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NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks continue chase for Central Division crown against Habs

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Montreal Canadiens host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Don’t look now, but it looks like the Chicago Blackhawks will give the Minnesota Wild everything they can handle in the race for top spot in the Central Division. After three wins over the Wild in just over a month, Chicago has closed the gap to just one point (the Wild have a game in hand).

After dropping back-to-back games to the Ducks and Red Wings last week, the ‘Hawks managed to score a huge 4-2 win over their division rival on Sunday night.

“We knew we needed to have this one,” forward Patrick Kane told the Chicago Tribune after scoring a goal and an assist in the win over Minnesota. “If you look at our game and you ask anyone in this room, we probably feel we could play a lot better. Give the credit to Crawford. He played an unbelievable game.

“Overall, we want to be better as a team. We have 14 games left to make sure that happens (and) feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs. … (The Wild) have a game in hand on us, but we’re right there.”

Since dropping three games in a row from Jan. 24-31, they’ve rattled off 13 wins in their last 16 games.

With Minnesota stuck in a bit of a rut, the time is now for the Chicago to make their move up the standings.

For the most part, the Canadiens have looked pretty good since the hiring of Claude Julien, but there have been a few ugly performances along the way.

Montreal is 8-3-0 since Julien took over, but those three losses have been brutal. Just take last Thursday’s 5-0 loss to Calgary as a prime example. Sure, the Flames have rattled off 10 in a row, but the Habs failed to generate many quality scoring chances, and if it’s possible, they were even worse in their own end.

They responded by scoring four unanswered goals in the third period of Sunday’s 4-1 win over Edmonton (two were empty netters). So despite the embarrassing loss to the Flames, the Canadiens can say they had a successful road trip (3-1-0).

“We get to go home with three wins out of four games (including a 4-1 win over the Rangers in New York before heading West) and it was a tough road trip to start with, everything that we’ve had to face from the flu going around the team and everything else,” said Julien, per the Montreal Gazette. “We’re pretty happy with the road trip and we’re really happy with the way it ended today.”

The Canadiens come into tonight’s game with a two-point lead over the Ottawa Senators for top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Sens have two games in hand though.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.