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Frozen Four: Denver to face Minnesota-Duluth for NCAA title

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The stage is now set for the NCAA title game in Chicago.

Denver and Minnesota-Duluth were both victorious in their respective semifinal games on Thursday, advancing to the Frozen Four championship contest, which goes Saturday at the United Center.

San Jose Sharks prospect Dylan Gambrell, selected in the second round, 60th overall, in last year’s NHL Draft, had two goals for Denver, which dominated Notre Dame by a final score of 6-1.

“I don’t really know what to say. I’m just amazed at the effort that our team produced in a big-time moment against a really, really good college hockey team,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery, per ESPN.

Minnesota-Duluth didn’t quite have it so easy in its semifinal.

Senior forward Alex Iafallo scored on a deflection with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the Bulldogs to a thrilling 2-1 victory over Harvard.

“It’s kind of been our MO all year, another tight hockey game, another one-goal game,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, per US College Hockey Online. “And just real exciting to be moving on.”

The finale now pits two of the top teams in the NCAA rankings — Denver was No. 1, and Minnesota-Duluth was No. 3 — against each other for the championship.

Lucic rocks the Sharks with a huge hit, fight and natural hat trick

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Milan Lucic made his presence felt late in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Sharks by sending Chris Tierney flying through the air with a massive body check.

He was then immediately challenged to a fight with Micheal Haley.

Clean hit. Followed by a lengthy fight.

But Lucic wasn’t done there.

He delivered a natural hat trick in the third period, scoring the tying goal, the eventual winning goal and the insurance goal in a 4-2 victory over the Sharks, who were without Logan Couture and Joe Thornton and held to just 15 shots on goal on home ice. Connor McDavid also had two points, and at 20 years of age, he currently leads the NHL with 97 points.

The Oilers remain mathematically in the hunt for first place in the Pacific Division, four points back of Anaheim with two games remaining in their regular season and a game in hand on the Ducks.

It should only help the Oilers’ cause that they finish the season with a home-and-home set against a bad Vancouver Canucks team that has lost six straight.

Lucic is in the first year of a massive seven-year, $42 million deal that he signed as a free agent last summer. He’s now up to 23 goals and 48 points — 25 of those points have come on the power play.

“His play tonight was tremendous,” said coach Todd McLellan. “We’re lucky to have him at this time of year. It’s exactly what we brought him in for.”

Ducks shut out Blackhawks, but Pacific Division remains up for grabs

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The Anaheim Ducks were victorious on Thursday, but they still haven’t locked up first place in the Pacific Division.

The cause? The Edmonton Oilers beating the San Jose Sharks the same evening, which extends the race to win this division into the final weekend of the regular season.

Corey Perry started the scoring and Rickard Rakell finished it with his 33rd goal of the season. John Gibson stopped all 37 shots he faced, as the Ducks shut out the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0.

The Ducks, who lead the Oilers by four points, close out the regular season on Sunday against the L.A. Kings.

Perhaps the bigger news for them on Thursday, especially given the playoffs are so close, was defenseman Cam Fowler is considered out of their lineup for the next two to six weeks with a sprained knee suffered on a knee-on-knee collision with Mark Giordano on Tuesday.

This game had it’s ugly moments, as well. Ducks forward Nick Ritchie was given a match penalty for punching Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival in the third period, causing a massive melee.

Rozsival reportedly suffered an upper-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Video: Ducks’ Ritchie given match penalty for punching Blackhawks’ Rozsival

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie was given a match penalty Thursday night, after a massive scrum broke out in front of the Chicago Blackhawks net.

The incident occurred early in the third period. Ritchie retaliated by punching Michal Rozsival in the head after the Blackhawks defenseman had cross checked Corey Perry from behind seconds earlier.

Rozsival was given a penalty for the cross check. He was also slow to get up and went straight to the locker room after the punch from Ritchie, who set off a nasty skirmish.

Halak shuts out Hurricanes, Islanders stay alive in playoff race

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The New York Islanders’ last four games have been must-wins – and Jaroslav Halak has won them all.

Halak stopped 29 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the fast-starting Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Thursday night.

Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield scored early goals 3 minutes, 12 seconds apart, and Andrew Ladd added a power-play goal to help the Islanders earn their fourth straight victory and preserve their long-shot playoff hopes for a little while longer.

“Obviously, we’re in a tough situation where we have to rely on other things to happen outside of our games, but we’re a resilient group and we’ve fought out of a lot of stuff this year, and we’re not going to go down easy,” left winger Anders Lee said. “We’re going to give it our all and make sure we win these last (few) games. We were in a situation where we had to win out with six left. So we’re four wins into it.”

Related: The wait continues — Maple Leafs fail to clinch playoff berth after loss to Bolts

Eddie Lack stopped 20 shots for the Hurricanes, who lost their fourth straight overall, a slide that coincides with their mathematical elimination from the playoff race for the eighth straight year – the longest active postseason drought in the NHL. They’ve also been shut out in their last two home games.

“That’s hard to watch, right?” Carolina coach Bill Peters asked rhetorically.

Halak won his fourth straight start since his recall from Bridgeport of the AHL, and his first shutout since blanking Washington on Dec. 1 – and 41st of his career – came in a must-win scenario for his team.

“I think the biggest factor, honestly, has been Jaro – Jaro’s been a rock back there for us,” Ladd said. “He’s been solid ever since he’s got back. … He gives us confidence in front of him to do the right things.”

A loss to Carolina, and the Islanders would have been assured of missing the playoffs – just like the Hurricanes, who were eliminated two nights earlier.

Right from the opening drop of the puck, the Islanders played like a team that had something to play for, while Carolina was noticeably less crisp.

“I thought we were flat,” Peters said, “and stayed flat.”

Nelson scored the game’s first goal 87 seconds in when he pushed the puck off a skate past Lack, and Mayfield made it 2-0 at 4:39 when he backhanded a rebound past the Carolina goalie.

Ladd then effectively ended it 39 seconds into the second, when – with Victor Rask serving a double-minor for whacking Nelson in the face with his stick – he beat Lack with a snap shot from the circle to make it a three-goal game.

“Any time you pop a couple really quick, it really sets a tone for the game and it puts them in a hole,” Lee said. “We just kind of stuck with our game plan, played a simple game and didn’t let them back in.”