CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is congratulated by teammates after scoring his second goal of the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Lightning defeated the Blackhawks 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NHL on NBCSN: Lightning look to keep rolling against first-place Wild

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Minnesota Wild are coming off an overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night, but they’re still in a good spot when it comes to maintaining the lead in the Central Division. The Wild enter tonight’s game with a five-point advantage over the ‘Hawks and they still own two games in hand.

The Wild have been one of the top teams all season, and they’ve been especially dominant against teams in the East and specifically the Atlantic Division. Minnesota has 13 wins in 19 games against the Eastern Conference and they’re an incredible 9-1 against the Atlantic.

Like every team, the schedule has been tough for the Wild recently. They just came back from a Western Canadian road trip that saw them win in Edmonton, lose in Calgary, win in Vancouver and win in Winnipeg. After the game against the Jets on Tuesday, they flew back home right away and were forced to play the next night against Chicago, which is why Bruce Boudreau gave his team a day off yesterday.

The Wild have received countless stellar performances from Devan Dubnyk throughout the season, but their ability to generate offense throughout their lineup has also been really impressive. In Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, they were led by Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville (he had four points in that one). On Wednesday, it was Erik Haula who scored a late goal to send the game to overtime after Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise had already scored.

It’s nearly impossible for the opposition to figure out which line will be rolling on a night-to-night basis because each one can contribute. It’ll be up to the Tampa Bay Lightning to figure out who to stop in tonight’s game.

Even though the Bolts are in a three-way tie in the basement of the Eastern Conference, they have to be feeling better about their game. For the first time since mid-December, the Bolts have won back-to-back games, which is an encouraging sign for their playoff hopes.

“What’s the cliche? Every game is a playoff game,” head coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times after Tuesday’s win over the Kings. “We’ve got to keep building each game and I truly believe we have. And I truly believe now guys are getting rewarded.”

The Lightning are a manageable six points behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East and they even have two games in hand on the Bruins. The problem, is that they have to leap over six other teams to get there.

Tonight’s game won’t be an easy one, as the Wild have been the most consistent team in the league in 2016-17. To make matters worse, the Lightning aren’t even sure they’ll have center Tyler Johnson in their lineup. He missed Thursday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury. If he can’t go, it’ll make the task that much more difficult.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.