Zach Parise notches pair, Wild down struggling Stars

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Four points separated the Minnesota Wild and two teams chasing them in the Central Division coming into Thursday’s action.

The Wild, who had lost two straight in overtime, weren’t in must-win mode by any means on Thursday. They’re holding down the third spot in the division and have for a while now. But the two points on the line would help them create some space between themselves and the idle St. Louis Blues (three points back, in the first wildcard) and the (also idle) Colorado Avalanche (four points behind, currently outside the playoff line).

So a 5-2 win against a division rival was just the thing the Wild needed against the Dallas Stars.

The Stars have lost nine of their past 10 games and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs at this point.

Basically, for the Stars to make it, everyone else fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference has to lose and the Stars need to win their last four games.

They’re five points back with four games to play. For Dallas, it appears to be all over except for the mathematical formality.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Stars began the game on the right foot, with Jamie Benn scoring a quick goal 2:51 into the first period for a 1-0 lead.

Instead of building off that momentum, however, they let Minnesota score late in the period to tie it shorthanded, a goal that began a series of three unanswered from the Wild.

Dumba’s power-play goal to make it 2-1 was pretty, a clean one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen with precision. Lehtonen struggled, allowing four goals on 21 shots.

Devin Shore brought the Stars back to 3-2 on a deft little top from the slot, the type of goal that could ignite a possible comeback.

But a late power play for Minnesota turned into a late marker for Jason Zucker, who made it 4-2 on a one-timer with 11 seconds left in the second period.

Devan Dubnyk made 29 of 31 saves for the win.

Parise scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal it for the Wild.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

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Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin / Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark / Radek Faksa / Tyler Pitlick

Remi Elie / Devin Shore / Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel / Jason Spezza / Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell / John Klingberg

Marc Methot / Stephen Johns

Dan Hamhuis / Greg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

[Stars – Wild preview]

Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker / Eric Staal / Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise / Mikko Koivu / Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Greenway / Matt Cullen / Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik / Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno

Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin / Ryan Murphy

Nick Seeler / Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

The Buzzer: Jets clinch; McDavid hits 99

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Players of the Night:

Jordan Weal, Philadelphia Flyers: Weal finished with a goal and two assists in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon. This was the 25-year-old’s first multi-point performance of 2017-18.

Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins: Schultz registered three assists, including two of the primary variety. The Pens blue liner had no points in his previous seven games before the clash against the Flyers.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: “Sid the Kid” gave his team a 4-3 lead in the third period before picking up the primary assist on Bryan Rust‘s game-winner in OT. Crosby has 83 points in 76 games this season.

Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets: Connor’s three-point effort (one goal, two assists) helped the Jets clinch a playoff spot on Sunday night. He’s racked up nine points in his last six contests.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators: Not only did Ellis accumulated a goal and an assist, he also played almost 27 minutes in his team’s shootout loss to the Jets. He’s been a huge piece of Nashville’s defense since returning from injury.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: Mr. Clutch has now scored five of Boston’s six overtime goals this season. The 29-year-old has 33 goals and 80 points in 60 games.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Just another day at the office for McDavid, who had a goal and two assists against the Ducks. The things he’s able to do at top speed with a hockey puck just aren’t fair. The Oilers captain has 39 goals and 99 points.

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique’s two third-period goals helped the Ducks overcome a two-goal deficit before Hampus Lindholm netted the game-winner.

Highlights of the Night:

Another sweet goal from Crosby:

Kari Lehtonen is gonna want this one back:

It’s Tuukka Time:

Who says the Canucks have nothing to play for?

Now you see it, now you don’t. Connor McDavid is special:

Factoids of the Night:

This seems good:

The Jets clinched a spot in the postseason (as if it was ever in doubt):

Daniel is in elite company:

Scores:

Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Canucks 4, Stars 1
Jets 5, Predators 4 (SO)
Bruins 2, Wild 1 (OT)
Ducks 5, Oilers 4 (OT)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Starting goaltenders battling fatigue as playoffs loom

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Behind the mask is a mind filled with a web of a thousand thoughts, worries and a singular focus of what it takes to win a game.

Then the next game, then the one after that.

”There is no shut-off for a goaltender,” retired goalie Brian Boucher said. ”The mind doesn’t shut off.”

A starting NHL goaltender bears a burden unlike any position in hockey and few others in sports, and the resulting pressure builds up over the course of a season. By this time of year, with the playoffs on the horizon, No. 1 goalies have grinded through almost six months of work and are battling fatigue that threatens to derail their team’s hopes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is going through it for the first time while Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals is used to it by now. Goalies of all ages have no choice but to manage the physical and mental hurdles.

”It’s one of those things that you’ve got find ways to make sure you’re prepared and ready to play every game,” Holtby said. ”As a goaltender, there’s not much room to take nights off.”

It’s worse for the goalies whose teams can’t afford to start a backup. Boucher started the final 13 games for Philadelphia in 2010 to help them make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick started 20 of the final 21 games for the Los Angeles Kings when they tried to make a furious push to make it in 2015 and Kari Lehtonen could be counted on to play the final nine games of the Dallas Stars’ season now as they claw for a spot.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

”You’ll go through the whole night thinking about tomorrow, show up to the rink in the morning thinking about tonight and then you show up to the game thinking about the game,” said Boucher, now an analyst for NBC Sports. ”Not until that horn goes off at the very end can you finally go, ‘Whew,’ and take a deep breath and hopefully it’s in a celebration with your teammates. …. You have a shower, you feel good about things, you go home, you kind of decompress and then the next day it starts again: the butterflies, the nerves, the thinking about your opponent. And that’s the mental fatigue that comes into it.”

That’s what Vasilevskiy is dealing with at age 23, 58 starts into his first season as the full-time starter and the league leader in victories.

”Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.

The same goes for Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is between the pipes for meaningful games and on the cusp of his first playoff appearance. Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty talks to Hellebuyck almost daily about what he needs to be successful, and the staff pays careful attention to making sure the 24-year-old is good to go.

Coach Paul Maurice said the Jets are aware of the balance between rhythm and rest but aren’t holding Hellebuyck back.

”There’s a fatigue component that a No. 1 goaltender also has to embrace,” Maurice said. ”He has to learn how to play when he doesn’t feel 100 percent right because that’s basically going to be his life.”

Winnipeg has been able to give Hellebuyck blocks of two or three days completely off, a rarity for top goalies this time of year. The Nashville Predators have a big enough lead atop the Central Division that they can afford to lighten Pekka Rinne‘s workload down the stretch, which could be a huge benefit.

”I like thinking outside the box,” former goalie Martin Biron said. ”You may have a Friday-Saturday game, have a Tuesday game, have a Thursday game. You can play your starter on Friday-Saturday and not play him on Tuesday so he gets Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (off) and then he gets ready for the weekend again for the Thursday. There’s a lot more days to be able to decompress and really think about how to reset and re-prepare.”

Holtby got a 10-day reset from a month-plus of struggles as Philipp Grubauer started four games in a row. Having a reliable backup is a luxury Washington has – and Holtby doesn’t like taking days off, either. Toronto starter Frederik Andersen recently joked that he’s more tired of being asked if he’s tired than he is from facing the most shots in the league.

Practice shots, warmups, travel and mental and physical preparation are also part of the wear and tear. Analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said those can be spaced out over weeks and months.

”Anything you can do to get a little bit of extra sleep over the course of the season is absolutely monumental when it comes time for the playoff push,” Goldman said.

Biron, who started 59 games for Philadelphia in 2007-08 and backed up Henrik Lundqvist when the New York Rangers realized the ”King” needed more time off, figures 60 is the perfect number for a starter. For someone like Vasilevskiy who can’t afford to learn and wait for next year, Boucher said he hopes a more relaxed market like Tampa Bay helps now and the rush of the playoffs gets him through the grind in a few weeks.

”I think Vasilevskiy’s going to be fine just because you watch his physical attributes, they’re through the roof,” Boucher said. ”So the physical side doesn’t look like it’s an issue. Now it’s his time to shine.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

One reason for Dallas Stars’ struggles? Shaky drafting

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The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.

For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.

[Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]

Checking all the boxes

The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”

Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.

In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.

The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.

Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.

Not feeling the draft

Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).

Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)

The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:

Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.

Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:

2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
2008: No first
2007: No first
2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP

Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)

Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.

This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.

 

***

If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.

And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.