his way to the front of the pack in the Vezina Trophy discussion.

It has also been a tremendous debut season for first-year coach Bruce Boudreau who has his eyes set on yet another division title.

Say what you want about his postseason record, especially when it comes to Game 7’s, but no matter where Boudreau goes you can pretty much guarantee that his team is going to be in the running for a division crown after winning one in eight of his first nine seasons as an NHL head coach with two different teams (Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks). The only year he did not win a division was the 2011-12 season that he split with the Capitals and Ducks. Given where the Wild are in the standings at this point, thanks in large part to this 19 game run where they have collected 34 out of a possible 39 points, they are in the driver’s seat to give him another one with a third team.

That is part of what makes games like Sunday’s game so big for both teams. If they remain on their current point paces the rest of the season, the Wild would finish the season with 117 points, while the Blackhawks would only get to 107. The x-factor in that is that they have all four of their head-to-head meetings in the second half. What happens in those games could play a big role in determining who ends up on top.

From the Blackhawks side, it is going to be interesting to see how they respond on Sunday after what was perhaps their worst game of the season on Friday night in Washington where they were blown out, 6-0, by a Capitals team that is running over everybody at the moment.

After the game Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was, in the words of Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times, “fuming” after the game. Even though the Blackhawks have continued to win this season it has been a tough year for Toews after missing some time due to injury and having what is currently the worst offensive season of his career. With 21 points in 36 games he is currently on pace for 43 points in 72 games this season.

But while his scoring has experienced a drop, other forwards on the team are picking up the slack, especially when it comes to Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. Both players enter play on Sunday among the top-10 in the league in scoring, while both have been on a roll over the past few weeks. Panarin has 19 points in his past 16 games, while Kane has 18 over the same stretch.

‘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