Western Conference playoff picture: Wild keep rolling, Ducks and Preds clinch

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The Minnesota Wild moved into the third seed in the Central Division with a 4-1 victory over the L.A. Kings on Saturday night. The Wild, who trailed the Chicago Blackhawks by 16 points on Jan. 27, now lead the Blackhawks by a point.

Minny’s win moves Chicago into the second wild card seed in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks have a pair of games in hand on the Wild.

With the Kings losing earlier in the night, Vancouver was able to create a three-point cushion between themselves and L.A. with a single point in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. The Canucks own the second seed in the Pacific Division.

The Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators added to their respective division leads with wins on Saturday.

Nashville hung on for a 4-3 win Saturday afternoon in Washington. With the win, the Preds clinched a playoff berth and moved three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues atop the Central Division.

The Ducks edged the New York Islanders 3-2 punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Anaheim now has a 12 point lead on the second place Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division.

The St. Louis Blues fell 4-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets failing to gain ground in the race for the Central Division crown.

Chicago and Winnipeg hold the two wild card seeds entering Sunday’s action while the Calgary Flames are three points back of a wild card position and just one point back of the L.A. Kings for the third seed in the Pacific Division.

All three teams play on Sunday.

Goalie nods: Lundqvist won’t get to ease back in

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Long live the King?

As already noted earlier today, it appears as though Henrik Lundqvist will make his return to the New York Rangers’ net as they face the Boston Bruins (who most likely will roll with Tuukka Rask).

Normally, this would be a cause for outright glee, and it’s true that “King Henrik” will be gladly welcomed back into the fold. Still, the Rangers have been on a tear thanks in a large part to Cam Talbot’s wonderful play in Hank’s absence, so it remains to be seen if New York sees a little fall-off.

Let there be no doubt that the Bruins will send their best at Lundqvist, so this isn’t exactly an example of easing a player back into the mix.

This is just one of several games during an unusually busy Saturday afternoon, so hopefully hockey fans already got their errands (and napping) done today.

Elsewhere:

Predators at Capitals: Pekka Rinne vs. Braden Holtby

Ducks at Islanders: Probably Frederik Andersen vs. Michal Neuvirth

Sharks at Flyers: Alex Stalock vs. (likely) Steve Mason

Coyotes at Penguins: Mike Smith vs. Thomas Greiss

Lightning at Red Wings: Likely Ben Bishop s. Petr Mrazek

Senators at Maple Leafs: Craig Anderson vs. James Reimer

Panthers at Canadiens: Roberto Luongo vs. Carey Price

Devils at Hurricanes: Keith Kinkaid vs. Cam Ward

Blue Jackets at Blues: Likely Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Brian Elliott

Kings at Wild: Likely Jonathan Quick vs. Devan Dubnyk

Sabres at Avalanche: ANders Lindback vs. Semyon Varlamov

Stars at Canucks: Maybe Kari Lehtonen vs. Eddie Lack

Goalie nods: Make it 33 straight for Dubnyk

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All the latest from the blue paint…

No surprises from Wild

Devan Dubnyk will make his 33rd straight start tonight when the Wild host the Flames in Minnesota.

Dubnyk, lights-out since arriving in Minnesota, is 9-3-0 in march with a 1.82 GAA and .941 save percentage and was stellar in his last outing, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a win over the Islanders. At this point, it’s very conceivable that he’ll remain the starter for most, if not all, of Minnesota’s final eight games of the regular season — head coach Mike Yeo said he worries more about not starting Dubnyk as opposed to starting him too often — which means Dubnyk (33-11-3) has an outside chance at a 40-win campaign, which should strengthen his case for a Vezina finalist spot.

For the Flames, Karri Ramo gets the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Jackets at ‘Hawks: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Corey Crawford

Stars at Oilers: Kari Lehtonen (probable) vs. Richard Bachman

After tough start, Stars have been one of NHL’s best

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Since Dec. 13, the Dallas Stars have been one of the best teams in the NHL.

That may be surprising to those who haven’t followed them closely. The Stars, after all, are pretty much assured of missing the playoffs.

But it’s true — the Stars are 26-15-5 in their last 46 games, a 102-point pace over a full season. And based on score-adjusted Fenwick, they’ve been the league’s fifth-best possession team during that stretch, below only the Kings, Islanders, Blues and Penguins.

It was the 10-13-5 start that killed their playoff hopes. The Stars were the 18th-ranked possession team through that stretch, and their goaltending — a position GM Jim Nill may still need to address this offseason, even though starter Kari Lehtonen has been better lately — made things even worse.

“We’ve gone on a pretty good run here,” forward Shawn Horcoff said earlier this week, “but we’ve had a tough time making up ground. Given the situation here, we really feel like we are going to have to win out.”

Possible. But unlikely.

At the very least, the Stars can look forward to next year. While it may not have surprised Nill when his team started poorly this season, assuming the goaltending can improve, his expectations for 2015-16 should be high.

Related: Nichushkin, out since November, moves closer to rejoining red-hot Stars

Nichushkin, out since November, moves closer to rejoining red-hot Stars

These are pretty decent times for Dallas — the club has won nine of 12 in March, continues to keep its slim playoff hopes alive and, now, could get a huge piece of the lineup back for the final few games of the regular season.

Sophomore Valeri Nichushkin, who’s been out since mid-November following hip surgery, has been activated from injured reserve and will head down to AHL Texas on a brief conditioning stint, the club announced on Friday.

Nichushkin, 20, has missed almost the entire regular season with the aforementioned hip injury, appearing in just four games. It was a fairly significant loss for the Stars; in his rookie campaign, Nichushkin appeared in 79 games and performed well, scoring 14 goals and 34 points while averaging just under 15 minutes per game.

The big Russian also played in all six of Dallas’ opening-round postseason games against Anaheim, scoring a goal and two points.

Texas plays twice this weekend, then once more again on Wednesday, meaning Nichushkin could get back into the Dallas lineup when the club hosts St. Louis next Friday. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of state the club will be in when Nichushkin’s ready to return; the Stars head into Friday’s game in Edmonton eight points back of Winnipeg for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but do have a game in hand on the Jets.