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NHL on NBCSN: Wild look to go into their bye week with a win against ‘Hawks

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

Like most teams, the Blackhawks found out just how tough it was to win your first game back from the bye week, as they dropped a 3-1 decision to Edmonton on Saturday.

But they were able to put that loss behind them the following night by taking down an improved Sabres team, 5-1.

Coming into tonight’s game, Chicago trails Minnesota by seven points in the race for top spot in the Central Division (the Wild have a game in hand). So this is obviously a crucial matchup for both teams.

“They’ve had an amazing run. Give them credit,” ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of the Wild, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we played pretty well last time and we’re going to have to be even better going into this game. … Hopefully we can try to close the gap.”

That “last time” Quenneville is referring to came on Feb. 8, when his team won a 4-3 decision in Minnesota thanks to an overtime goal by captain Jonathan Toews (he also had two assists in that one).

Toews has finally found his offensive game, as he’s recorded 15 points in his last 11 contests, which puts him at 37 points in 50 games.

Including that win in Minnesota, Chicago has rattled off six consecutive victories away from the United Center, but the Wild are no slouches at home.

Tonight’s game will be the seventh of an eight-game homestand that has seen them go 4-1-1 so far. As was mentioned before, the OT defeat came to the ‘Hawks, while their only loss in regulation was a 1-0 decision against Anaheim.

One of the reasons the Wild have been able to maintain their strong play is because of their ability to get offensive production from multiple lines. But of all the lines they’ve assembled, none has been better than the trio of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, who have combined for 43 goals, 110 points and a plus-84 rating since being put together on Nov. 25.

“We feed off each other pretty well,” Zucker said, per the StarTribune. “And I think we make sure we hold each other accountable when we have a bad shift, a bad play or a bad game. Whatever it is, we make sure we know what we did wrong, and we fix it.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild come out for tonight’s game. As bad as some teams have been coming out of the bye week, there are a few others that have also been equally terrible in the game before the time off. With such a condensed schedule, it’s normal that a few players could already have their sights set on their upcoming vacation time.

This should be a good one!

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.