St. Louis Blues

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks, Blues battle in tight Central Division race

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight as the Chicago Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

With just a week worth of games left, the battle for the Central Division title is fierce. Nashville leads the pack with 104 points in 79 contests while St. Louis and Chicago are just one and two points back respectively and have each participated in one less game than Nashville. So clearly the stakes will be high tonight and on Thursday when the Blue and Blackhawks battle (Thursday’s rematch will also air on NBCSN).

“It’s amazing,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You play all these games and it always comes down to the last week or the last game. We’re both chasing Nashville. We’re both (trying) to finish in first place overall. We know (Sunday’s game is) a big one and we’re excited for it.”

“Twice in the next three games — huge games for us,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re four-point games with little time to make up ground. We know they’re meaningful (because) there’s still a lot to be sorted out.”

Even the winner of the Central Division will likely face a difficult first round opponent given that the Minnesota Wild – which are 26-7-3 during goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s run – and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings currently occupy the two Wild Card seeds. However, the Western Conference being that tight only adds to the importance of possessing Game 7 home-ice advantage as deep into the playoffs as possible.

It certainly has been a factor when Chicago has played St. Louis in recent years as the Blues haven’t won in regulation in the United Center over their last 13 regular season and three playoff contests. That’s not all St. Louis will have to overcome tonight as Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen are both dealing with lower-body injuries. Those are the Blues top two scorers, but their absence hasn’t stopped St. Louis from outscoring its adversaries 11-6 over its last two games.

Meanwhile Chicago, which is without Patrick Kane (clavicle), has won four straight contests. One of those winning streaks will end tonight and the fight for the Central Division will draw closer to its conclusion.

Goalie nods: Gibson goes for Ducks, whose playoff starter is still uncertain

John Gibson will get another chance to show he should be the Anaheim Ducks’ playoff starter when he goes up against Colorado tonight at Honda Center.

Gibson’s last start was a good one; the 21-year-old stopped all but one of the Devils’ 27 shots last Sunday in a 2-1 victory, after which he was named the game’s first star.

Still, neither Gibson nor Andersen has made it an easy decision for coach Bruce Boudreau. Both young goalies have had excellent performances, and both have had their hiccups.

“I think they both want the starting role,” Boudreau said recently, per NHL.com “We had a tough game in New York and Columbus [last month] and when [Andersen] played two really good games, it was like [Gibson] said, ‘Oh, yeah? OK,’ and he came in and played great. I think they both would like to have it.

“If we go far they’re both going to play, and if we don’t go far, they’re both going to play, because if we’re losing, we’re going to make switches. That’s the way I think of it right now. We’re not married to thinking one is better than the other. When they’re on top of their game, they’re as good as there is.”

Reto Berra will start for Colorado.

Elsewhere…

Scott Darling likely for Chicago versus Anders Lindback for Buffalo.

Dustin Tokarski for Montreal versus Keith Kinkaid for New Jersey.

Brian Elliott for St. Louis versus Kari Lehtonen (likely) for Dallas.

Louis Domingue for Arizona versus Antti Niemi for San Jose.

 

No supplemental discipline for Bollig after boarding Jackman

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Calgary’s Brandon Bollig won’t face any disciplinary hearing for his hit on St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman Thursday night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Here’s the incident in question. Bollig was given a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct:

Jackman left the game momentarily but did return, and finished with over 17 minutes of ice time.

The Department of Player Safety opted not to further punish Bollig despite his history as a repeat offender; during last year’s playoffs, he was suspended two games for boarding Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard.

Monahan lands in Flames’ record book

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Sean Monahan became the youngest player in Calgary Flames history to register 30 goals in a season when he reached the mark Thursday night.

Monahan had the lone goal in the Flames’ 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

According to TSN, Monahan passed Dan Quinn as the youngest member of the Flames to reach the 30-goal plateau.

“I guess putting the puck in the net in this league is tough so its pretty cool to get 30, but it doesn’t mean much after a game like that,” said Monahan postgame. “It’s goals and it’s linemates putting the puck on my stick so its something I’ll think about I guess later on in the season – how lucky and fortunate I was to play with guys like that.

“That’s the thing that will probably stick out most.”

As for his secret to finding the net, Monahan said its about being in the right areas on the ice.

“I just try to find the quiet areas and go to the right spot and lucky enough I play with the right players,” he said. “It makes it easy for me to get those chances and put the puck in the net.”

Flames’ coach Bob Hartley believes its a sign of things to come for the forward.

“[Monahan] has been probably our most consistent player all year,” said Hartley. “He’s only 20-years-old. I think there’s lots of bright spots.”

Monahan reached the milestone faster than a few notable Flames including Theoren Fleury and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nichushkin expected to return to Stars’ lineup tonight vs. St. Louis

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Valeri Nichushkin, who was recalled from his conditioning assignment on Thursday, is expected to return to the Stars’ lineup tonight when Dallas plays host to the St. Louis Blues.

Nichushkin has missed nearly five months after undergoing hip surgery in November.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff would not confirm Nichushkin’s return to the lineup, but Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News reports that it’s a safe bet the 20-year-old will appear in his first game since Nov. 6.

“He’s real excited to be back playing, to be back here and have the opportunity to play,” Ruff said.

Nichushkin had 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games during his rookie campaign last season while playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

He played in just four games registering a minus-3 rating this season prior to the surgery.

Ruff admits the club has missed the presence of the 6-foot-4, 205-pound forward.

“We’ve missed his size,” Ruff said. “For the most part, Seguin, Benn and Val were a good line. He was a guy who could hang onto the puck down low, physically dominate some teams, and even come off the wall in the offensive zone and make plays. And I really felt by the end of [last] year he was one of our best defenders coming back defending.”

Tonight concludes the five-game season series between the two clubs. Each team has won twice.