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Mikael Backlund is on the verge of Flames history after OT winner

First place in the Pacific Division may be unrealistic.

But suddenly the idea of home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs doesn’t seem like a far-fetched idea for the Calgary Flames, winners of six consecutive games following a 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

The Flames are now at 74 points, which is two back of both the Anaheim Ducks — winners versus Toronto on Friday — and the idle Edmonton Oilers, as those teams battle for second and third in the division.

Calgary has suddenly marched right into the thick of this race, which represents quite a turnaround from earlier in the season when there was actually talk about Glen Gulutzan’s future, despite this being his first season with the Flames.

(The Flames are also six points up on L.A. in the wild card.)

On a team that features Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, it has been Mikael Backlund emerging as the team’s leading scorer to this point. He continued what will be by far his most productive NHL campaign — 20 goals and 46 points in 65 games — with the overtime winner, breaking down the left wing and ripping a shot by Petr Mrazek.

That puts Backlund in impressive company in Flames history.

“It’s cool to score 20 goals, of course, in this league. It’s something to take pride in,” said Backlund, per the Calgary Sun. “But the biggest thing is we won the game tonight. We want to keep pushing. We want to make playoffs. That’s the main thing. That’s all I care about — making the playoffs again. It was awesome last time, so I want to get back to that.”

The Flames, looking for a seventh straight win, host the New York Islanders on Sunday.

Blackhawks’ back-up goalie Darling out three weeks with upper-body injury

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Injured toward the end of the morning skate, Chicago Blackhawks back-up goalie Scott Darling is now expected to miss three weeks.

That is according to reports following Chicago’s shootout win over the New York Islanders on Friday.

Darling, who is dealing with an upper-body injury, has been impressive this season, with a 16-5-2 record and a .931 save percentage in 26 games. He’s also a pending unrestricted free agent and is likely to be in line for a starting netminder job when free agency rolls around in July.

With Darling out, the Blackhawks recalled Jeff Glass from Rockford. He backed up Corey Crawford on Friday.

Crawford made 31 saves and the Blackhawks rallied on a late tying goal from Artemi Panarin, who scored with 1:14 remaining in regulation to force overtime. He then scored the clinching goal in the shootout for Chicago’s sixth straight victory.

The red-hot Blackhawks are now one point back of Minnesota for the Central Division, but the Wild have two games in hand.

Make that five straight losses for the Blues

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How quickly things have changed for the St. Louis Blues in the last two weeks.

On Feb. 16, the Blues had beaten the Vancouver Canucks for a sixth straight win and a seventh win in eight games since firing Ken Hitchcock and naming Mike Yeo as the replacement head coach ahead of schedule.

In terms of results, the Blues had seen the desired impact in the immediate wake of the coaching change.

Since then? The Blues have now lost five in a row, as their skid, which has once again put them outside of a wild card spot in the Western Conference, continued Friday in a 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

“We’re trying to build more pace into our game. We’re seeing less consistency in our game lately in the four losses,” said Yeo prior to Friday’s game. “Just not enough in there to guarantee wins.”

Blake Wheeler opened the scoring in the first period and finished it with just over a minute remaining in the third period. Mixed in there was Brian Little’s empty net goal that put this one out of reach for St. Louis. Making matters worse, Alex Pietrangelo crashed hard into the boards after losing the race to the puck with Little.

The Blues remain a single point back of L.A. for the final wild card spot, but with a game in hand, too. So the old adage of controlling their own destiny does still apply, but with less than 20 games now remaining in their schedule, a prolonged losing skid can quickly squash that.

The Blues are in Colorado to face the last-place Avalanche on Sunday.

Video: Anxious moments for Jets after Ehlers crushed by Reaves

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In the midst of a solid sophomore season, it’s easy to understand why there would be anxious moments for Jets fans after forward Nikolaj Ehlers was hurt Friday.

The 21-year-old Ehlers, with 49 points in 64 games, was hurt midway through the second period versus the St. Louis Blues after he was on the receiving end of a massive open-ice hit from Ryan Reaves.

Ehlers jumped up to glove the puck ahead and was promptly knocked to the ice by Reaves. He remained down, while the hit drew a reaction from the crowd and from his Winnipeg teammates.

Reaves received a minor penalty for roughing, while Ehlers went to the dressing room for further evaluation before eventually returning.

 

After eventful trade deadline day, Mark Streit scores winner in Penguins debut

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Welcome to the Penguins, Mark Streit.

After an eventful trade deadline day that saw the 39-year-old defenseman traded from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay and then dealt again later on to Pittsburgh, Streit settled in with his new team by scoring the game-winning goal Friday — against those same Bolts.

Nice pass from Sidney Crosby, who found Streit all alone in front after a breakdown in the defensive end from Tampa Bay. That goal, just 1:28 after Nikita Kucherov scored to tie the game, gave Pittsburgh the lead once again and the Penguins wouldn’t let it go this time in a 5-2 victory.

Streit also had an assist and played more than 19 minutes of ice time, with a few key defensemen in Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta out of the lineup. Ron Hainsey, acquired prior to the deadline to add depth to Pittsburgh’s blue line, saw more than 25 minutes of ice time versus the Bolts.

Pittsburgh’s trio of stars — Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel — was dominant. And Justin Schultz, acquired last season from Edmonton, continued his resurgence with a goal, his 10th of the season, and an assist.

While the Bolts had gone into sell mode at the deadline, dealing Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula, and opening up cap space ahead of the summer, they still had the chance to move, at least temporarily, within two points of the final wild card spot in the East on Friday.

But the Penguins have one of the most dangerous lineups in the league and they surged ahead after the Kucherov equalizer.