James O'Brien

Rinne rising? Road-ready Predators win in Chicago

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The Nashville Predators have survived this season despite a few challenges. The most troubling issue has been the play of Pekka Rinne, a $7 million goalie whose numbers resemble those of a fringe backup.

He’s playing up to his pay grade lately, however, and the Predators seem to be rising with him.

It was the sort of night that made Chicago Blackhawks fans even more excited to get Andrew Ladd, as Rinne was nearly unbeatable in leading Nashville to a 3-1 win.

That game was skin-tight, too, as an empty-netter inflated the difference and Calle Jarnkrok‘s pretty game-winner came crushingly late. They really needed every impressive Rinne save tonight:

The Predators are now 5-0-3 in their last eight games, and Nashville’s even more impressive on the road, going 8-0-2 in their last 10 away games.

They’re highly unlikely to even sneak out of the West’s wild card picture. Even so, if Rinne keeps playing at this level, they might just keep this road warrior work going through the playoffs.

Getting rid of guys? Oilers scratch Purcell and Schultz

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, right, celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with teammates Teddy Purcell (16) and Justin Schultz, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP
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Taylor Hall said it himself: Connor McDavid might be the only Edmonton Oilers player who’s safe from being traded with the deadline hovering.

Even so, we know two players who are the most likely to go as of Thursday: Justin Schultz and Teddy Purcell.

Why is that? Well, both players are healthy scratches heading into tonight’s clash against the Los Angeles Kings.

In the case of Purcell, he’s a decent supporting cast member who can moonlight on a top line here and there. He’s bounced around via trades quite a bit lately.

Schultz is a wild card: a defenseman who was maybe given too prominent a role following a lot of hype out of college. He’s failed to live up to that, and is even receiving jeers from fans, but his offensive potential – perceived or real – could make him an interesting trade target.

Stay tuned, hockey fans.

Neuvirth’s amazing, ‘disgusting’ save leaves Wild in disgust (and defeat)

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John Torchetti’s arrival helped generate a momentary burst from the Minnesota Wild, but now they’re gasping from another brutal punch to the gut.

In Thursday’s case, it came via a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, a game that ended in regulation thanks to an absolutely bonkers save by Michal Neuvirth will mere seconds remaining.

Sam Gagner called the save “disgusting,” an analysis that likely left his Wild opponents sadly nodding their heads.

NHL.com’s Dan Myers took a few screens of it:

Here’s the GIF:

Minnesota is now 27-24-10 with two straight defeats, and this one stings. Does this nudge GM Chuck Fletcher even a little bit from his stance that the Wild might be buyers?

For emphasis: The league determined that the puck didn’t cross the line.

Ladd trade cements obvious: Blackhawks are going all-in for Stanley Cup

President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quennville, Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough and Chairman Rocky Wirtz, holds up a team sweater as he poses for a group photo during a ceremony to honor the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016,  in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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On the heels of the Andrew Ladd trade, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman raved about all the things Ladd brings “to the table.”

That trade brings something else to the table: the Blackhawks truly threw down the gauntlet.

Even without Ladd, the Blackhawks found themselves right in the mix for the Central Division crown, which almost certainly would give them the West’s top seed. The context of their current team – still very good, maybe dominant – and their three recent Stanley Cups (Obama visits are almost mundane) and people believe that the rich got richer.

Beyond that, though, it’s clear that the Blackhawks are all about the present. Most obviously, they’ve cleaned out their high draft picks (even if those picks are likely to come toward the end of their given rounds).

If Blackhawks want to get a little giddy, consider the fact that Bowman might not even be done yet.

Ladd’s addition alone almost seems unfair to other contenders around the league. That’s the advantage to going bold, though.

You could argue that the Blackhawks have some flaws, but Ladd makes a scary team even scarier. If they fall short of a fourth Stanley Cup of the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

Video: Nick Foligno generates hat trick vs. Devils

Memo to the NHL: the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to hover as a team with serious spoiler potential.

The New Jersey Devils still have some time to mount what would be an unlikely comeback tonight, but as it stands, the Blue Jackets are in a position to deal a blow to New Jersey’s playoff hopes.

Most specifically, Nick Foligno did some serious damage already, producing the second hat trick of his career (and helping to jettison Cory Schneider out of New Jersey’s net).

As of this moment, it’s 5-1 Blue Jackets.

Watch the hat trick in the Sportsnet video above.