Mike Smith

Sabres ‘win’ latest tank war against Coyotes

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The battle to battle ineffectively enough to end the season with the best draft odds will likely remain uncomfortable for fans of the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres, but at least those extra-awkward games between the two teams are over now.

Of course, it’s the clearest loss for those who enjoy the strange dissonance of it all. The Sabres ended up winning this round 4-1, which essentially means good news for the Coyotes.

It was a closer game than that score indicates, mind you, as Buffalo inflated the difference with two empty-net goals.

With this game out of the way, the Buffalo Sabres move to 50 standings points and six games remaining while the Coyotes stay at 54 points with five games left. The Edmonton Oilers are in third place, yet with 59 points and six games on the docket, they seem unlikely to sink any lower.

The Coyotes and Sabres are likely going toe-to-toe for the last spot, which made for a really odd week for observers. Now they can go back to a rather odd form of scoreboard watching, which seems a little more comfortable for most of us.

Immediate gains

This serves as a decent confidence-booster for two embattled goalies in Mike Smith and Anders Lindback, even if the improvements may be merely incremental.

(One would be hard pressed to find a stranger month than what Smith has experienced in March, by the way. He’s put up more-or-less elite individual stats, yet he’s languished with a 3-9-0 record this month. Weird.)

It was a nice game for Andrej Meszaros (two goals) and Rasmus Ristolainen, who hit eight goals in 2014-15 with an empty-netter. Sabres fans might groan at this result, but the players seem happy with a victory, at least:

Strange times.

Goalie nods: Hiller goes back-to-back after big win over Preds

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Hiller back in for Calgary

The Flames will start Jonas Hiller for the second time in as many nights on Monday when they take on the Stars in Dallas.

Hiller went nearly two weeks without a start before Flames head coach Bob Hartley gave him the nod yesterday in Nashville, and Hartley’s decision proved a wise one; Hiller stopped 27 of 29 shots in a crucial 5-2 victory, pushing Calgary past L.A. for third place in the Pacific Division.

Prior to Hiller taking the net, Karri Ramo was the Flames’ goalie of record in five straight games, going 2-1-2 over that stretch.

For the Stars, Kari Lehtonen is likely to be back in goal after stopping 33 of 36 shots in an OT win over Vancouver on Saturday.

Elsewhere…

Bolts at Habs: Ben Bishop vs. Carey Price

Canucks at Blues: Eddie Lack vs. Brian Elliott

Kings at ‘Hawks: Jonathan Quick (probable) vs. (No Chicago starter yet)

Oilers at Avs: Richard Bachman vs. Semyon Varlamov

Sabres at Coyotes: (No Buffalo starter yet) vs. Mike Smith

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: Hackett goes for Sabres in McEichel Derby

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All the latest from the blue paint…

No Lindback for Buffalo

The NHL’s two worst teams — standings-wise, anyway — will do battle tonight when the Sabres host the Coyotes in Buffalo, and Buffalo will start little-used Matthew Hackett in net ahead of Anders Lindback, who’s been quite solid of late.

Hackett, 25, is 0-3-0 this year with a .893 save percentage and 4.34 GAA. He’s spent the majority of the season AHL Rochester, but was summoned to the Sabres after Chad Johnson went down to injury almost immediately after being acquired via trade.

In hist last outing, a 3-0 loss to Nashville, Hackett allowed three goals on 43 shots, good for a .930 save percentage.

For the Coyotes, Mike Smith will get the start in goal. Smith’s turnaround after a dreadful start has been one of the few bright spots in Arizona this season, and is worth mentioning — the veteran has been very good in nine games this month, allowing just 21 goals on 326 shots for a .936 save percentage.

Elsewhere…

Anaheim at Boston: Frederik Andersen vs. Tuukka Rask (probable)

Kings at Isles: Jonathan Quick (probable) vs. Jaroslav Halak

Devils at Caps: Cory Schneider vs. Braden Holtby

Pens at ‘Canes: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Cam Ward

Preds at Bolts: Pekka Rinne (probable) vs. Ben Bishop

Sharks at Wings: Antti Niemi vs. Jimmy Howard

Rangers at Sens: Cam Talbot vs. Andrew Hammond

Panthers at Leafs: Roberto Luongo vs. Jonathan Bernier

Habs at Jets: Dustin Tokarski vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Avs at Canucks: Semyon Varlamov vs. (No Vancouver starter yet.)

Goalie nods: Price versus Rinne in potential Vezina showdown

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Elite battle at Bridgestone

Two goalies most have penciled in as Vezina candidates will square off tonight in Nashville when Carey Price and the Habs take on Pekka Rinne and the Preds.

Price, widely considered to be the Vezina favorite, has been nothing short of brilliant all season long and heads into tonight’s action leading the NHL in wins (40), save percentage (.938), GAA (1.86) and shutouts (nine). The 27-year-old’s dominance has led to serious discussion about Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP.

Rinne, meanwhile, has been solid as well. He’s second to Price in both GAA (2.09) and wins (38), sitting fifth overall in save percentage (.927). What’s interesting about the two, however, is that Price has never been named a Vezina finalist over the course of his seven-year career; Rinne, who’s in his ninth NHL campaign, has been a finalist twice and fell just short of capturing the Vezina in 2011, when he finished a few votes shy of eventual winner Tim Thomas.

So with Price and Rinne likely to both be finalists this year, the conversation turns to who’ll be the third nominee. Right now, it seems like a three-horse race between New Jersey’s Cory Schneider, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk.

Elsewhere…

Wild at Isles: Devan Dubnyk vs. Jaroslav Halak

Kings at Rangers: Jonathan Quick (probable) vs. Cam Talbot

Blues at Pens: Jake Allen vs. Marc-Andre Fleury

Ducks at Jackets: John Gibson vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

Coyotes at Wings: Mike Smith vs. Jimmy Howard

Panthers at Bolts: Roberto Luongo vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Jets at Canucks: Michael Hutchinson vs. Eddie Lack