Jason Brough

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) scores a goal against Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35), of Finland, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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‘We’ve got to realize the moment’

The Nashville Predators felt they played a good game last night against Chicago. But in a familiar refrain for this season’s Preds, it wasn’t good enough to win.

“It wasn’t for lack of effort or chances,” captain Mike Fisher said after the 3-2 loss, per The Tennessean. “We’ve just got to execute better when the game’s on the line.”

The Preds outshot the Blackhawks by a wide margin, 38-23. But they couldn’t protect a 2-1 lead in the third period. Goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane gave the visitors the win, while the Preds’ record fell to 4-6-3 in December.

It hasn’t helped that P.K. Subban has now missed six games with a lingering upper-body injury. But then, even when the dynamic defenseman was healthy, the Preds were still having their issues. They are among the league leaders in score-adjusted Corsi, usually a good sign. But Pekka Rinne‘s .875 save percentage on the month tells a tale. The veteran goaltender hasn’t been good enough, and the defensive play in front of him hasn’t either.

Kane’s winner last night came off a 3-2 for the Blackhawks.

Though Rinne would’ve liked to come up with a save, surrendering an odd-man rush at that stage of the game — just over five minutes left, the score tied — was not on the goalie.

“I was surprised the defenseman didn’t pinch there and the next thing I knew, our bench was yelling, ‘3-on-2’ and then ‘4-on-2,'” Kane told reporters. “Their D kind of backed in, so I thought with a couple of guys driving the net I could take a shot there.”

Read more: For Pekka Rinne, a great November, followed by a dismal December 

Now three points back of a wild-card spot, the Preds (15-14-6) are right back at it tonight with another key divisional game, this one in St. Louis.

“We’ve got to realize the moment,” said forward Filip Forsberg, who’s on pace to score just 16 goals after potting 33 last season. “We still have half the season left, but you can’t just push the reset button after New Year’s and win the last 40. It’s not going to happen like that. We’ve got to get a little more urgent and obviously string some wins together.”

Stars win third straight to move into wild-card spot

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, left, congratulates teammate center Devin Shore (17) after Shore scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. The Stars won 4-2. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) Tyler Seguin feels like the Dallas Stars have been getting better for some time. They finally have a streak that shows that.

Seguin had two goals and an assist and the Stars beat the lowly Colorado Avalanche 4-2 on Thursday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

“Definitely, it’s something that we’ve been needing, and obviously not enough yet,” Seguin said. “We’re making strides. It’s about playing all together. Got over the hump of two wins in a row. Got three, and want to keep going.”

After being the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season, the Stars are nearly halfway through this season — and moved up into eighth place with their latest win.

“Winning’s a lot of fun, so we’re going to try and keep this going,” said Jamie Benn, their captain who had three assists.

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Seguin’s 12th goal of the season, a one-timer from the middle of the left circle on a pass from Benn, put the Stars up 2-0 in the first period. He added his 13th into an empty net in the closing seconds.

Seguin and Benn assisted on Jamie Oleksiak‘s wrister from the right circle for a 3-1 lead early in the second period, right after Benn had a shot ricochet off the crossbar.

The Stars are 4-0-1 their last five games, and have won five of seven.

“We’ve played pretty sound hockey for a good period of time,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’re getting more and more guys on the scoreboard, getting our key guys, our big guys are scoring.”

Colorado has won only three of its last 17 games, and has the NHL’s worst record at 12-22-1.

“We just got to keep going, keep digging in and try to win some hockey games,” coach Jared Bednar said.

Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 13 of 14 shots before coming out of the game with 15 minutes left because of NHL concussion protocol after being barreled over by Jarome Iginla. Lehtonen was back on the bench before end of the game and Ruff said he was OK.

Antti Niemi took over in net, and about 2 1/2 minutes later gave up Mikhail Grigorenko‘s goal off a rebound that got the Avs within a goal.

Calvin Pickard started in goal for Colorado had 30 saves while Semyon Varlamov missed another game because of a groin injury.

Matt Duchene got his 400th career point late in the first period when he scored his 13th goal of the season. The net was open with Lehtonen out of position after another shot slipped under his pads. But Duchene was then shoved from behind by Radek Faksa and fell backward on the ice after his face hit the crossbar.

Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft by Colorado, became only the second member of that draft class to reach 400 NHL points. The other is New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who was the first overall pick that year and reached 400 points late in the 2014-15 season.

“I didn’t really think about it much. It’s obviously nice to get there and get that out of the way,” Duchene said. “It’s something that maybe I’ll enjoy later on in the year or after the season’s over, but it’s never really anytime to celebrate when you lose a game.”

 

Pre-game reading: On Daniel Alfredsson, who used to love him some Pop-Tarts

— Up top, rumor has it that Bruins head coach Claude Julien is on the hot seat, but Darren Dreger is hearing otherwise. Boston, to be sure, is enduring a frustrating season, but the team’s underlying stats are actually quite encouraging. That being said, if the B’s miss the playoffs again, Julien could be out.

— The Ottawa Senators will raise Daniel Alfredsson’s No. 11 to the rafters tonight at Canadian Tire Centre. TSN’s James Duthie remembers the first time he met Alfredsson, all the way back in 1995, when the guy they call “Alfie” was an NHL rookie. “Television being television, we needed to get video of the kid doing something — anything — a rookie on his own in a new country would have to do. So we went to the grocery store in the adjacent building to shoot Alfredsson loading his cart with the nutritional necessities of a young hockey player. Those included: Pop-Tarts and, err, well that was actually it. Just a lot of Pop-Tarts.” (TSN)

Artemi Panarin on his two-year extension with the Chicago Blackhawks: “Chicago gave me a chance to play at the very high level. I like everything about the team and the environment here. You can’t earn all the money in the world.” Granted, the ‘Hawks are still in a cap crunch, but Panarin’s extension at least buys them some time to shed salary. Maybe they can unload Marcus Kruger on Vegas, which will need to get to the cap floor somehow. The real key for the ‘Hawks will be for their rookies to keep improving. So far this season, they’ve been too reliant on their stars for scoring. And when its comes to the playoffs, it’s a lot easier to stop a two-line team than a three- or four-line team. (Chicago Tribune)

— Speaking of four-line teams, here’s a good, analytical piece on the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a guy with 14 goals, Sam Gagner, on their fourth line. “Columbus has kept Gagner down as the 11th-most used forward on the team at even strength, limiting his defensive exposure by having him play against weaker competition for shorter stretches of time. However, when the team goes on the power play, he’s been called upon far more frequently, seeing his usage spike all of the way up to third.” (Sportsnet)

— A story about a memorabilia collector in Toronto whose “1,000-square-foot basement, in a stately three-story home in the Forest Hill neighborhood, houses what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of Toronto Maple Leafs artifacts.” In said basement, “one will find more than 2,000 pieces, including game-worn sweaters from as far back as the 1930s, but also photographs, pucks, sticks, contracts, documents and the original door to the dressing room at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, signed in blue ink by about 60 former Leafs.” (New York Times)

— For the first time in a long time, there are no Newfoundlanders playing regularly in the NHL. And you know what? That’s really too bad. “Look, if you make the NHL from Ontario or Quebec or B.C., it is just not the same impact as a kid from Newfoundland and Labrador making it, because everybody from Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter if they like hockey or not, will follow that kid.” The good news? A couple of kids from St. John’s were drafted in June, one by the Blackhawks, another by the Blues. (National Post)

Enjoy the games!

Penguins say Murray is ‘week-to-week’ with a lower-body injury

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 08:  Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save during a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on December 8, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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It’s a good thing the Pittsburgh Penguins get their bye week soon, because there’s been yet another injury to a key player.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced today that goalie Matt Murray is “going to be week-to-week with a lower-body injury.”

Murray had to leave last night’s game against Carolina after two periods. He was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all 19 shots he faced in the third, helping the Pens to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory.

“I thought Marc-Andre came in and did a terrific job and made some big saves in the third period,” Sullivan told reporters. “That’s not easy to do when you’re sitting on the bench, to have the focus he had to make those timely saves.”

The Penguins host Montreal Saturday, then don’t play again until Jan. 8 when Tampa Bay pays a visit.

A goalie has not yet been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre to back up Fleury against the Habs, but young Tristan Jarry could potentially be rewarded with a call-up; he’s 13-5-0 with a .921 save percentage for the Baby Pens.

In some ways, the Penguins are actually getting healthier. Defenseman Trevor Daley returned to action against the Hurricanes, logging 20:52 with an assist.

Another d-man, Kris Letang, is getting close, though it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by Saturday, or if he’ll just wait until after the bye week to return. Letang is still on injured reserve, along with d-man Brian Dumoulin.

Yet another d-man, Olli Maatta, has missed the last two games with an illness. No word if he’ll play Saturday, but he was skating this morning.

Related: Dumoulin to miss 4-6 weeks after surgery for broken jaw

The Leafs are a ‘dangerous team,’ and they’re making a run at a playoff spot

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking a healthy run at their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The Leafs (15-12-7) rolled into Tampa Bay on a three-game winning streak, after beating the Panthers, 3-2, in a shootout last night in Sunrise.

Toronto is now just three points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, and the Leafs have three games in hand on the Bruins.

“The young guys are getting better and better and becoming dominant players,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told reporters yesterday. “We trust them more and have become a better hockey club.”

Indeed, Auston MatthewsWilliam Nylander, and Mitch Marner, a.k.a. the “young guys,” were factors in beating the Panthers. Matthews scored his 17th of the season; Nylander potted his eighth, and Marner notched the shootout winner, after racking up nine shots in the actual game.

Tonight, the Leafs will take on a Lightning squad that is fully prepared for a tough test.

“They’re just a dangerous team,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper. “I think their win-loss record is not indicative of how they’ve played. They could have more points than they have right now.”

Yes, they could. Especially if they were better in the shootout, instead of 1-5. In terms of score-adjusted Corsi, the Leafs are in the upper half of the NHL. And that certainly wasn’t the case prior to the arrivals of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Babcock.

Read more: Babcock wants Leafs to be aggressive with the lead

If they can beat the Lightning in regulation, the Leafs will move into fourth place in the Atlantic, putting even more pressure on the Bruins and Senators, not to mention the Bolts and Panthers, two teams that came into the season with high expectations.

Don’t forget, the way things have gone in the Metropolitan Division, there may only be three playoff spots for Atlantic teams to grab. Montreal has a nice cushion at the top (for now, at least), but it’s going to be a serious scramble below.

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Related: It’s been a frustrating season for the Boston Bruins