Peter Budaj

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Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

Perhaps you see where this is going.

Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

“It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

Elsewhere…

— The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

— It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

— After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

— It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

— Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

— In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.

Video: Leafs score twice in 15 seconds, chase Lightning’s Vasilevskiy

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Remember how just about everything went against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday? Well, if current trends hold up, Thursday could end up being the exact opposite.

If nothing else, the Maple Leafs are holding up their end of the bargain so far against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As great as Andrei Vasilevskiy has been for the Bolts since Ben Bishop was traded, the Maple Leafs got to him tonight, chasing him after scoring four goals on 15 shots. The video above shows the low point of the evening, as Matt Martin and Morgan Rielly scored goals just 15 seconds apart.

Connor Brown then scored a little less than four minutes later to make it 4-0, ending Vasilevskiy’s night early. James van Riemsdyk has since beaten Peter Budaj to give Toronto a commanding 5-0 lead.

If the stats weren’t bad enough, the night saw rare goals for Martin and Roman Polak.

Again, things could still swing, but so far so good for the Maple Leafs.

Goalie nods: Bolts start Budaj, even though Vasilevskiy’s on fire

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An interesting decision from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper — even though Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s been a huge part of his club’s recent surge back into playoff contention, it’ll be Peter Budaj who starts in tonight’s crucial tilt against the Rangers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Vasy,” Cooper said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “And playing him every third day, he’s played really well. When he went through this stretch of playing back-to-backs in December, I just don’t know if it was too much, too soon either we weren’t good in front of him or he wasn’t at the top of his game.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but still our goaltender is young and developing. We’ve got him in a really good grove here, there’s no sense in breaking that groove. There’s a lot of games he still has to play.”

Vasilevskiy is 5-0-1 over his last six starts and has posted a .951 save percentage over his last five appearances, so going to Buadj tonight is a pretty significant move.

The veteran only has one start since coming over from L.A. in the Ben Bishop trade, and there’s so much on the line — with a win and and Isles regulation loss (to the ‘Canes), Tampa Bay would draw even with New York on points, and move one back of idle Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

No word yet on a Rangers starter for tonight, though it’s expected Antti Raanta will get the call.

Elsewhere…

— Clinging to their slim playoff chances, the Flyers will go back to Steve Mason when they host the Jackets. Mason allowed two goals on 27 shots in a loss to Boston over the weekend, and has played well lately. No word yet on a Columbus starter.

Jean-Francois Berube gives Thomas Greiss the night off as the Isles host the ‘Canes. Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— With no other options really available, Connor Hellebuyck will start again for the Jets, despite his recent struggles. It looks as though the host Preds will counter with Pekka Rinne.

— Coming off a 31-save shutout of Winnipeg over the weekend, the red-hot Brian Elliott starts again for the Flames. Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s also played well of late, goes for Pittsburgh.

Ryan Miller was brilliant against Pittsburgh on Saturday, stopping 45 of 47 shots, and will go right back in when the Canucks host the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

— In a huge game for Western Conference wild card jockeying, the Kings and Blues will roll with their No. 1s: Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles, Jake Allen for St. Louis.

Mike Smith‘s in goal when the Coyotes host the Avs. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

Goalie nods: Budaj makes Bolts debut in Pittsburgh

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The Lightning will start their third different goalie in the last five games when they take on the Pens in Pittsburgh.

Peter Budaj, acquired in the Ben Bishop-to-L.A. swap, will make his Bolts debut at PPG Paints. The nod comes after Bishop beat Edmonton 4-1 in his final game with Tampa Bay back on Feb. 21, followed by three consecutive starts by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy’s latest, Wednesday’s 4-3 OT win over Carolina, pushed the Bolts to within four points of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is surging a bit, having won six of its last nine — and a win tonight, coupled with regulation losses from the Isles and Leafs, would cut the deficit to two.

For the Penguins, Matt Murray‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

— In Carolina, where there’s been some major goalie drama, Cam Ward gets the start against the visiting Coyotes. Louis Domingue will go for Arizona ahead of Mike Smith, who has really struggled lately.

Carter Hutton makes his first start since shutting out Detroit on Feb. 15 when the Blues travel to Winnipeg. Connor Hellebuyck is back in for the Jets after getting hooked in Tuesday’s loss to the Wild.

Corey Crawford goes for the ‘Hawks, while Jeff Glass will fill in for injured backup Scott Darling as Chicago hosts the Isles. No word yet on a New York starter.

— It’s Petr Mrazek against Brian Elliott as the Red Wings take on the Flames in Calgary.

Frederik Andersen wanted the start in his return to Anaheim but, after playing last night’s shootout loss to L.A., he’ll be sat in favor of Curtis McElhinney (he himself a former Duck). Jonathan Bernier will go for Anaheim (he himself a former Maple Leaf).