James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Video: Evander Kane’s overtime goal celebration goes thud

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After seeing Evander Kane play some of his first shifts for the Buffalo Sabres, Dan Bylsma compared to a “bull” for how he can charge through the zone. Sometimes that element of recklessness can be as painful for Kane as it often is for opponents.

Kane capped the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime comeback win against the San Jose Sharks with a thrilling goal that included a chilling conclusion. He went sprawling into the boards after that tally, as you can see in the video above.

The good news is that Kane said he was OK after Tuesday’s tumble.

Kane also played a role in Buffalo’s merely getting to overtime.

Joe Pavelski‘s 4-1 goal seemingly sealed things up about six minutes into the third period, but from the 9:03 mark to 12:31 into the final frame, the Sabres scored three stunning goals. Ryan O'Reilly, Kane and Kyle Okposo supplied those tallies before Kane ended it in OT.

The lose kept the Sharks from adding more to their Pacific Division lead and reminded opponents that the Sabres must be taken seriously, even with a significant lead. The way Buffalo’s had San Jose’s number lately, one would think at least the Sharks are aware of Buffalo’s threat.

Check out full highlights below:

Let’s review a busy Tuesday in the West playoff races

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Well, Tuesday sure was a busy night in the NHL. There were interesting developments for the East, but when it comes to the playoff races, the West saw the most interesting shuffling.

The Minnesota Wild fattened their Central Division lead over Chicago and others, the San Jose Sharks coughed up an overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres and the Anaheim Ducks failed to gain ground on the Oilers.

That’s interesting stuff, but let’s focus on the teams fighting for their playoff survival, where the most dramatic movement happened.

First, the wild card races:

1. Blues – 59 points in 54 games, St. Louis shut out the Senators (read more here)
2. Flames – 59 points in 56 games, Calgary edged Pittsburgh via shootout

Kings – 58 points in 54 games, Los Angeles dropped a humbling loss to Tampa Bay (click for more)
Jets – 54 in 56 games after 4-2 loss to the Wild
Canucks – 52 in 53 games after regulation loss to Predators
Stars – 52 in 54 games after losing to Maple Leafs

As you can see, there seems to be a distance building between the teams in playoff position, one squad on the outside looking in (the Kings) and teams that are falling behind.

Battle for third place in Central

3. Predators – 60 points in 53 games

Blues – 59 in 54 games
Jets – 54 in 56 games
Stars – 52 in 54 games

Nashville and St. Louis are in a tight battle for that third spot (which would place them against the Blackhawks right now). Some might count the Stars and Jets out of the running for the third spot.

Update: The Oilers and Ducks are battling it out for second and third positioning in the Pacific at the moment, so this post was tweaked.

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OK, as you can see, there’s room for the Blues, Predators, Flames and Kings to jockey for positioning, whether it means in the wild card races or divisional positioning battles.

While tonight was very tough on Los Angeles, the Blues, Predators and Flames have all looked at the playoff picture with reasons for pessimism as well. The races for the last four spots in the West could be very dramatic, especially if teams like the Stars, Jets or Canucks manage surges of their own.

Liking Mike: Beleaguered Blues goalies combine for back-to-back shutouts

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It would be tough to totally blame Ken Hitchcock if he watched the last two St. Louis Blues games* and grumbled, “So NOW you’re stopping pucks?”

After Carter Hutton pitched a 26-save shutout against the Flyers on Monday, Jake Allen made 30 saves for a shutout of his own as the Blues clobbered the Ottawa Senators 6-0 on Tuesday. Not bad for two goalies with backup-type numbers who … let’s be honest, probably cost Hitchcock his job.

(There were other issues, but goaltending was the most glaring problem.)

The Blues have now won three of their last four games, and one way or another, they’ll find themselves somewhere in the West playoff picture by the end of the night.

These two shutout wins begin a five-game road trip in style, and with a road-heavy run ahead of them through March 21, they need to gather momentum like this.

It’s far too early to say for certain if turning to Mike Yeo was the right move, but the honeymoon phase seems pretty sunny so far.

* – Hopefully he’s going the Don Nelson route and already has suntan notion on his nose at some tropical resort.

Kings fall out of playoff position in West after being blanked by Lightning

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File this one under “Things that haven’t happened often this season,” as the Tampa Bay Lightning put together rare back-to-back wins while the Los Angeles Kings fell 5-0 for the second game in a row.

The Bolts’ last consecutive victories came when they beat the Red Wings 4-1 (Dec. 20) and the Blues 5-2 (Dec. 22). They edged the Ducks 3-2 via a shootout on Saturday and clubbed the Kings 5-0 on Tuesday.

Also rare: a shutout for Ben Bishop, his first of this letdown of a season.

Los Angeles doesn’t need to look far to find an obvious scapegoat for its recent struggles. While allowing five goals in two straight contests isn’t the best sign for their defense and surprisingly effective goalie Peter Budaj, it’s the Kings’ popgun offense that is the biggest concern.

Royal pains as other West bubble teams make big gains

The Kings have only generated a single goal in their past five games, an overtime tally in a 1-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s foolish to go in too deep on their struggles – these consecutive losses came after reeling off five straight wins – but one way or another, Los Angeles will finish Tuesday outside of the West’s top eight.

MORE: Get a rundown of the West’s tightest playoff races here. Long story short? Tuesday was indeed a rough one for the Kings.

If Bishop’s shutout wasn’t heartening enough for the Lightning, consider a strong night for Nikita Kucherov – whose two goals push him to 21 on the season – and his buddy Vladislav Namestnikov (two primary assists on those Kucherov goals).

Is this enough for the Lightning to spark a turnaround? They still have a big hole to dig out of, yet with a four-game road trip slated to begin on Friday, this win could serve as a key confidence-booster.

Capitals are just on another level right now, especially at home

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Is this finally the year that the Washington Capitals put it all together? If they play anything like this beyond Game 82, the answer might just be a resounding “Yes.”

The Capitals can’t do anything about those inevitable playoff questions right now, but they can take care of the business in front of them, something they’re accomplishing in a resounding way.

Tuesday was the latest example of their dominant play. The Capitals beat the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-0, their second consecutive 5-0 win after doing the same to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.

When you’re riding as high as the Capitals are at the moment, you can dice up the numbers in a wide variety of impressive ways. Whatever you do, you’ll likely come up with pretty jaw-dropping stats.

Want to focus on Braden Holtby‘s continued brilliant play? This should work:

How about all those goals, though? As you can see the Capitals have been difficult to contain, especially with home-ice advantage.

(This tweet actually combines the great goaltending and scoring stats.)

The Capitals stand as the first team to hit 80 standings points in 2016-17, seemingly in a position to even leave their robust Metropolitan Division competition in the dust. They already have 10 players with at least 10 goals on the season.

No one gets a Stanley Cup ring for their work in February, but the Capitals sure look legit as of this moment. Some would argue that they’ve never looked better.