James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens

The Chicago Blackhawks are battling for the Central Division crown while the Montreal Canadiens hope to get a stronger lead on the Atlantic’s top spot.

A Blackhawks – Canadiens game has lure just in the teams’ rich histories, but when both teams are contenders? Even better.

You can watch the game on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

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    Penguins land NCAA top scorer Zach Aston-Reese

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Zach Aston-Reese to a two-year entry-level deal that kicks in starting in 2017-18.

    You could make an argument that this is an example of the rich getting richer. Aston-Reese, 22, topped the NCAA in goals (31) and points (63) for Northeastern University this past season.

    NHL.com pegged him as one of the top college free agents about a week ago, praising his size along with his scoring ability.

    It sounds like he’ll spend the rest of this season in the AHL. After that? Well, we’ll see if he can make a dent sooner or later.

    Ducks are optimistic (if vague) about Gibson’s recovery

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    If there was ever a time for John Gibson to be on the shelf, this would probably be it for the Anaheim Ducks, as Jonathan Bernier‘s enjoyed an unexpected rebound.

    Still, at some point, the Ducks are going to want their go-to guy back from his lower-body injury. In that regard,¬†Randy Carlyle said that there’s no specific timeline for Gibson’s return, but refers to it as a “small window” after he got back on the ice on Tuesday, according to Eric Stephens of the OC Register.

    The red-hot Calgary Flames actually hold the tiebreaker advantage over Anaheim for second place in the Pacific, and the Edmonton Oilers aren’t that far behind them in fourth in the division. So while the Ducks can enjoy Bernier’s strong work, you have to wonder if that optimism is fragile.

    At the moment, it sounds like Gibson should be able to shake off any rust before the playoffs begin, but that could always change if that “short window” grows a little larger.

    Video: Brad Marchand imposed his will with third-period hat trick

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    The Vancouver Canucks limited Brad Marchand to an assist through two periods on Monday, but once the final frame rolled around, the high-scoring Boston Bruins forward would not be denied.

    Marchand’s third-period hat trick triggered a 6-3 win for the Bruins (with David Krejci also collecting a goal in the final 20 minutes).

    You can see Marchand’s trio of goals in the video above, with the eventual game-winner (his second) being especially impressive. (Though it must be said that even his empty-netter was pretty nice.)

    Marchand pushes his season total to 35 goals, tying Sidney Crosby for the lead in the Maurice Richard race. This four-point output also gives Marchand a chance at the Art Ross.

    The Bruins are now at 80 standings points, solidly placing them in third place in the Atlantic at the moment. From the look of things, Marchand could be a major headache to contain in a playoff series even beyond his pesky tendencies.

    Blues didn’t just beat Kings; they won in regulation

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    The Los Angeles Kings fought hard to try to rally back against the St. Louis Blues, but they simply dug themselves too big of a hole on Monday.

    Looking at the standings, you wonder if that might also be the story of their push for a playoff spot:

    Wild card races in the West

    1. Oilers – 79 points in 68 games
    2. Blues – 77 in 68 GP

    Kings – 72 points in 68 GP

    With every meaningful team outside of the West playoffs losing, the Blues gaining a five-point edge on the Kings is significant enough that St. Louis is likely setting its sights higher.

    The Blues are only two points behind Edmonton for a higher wild card spot and two points behind the Predators for the third seed in the Central Division.

    David Perron made it 1-0 midway through the game, while Magus Paajarvi scored what would be the game-winner early in the third. Dustin Brown really accelerated the Kings’ charge to tie things up with their only goal, with Alexander Steen‘s empty-netter coming really late.

    Ultimately, Jake Allen was the clear standout for the Blues’ 3-1 win. Allen stopped 38 out of 39 shots as the Kings carried much of the play. St. Louis is now on a five-game winning streak and might just have the buffer it needs to lock down a playoff spot.