<span class="vcard">James O'Brien</span>

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins

WATCH LIVE: Penguins at Blackhawks on NBC

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The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins have produced mixed results this season – by their standards, mind you – but it’s rarely dull to see the two NHL powers face off. They’ll do exactly that this Sunday afternoon on NBC, so check out the game that way or via the NBC Sports Extra link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For a preview of the game, check out this post.

Loading up: Predators acquire Franson, Santorelli from Leafs

Detroit Red Wings v Toronto Maple Leafs
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The Nashville Predators opened up a healthy lead ahead of the rest of the NHL on Saturday and then threw down the gauntlet on Sunday.

In a big trade, the Predators acquired Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and Nashville’s 2015 first-round draft pick.

One interesting twist to this move is that both Franson and Santorelli will already have some familiarity with their situation, as they both played for the Predators before.

The Predators selected Franson, 27, with the 79th pick of the 2005 NHL Draft. He showed promise in his first two seasons with Nashville before being traded to Toronto in a package that also highlighted Matthew Lombardi.

(Let’s just say the Maple Leafs came out on top in that one.)

In a shallow free agent market, Franson is one of the most desirable defensive targets. Toronto couldn’t come to terms with him, and it remains to be seen if Nashville can (or even aims to). In the interim, the Predators’ already-loaded defense adds another dangerous scoring threat.

The Predators selected Santorelli, 29, with a sixth-round pick (178th overall) in 2004. He’s bounced around the league a bit, yet his efforts stood out on a troubled Toronto team.

From Toronto’s perspective, the best parts of the trade are focused on the future. More specifically, the Predators’ first-round pick is likely the gem of this deal, even if it’s probably going to be a late selection.

Brendan Leipsic was the 89th pick of the 2012 Draft. The 20-year-old’s the other main takeway for Toronto, as he’s shown some potential with 35 points in 47 AHL games and some big WHL numbers.

Jokinen provides some veteran experience, yet he was often lost in the Nashville mix. Apparently joining the Buds hasn’t improved his mood.

To little surprise, it sounds like the Maple Leafs still have some work to do, as multiple reporters point to Daniel Winnik as another target for contenders.

It’s easy to see where both teams are coming from here, with the Leafs continuing to build for 2015-16 (and beyond) while the Predators hope for the deepest run in franchise history.

Flyers demote Laughton with Raffl return likely

Michael Raffl, Wayne Simmonds
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Zach Bogosian’s Buffalo debut isn’t the only lineup note for Sunday’s Buffalo Sabres – Philadelphia Flyers game, as Philly’s forward group will look a little different.

The Flyers sent Scott Laughton to the AHL, making Michael Raffl’s return to the mix seem very likely, according to CSNPhilly.com.

Raffl (pictured to the left of Wayne Simmonds) has been sidelined since Jan. 20 with pneumonia, missing seven games in that span.

It sounds like this swap will mean a new look for the Flyers’ scoring lines, as Raffl, 26, is expected to be back with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek while Brayden Schenn moves back to center between R.J. Umberger and Ryan White.

Laughton remains a work in progress at the NHL level, as he only has two goals and four assists for six points in 31 games this season. At 20, he still has plenty of time to blossom, but it sounds like it’s back to the drawing board for now.

NHL on NBC: Blackhawks, Penguins try to build momentum

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins
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NBC continues its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center at 12:30 pm ET today. In addition to NBC, you can also watch the game online.

Despite being among the NHL’s gold-standard franchises, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins don’t meet all that often. When they do, it’s quite the treat, and hockey fans can check out their latest meeting on NBC.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Blackhawks bested the Penguins 3-2 via a shootout. Pittsburgh’s a much healthier team today than they were then, as Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were unable to play on Jan. 21.

To point out the obvious, this game should be a star-studded affair. Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury join Letang and Malkin as Pittsburgh’s potent stalwarts. Chicago remains loaded with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa.

Hossa’s noteworthy beyond his very-brief status as a Penguin, as he has seven goals in his last four games.

One would think that both teams hope this contest will be a springboard for a strong finish to the regular season.

February has gone really well for Pittsburgh so far. They’ve won four of six games since a rocky month of January ended, including two straight contests. They also should be well-rested since they haven’t played since Thursday and only dealt with two games this week.

The Blackhawks’ efforts have been solid-to-good (at least from a shots perspective), yet their results have been a little frustrating. They’ve split their six games in February and are just 5-3-2 in their last 10 games.

In other words, these two teams have struggled – at least compared to their typically elite work – but there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can kick things up a notch before the games get a lot bigger. We might just see a little bit of that this afternoon.

Look out: Carter, Toffoli power impressive Kings win

Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Dwight King, Jonas Hiller
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Tonight is Jonas Hiller’s 33rd birthday, so the Calgary Flames gave him the gift of not having to face the Los Angeles Kings’ hot offense for a full 60 minutes.

After managing a 2-2 tie through two periods despite being heavily out-played, Hiller and the Flames caved in during the final frame.

Los Angeles scored three unanswered goals to chase Hiller about eight minutes into the third period, and while the Flames scored later on to make the score more presentable, there was no question which team owned the play on Thursday.

Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli’s impressive nights stood out the most among some dominant Kings performances.

Carter collected three assists, pushing his career points total to 501 by the end of the night. Toffoli scored an absolutely sublime goal to get a hat trick:

Yeah, not sure exactly what Hiller could have done there. He ultimately gave way to Karri Ramo after stopping 35 out of 40 shots.

Sure, there were moments when the Kings’ frustrating times still showed through, even while wearing their flashy throwback duds and as they carried much of the play. Jonathan Quick’s frustrations surfaced here and there, as you can see after this goal:

Overall, the Kings looked familiar even in their unusual uniforms, as they stand as the team many top West teams hope to avoid. They’ve won three games in a row and now find themselves just three points behind the Flames (with a game in hand) in the race to lock up a wild card spot.

(The Minnesota Wild are even hotter and have one more point than the Kings in one more game played, so it’s obvious that Los Angeles has to overcome more than Calgary’s Cinderella run …)

Anyway, the Kings have a long way to go to secure a playoff spot, but they’re starting to look like that world-beating bunch yet again. It’s one sequel that few outside of Hollywood look forward to seeing …