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Loss to Jets will ‘kind of ruin the break’ for Blackhawks

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CHICAGO (AP) The Winnipeg Jets were just OK for most of the first part of the season. Except for their games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Against the Blackhawks, they were perfect.

Andrew Copp and Bryan Little scored in a 32-second span in the third period, and Winnipeg continued its dominance against Chicago with a 5-3 victory on Thursday on the final night before the NHL All-Star break.

“For some reason, we elevate our game when we play this team and we always give our best,” Little said. “The big thing for us is having that confidence and having that energy and just will to win against other teams. For some reason, we just have these guys’ numbers.”

Winnipeg (23-25-4) improved to 4-0 against Chicago (30-16-5), outscoring the Blackhawks 13-4. It had dropped four in a row against Chicago coming into the season.

“These are huge points,” said Connor Hellebuyck, who made 38 saves in his first appearance since Jan. 13. “It doesn’t matter what team we’re playing, we need to continue to grow our team and continue to get points and think these two are going to spring us post All-Star break.”

Little, Copp, rookie Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, helping the Jets to their third win in their last nine games.

The Blackhawks had a 3-2 lead before Copp tipped Josh Morrissey‘s shot past Scott Darling with 4:03 left. Little then blasted a shot by Darling for his 13th of the season, silencing the crowd of 21,746.

Scheifele added an empty-netter at 17:57 for his 22nd goal, moving the center into a tie with Laine for the team lead.

“I thought we had good control of the game,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They were getting chances, but we were playing well. It was just two sets of two quick goals. It totally changed the game.”

Keith, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero scored for the Blackhawks, who allowed four goals in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Darling finished with 28 stops.

Winnipeg also scored two goals in a 42-second span in the first, continuing a disturbing trend for Chicago. The Blackhawks allowed two in 46 seconds against Vancouver on Sunday, and then surrendered a pair of goals in 30 seconds against the Lightning.

“It’s hard to accept these two. Especially this one today,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s going to kind of ruin the break a little bit. It’s going to take a little while to swallow the way we’ve lost this one.”

Winnipeg jumped in front in the first when Little made a great pass across the ice to Laine, who drove a one-timer by Darling for a power-play goal at 6:16. Laine returned Tuesday after missing eight games with a concussion.

Jacob Trouba then had a big slap shot go off the right skate of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell and past Darling, with Shawn Matthias getting his stick on the puck just before it crossed the line. It was Matthias’ seventh of the season.

“There were plays that could have been defended against for sure tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We always talk about important shifts. That’s the first shift after a goal, a key shift in games.”

The Blackhawks, who controlled much of the early action, then got one back after Nic Petan was whistled for hooking at 13:02. Just 5 seconds into the ensuing power play, Keith drove a slap shot by Hellebuyck from the left point with Chicago center Artem Anisimov providing a perfect screen in front.

Schmaltz got the tying goal 4 minutes into the second. While Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart repeatedly checked Chicago center Marcus Kruger in the back while the two were on the ice, Schmaltz picked up the loose puck, skated in and beat Hellebuyck on the short side for his third of the season.

NOTES: Kruger played in his first game since Dec. 30. He was activated from injured reserve on Tuesday after being sidelined by a hand injury. … Blackhawks C Dennis Rasmussen, who is battling an illness, skated Thursday morning, but was scratched. … Hjalmarsson played in his 600th NHL game. … Chicago visits Winnipeg on Feb. 10.

UP NEXT

Jets: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday night against St. Louis.

Blackhawks: Begin a six-game road trip at San Jose on Tuesday night.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.