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Goalie nods: Aaron Dell goes again as Sharks give Jones some rest

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At this point in the regular season there really is not much mystery as to where the San Jose Sharks are going to end up in the standings.

They know they are going to the playoffs, and barring what would have to be a pretty significant collapse down the stretch, are more than likely going to win the Pacific Division crown. Their priority now is to simply stay healthy to be ready for the start of the postseason so they can make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Part of that is a desire to make sure starting goalie Martin Jones gets enough rest down the stretch, similar to the way he did a season ago when James Reimer started eight of the team’s final 20 regular season games.

Backup Aaron Dell has already started three of the Sharks’ first seven games this month, and he is going to get another one on Thursday night when the team hosts the St. Louis Blues.

Dell has been magnificent in his backup role this season and carries a .938 save percentage on the season into Thursday’s game. The Sharks are also riding a five-game point streak with him in the lineup (4-0-1) with Dell recording at least .939 save percentage in each game during that stretch, never allowing more than two goals in any of those games. He has allowed more than two goals just three of his 15 appearances this season and never more than three.

The Blues, entering the game having won five of their past six, have not announced their starter. Jake Allen played on Wednesday night in their loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Elsewhere on Thursday night…

Cory Schneider gets the night off for the New Jersey Devils when Keith Kinkaid gets the start against the Philadelphia Flyers. No official word yet from the Flyers, but Steve Mason just recorded a shutout on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thomas Greiss had a nice bounce back game for the New York Islanders on Tuesday, stopping 30 of 32 shots, and gets the call again on Thursday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets will counter with Connor Hellebuyck.

Pekka Rinne looks to break out of his recent funk on Thursday night when he goes against the Washington Capitals. Rinne has given up at least three goals in nine of his past 11 starts, including six starts where he has given up four goals. Braden Holtby goes for the Capitals.

Eddie Lack is back in net for the Carolina Hurricanes when they host the Minnesota Wild. It is expected that Devan Dubnyk will get the night off for the Wild, which means Darcy Kuemper would be in net.

— With Roberto Luongo still sidelined, James Reimer starts for the Florida Panthers as they try to cling to whatever remains of their playoff hopes against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have yet to announce their starter.

— It will be Frederik Andersen vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy in a massive game in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Craig Anderson remains sidelined with a lower body injury so Mike Condon goes for the Ottawa Senators when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. No word yet from the Blackhawks.

Tuukka Rask is net for the Boston Bruins as they try to complete the Alberta sweep when they visit the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers will start Cam Talbot, because they always start Cam Talbot.

Kari Lehtonen tries to stop the bleeding for the Stars defense when they visit Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

— After recording a shutout in his previous start Mike Smith returns to the Arizona Coyotes net on Thursday when they host the Detroit Red Wings. No word yet from the Red Wings on their starter.

Jonathan Quick starts for the Kings as they try to get closer to a playoff spot against the Buffalo Sabres. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

Pre-game reading: ‘Trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me’

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The Pioneer Press caught up with former Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding, who quietly retired from professional hockey two-and-a-half years ago. That decision came after Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and made a stirring comeback with the Wild, capturing the 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as a result.

In the piece, Harding talks about his final game, one in which he left an AHL game against Charlotte in an ambulance due to severe dehydration. That proved an eye-opener, one that all but cemented the need for him to hang up his skates.

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Sara Harding took one look at her gaunt husband on FaceTime [following the game in Charlotte] and immediately bought a one-way plane ticket from Minneapolis, not knowing when she would return — or if she would be coming back alone.

“She was really scared,” Harding recalled Tuesday. “That was the final dagger. It started hitting me that I still have a family and life to live here. People that I love and that love me, I saw how scared they were and how much it affected them. I knew it was time to put up the pads.

 “The doctors all told me if I kept doing this to my body, trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me.”

Harding, who has attended a few Wild games since retirement, is currently working as a goalie coach at a local Minnesota high school.

— “I think there’s only three teams left in the NHL that don’t have a downtown arena, and we’re one of them and it’s tragic that we don’t. I bought the team out of bankruptcy and that’s where the arena was, and that’s what I bought. But we need to move things downtown, if it’s Ottawa it’s got to be downtown.”

That’s Sens owner Eugene Melnyk (per the Citizen) talking about Ottawa’s proposed new arena. He’s hopeful negotiations with the National Capital Commission on the development of Lebreton Flats will be completed before the end of the year, at which point construction can begin on what he promises will be a “gorgeous” complex.

— The latest development in the U.S. women’s looming boycott of the 2017 World Hockey Championships: USA Hockey has postponed a pre-tourney training camp, and an exhibition game against Finland. The organization is still hopeful it can hold a camp just prior to the start of the worlds, which will begin on Mar. 31 in Plymouth, MI. (Yahoo)

Goalie nods: Raanta goes back-to-back in Battle of New York

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Another chapter in one of the league’s most storied rivalries will be written tonight, when the Isles take on the Rangers at MSG.

And in goal, it’ll be Thomas Greiss against Antti Raanta.

Raanta, the goalie of record in seven of the Rangers’ last eight games, gets the call even though Henrik Lundqvist is reportedly healthy enough to return from his hip injury. Lundqvist is expected to resume playing on the club’s upcoming three-game California swing through Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

So that means tonight’s game falls to Raanta, who continues to put up solid numbers. He’s now at 15-7-2 on the year with a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage, and has allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last five appearances. That includes last night’s 3-2 OT loss to the Devils, in which he made 26 saves.

Greiss, meanwhile, is coming off a very good performance in Saturday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Jackets. He stopped 35 of 38 shots for a .921 save percentage, and knows he’ll need to be as good — or better — as the Isles are in desperate need of points.

The Isles head into tonight’s action three points back of the Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Elsewhere…

— Toronto won’t start former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney tonight, when it visits Columbus. Instead, head coach Mike Babcock will continue to roll with the red-hot Frederik Andersen, who’s coming off a 33-save win against Boston on Monday. For the Jackets, Joonas Korpisalo looks to be in goal.

Jonathan Bernier continues to pile up the starts in Anaheim, with John Gibson still nursing his lower-body injury. Bernier will get the call when the Ducks host the Oilers tonight. And guess who’s in for Edmonton? If you guessed anybody other than Cam Talbot, you haven’t been reading this column often enough.

KHLer gets eight-game suspension after attacking Talbot, Kozun

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A recent playoff game in the KHL between Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and CSKA (Lokomotiv won the game and the series) featured a little bit of chaos because of the actions of CSKA defenseman Grigory Panin.

Late in the second period Panin briefly lost his cool when he delivered a devastating hit to the head of former NHL player Max Talbot, injuring him and igniting a scrum that resulted in Panin slashing former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brandon Kozun in the head.

As you can see in the video above, Kozun was in pretty bad shape after the incident and needed a lot of assistance just to get off the ice. Talbot was also injured as a result of the hit from Panin.

Panin received five-minute major penalties for both hits, as well as 20-minute misconduct penalties for a grand total of 50 penalty minutes.

This all happened just a few minutes after a Talbot goal gave Lokomotiv a 2-0 lead, scoring a goal that would ultimately decide the game and the series.

On Tuesday, the KHL announced that Panin has been suspended eight game for his actions. That suspension includes an automatic one-game suspension for being a repeat offender (this was not his first ejection this season) and another automatic one-game suspension for receiving two 20-minute misconduct penalties in the same game. The hit on Talbot also resulted in a two-game suspension while the incident with Kozun resulted in a four-game suspension.

Kozun and Panin do have a bit of a history with one another in the KHL. Last year Kozun was ejected from a game for injuring Panin on a hit from behind.

It’s also not the first time Panin has done something outrageous to warrant a suspension in the KHL. Along with a suspension earlier this season, he was also suspended twice back in 2013, including an 11-game suspension for an outrageously dirty hit on former NHL player Matt Murley.

Kozun played 20 games in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2014-15 season, scoring two goals to go with two assists. He was one of the top scorers in the KHL this season with 56 points in 59 games.

Talbot spent 11 years in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins.

Columbus started extension talks with key youngsters Wennberg, Anderson

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Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a busy man on Tuesday, signing three players — center Lukas Sedlak, left winger Markus Hannikainen and blueliner Scott Harrington — to two-year extensions.

Kekalainen’s also working on some more significant deals as well.

Per the Dispatch, he’s begun preliminary extension talks with three Columbus’ brightest young players — forwards Josh Anderson and Alex Wennberg, and goalie Joonas Korpisalo — all of whom are pending restricted free agents.

Though talks will reportedly be sidelined as the team focuses on its playoff run, Kekalainen insisted all three deals would get done.

“They’re all restricted,” he said. “And they’re all going to be re-signed.”

Of the three, Wennberg and Anderson have made the biggest impact this season.

Wennberg, 22, has done a terrific job filling the hole left at center from the Ryan JohansenSeth Jones trade. The 14th overall pick in ’13 leads the team in assists this year, with 42, and sits second in scoring with 54 points.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said of Wenneberg, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

Anderson, also 22, has made a major impact in his first fulls season with the Jackets. He’s found the back of the net 16 times — more than Henrik Zetterberg, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — and has been a physical presence, sitting third on the team with 119 hits.

Korpisalo’s had a smaller role this season, though that has to do with the heavy workload shouldered by No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky (and the fact now-Maple Leaf Curtis McElhinney spent time as the backup). But the organization is high on Korpisalo who, at 22, projects to be a potential goalie of the future.

It’s fair to suggest Wennberg will get the biggest raise this summer. The question will be if the club tries to sign him to a bridge deal, like it did with Boone Jenner, or negotiate a long-term deal, like it did with Jones.

Kekalainen also has a few UFAs to make decisions on, with the most interesting being Sam Gagner. Signed on the cheap last summer — one year, $650,000 — he’s done an excellent job of reviving his career, notching 18 goals and 44 points through 70 games.