Gulutzan feeling heat in Dallas

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The last two weeks haven’t been easy on Glen Gulutzan.

The Dallas head coach has seen his team lose four of six, fall out of first in the Pacific Division and into a dogfight just to make the playoffs.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News thinks Gulutzan might have issues with his players.

This theory stems from errors Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott made in Monday’s 5-4 loss to Calgary. Ribeiro gave the puck away on Calgary’s second goal (which seemed to be a real momentum-changer) while Ott’s careless tripping penalty led to the game-winning tally.

Here’s what Gulutzan said:

“Those players do play close to the line, but the lines weren’t blurred last night, they made mistakes. Ott’s case, it wasn’t retaliatory, it wasn’t in the heat of the battle, and Ribby’s is what it is. He made a read and it wasn’t there. It was really uncharacteristic, because he knows the game so well.

“I think we’re beating it up a bit. Ribs just doesn’t make those mistakes — probably as soon as it left his stick, he knew. I don’t think that needs to be addressed. Something needs to be addressed if it’s reoccurring. That’s not going to reoccur. I think we have to move past it. We’re still in it, so we just have to be a little more focused.”

Here’s what Gulutzan did:

At the end of the game, Ribeiro played 22:29 and Ott played 20:46. At no point did they seem to miss a shift or get any kind of message that their play was unacceptable. Maybe, Gulutzan screamed between periods. Maybe, he felt the team couldn’t win without Ribeiro and Ott playing a lot. But the bottom line is he has a way to send a message and he’s not using it.

Yes, Eric Nystrom was out of the game with an injury and the Stars were down on their forwards. But if you have to sit Ribeiro to play Jamie Benn or Jake Dowell, then do it. If you have to sit Ott to play Ryan Garbutt, then do it. Not only would the intended players get the message, but so would the entire team.

Another issue Gulutzan’s facing is what to do with Brenden Morrow. The captain and veteran leader has been dropped to the fourth line (Adam Burish has taken his minutes, which speaks volumes) but, as Heika points out, Morrow “has given a lot to his franchise, and probably deserves a little leeway.”

The Morrow issue — and how to handle Ribeiro/Ott — are tough predicaments for a veteran head coach, let alone a rookie like Gulutzan. Will he be able to make the tough decisions to get Dallas into the playoffs?

Push for the Playoffs: Predators, Jets play for first in Central

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The top spot in the NHL’s Central Division has been a back-and-forth race between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators, and on Saturday evening the two teams will be meeting head-to-head for the final time this season in what could be a pivotal game in who ends up taking the top spot.

Winnipeg enters the day holding a two-point lead over the Predators in the standings, while also still owning a game in hand the rest of the way and the first tiebreaker (42 regulation wins for the Jets, to 38 for the Predators). All of that together makes this an absolutely massive game for both teams, but especially for the Predators if they have any hope of winning the division.

Failing to gain a point on Saturday would put them in a four-point hole, and because they don’t own the tiebreaker, would need to gain five points on the Jets to pass them over their remaining six games. That would not be an easy thing to do and would not only require a lot of help in the form of the Jets losing a handful of games down the stretch, but also leave Nashville without almost no margin for error in its remaining games.

So while it remains a huge game for both teams, it takes on even more importance for the Predators because of how much ground they would have to make up with a loss.

Even if the Predators win in regulation on Saturday, the Jets would still technically own the top spot in the Division by having played in one fewer game and also having more regulation and overtime wins.

The Jets have won two of the previous head-to-head games this season.

Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames can take control of the Pacific Division with a win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Thanks to San Jose’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, the Flames enter Saturday with a four-point lead in the Pacific Division race and can open that up to a six-point lead with a win.

That would not yet clinch the division, but it would be a massive cushion to have this late in the season.

The Flames have only won their division one time (the 2005-06 season) since 1994-95 and can take a big step toward claiming the Pacific on Saturday night.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

Lightning vs. Canadiens
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Wild
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Coyotes vs. Devils (1 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Flyers (1 p.m. ET)
Blackhawks vs. Avalanche (3 p.m. ET)
Predators vs. Jets (7 p.m. ET)
Rangers vs. Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET)
Sabres vs. Canadiens (7 p.m. ET)
Bruins vs. Panthers (7 p.m. ET)
Wild vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Lightning vs. Blues (8 p.m. ET)
Penguins vs. Stars (8 p.m. ET)
Red Wings vs. Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET)
Flames vs. Canucks (10 p.m. ET)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.9 percent
Penguins — 99.6 percent
Islanders — 99 percent
Hurricanes — 92.1 percent
Canadiens — 56.1 percent
Blue Jackets — 50.2 percent
Flyers — 3 percent
Panthers — 0.1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 100 percent
Stars — 91.2 percent
Avalanche — 40.1 percent
Coyotes — 35 percent
Wild — 25 percent
Blackhawks — 6.6 percent
Canucks — 1.1 percent
Oilers — 1 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Rangers — 8.5 percent
Ducks — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Panthers — 3 percent
Coyotes — 2.5 percent
Avalanche — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets — 1 percent**

(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)
(**OTT owns CBJ’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 120 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 107 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 94 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 39 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins sign Zdeno Chara to one-year extension

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Zdeno Chara will be back for a 22nd season in the NHL in 2019-20.

The Boston Bruins announced on Saturday morning that they have signed the 42-year-old defender to a one-year contract extension that will pay him $2 million in base salary, and another $1.75 million in performance-based bonuses.

Chara has appeared in 55 games this season, recording four goals and seven assists for a Bruins team that has been one of the NHL’s best.

When he returns next season he is going to join a small list of defenders to skate in the NHL beyond their age 42 season. It is a list that includes only Chris Chelios (who played until he was 48), Doug Harvey, Tim Horton, Lester Patrick, and Allan Stanley.

He has spent the past 13 seasons of his career with the Bruins where he has been a consistent rock on their blue line. Obviously at this point in his career he is not the same dominant player that he once was, but he has still been a solid performer that has played more than 20 minutes per night on the team’s top-pairing next to Charlie McAvoy. When that duo has been together this season the Bruins have controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, via Natural Stat Trick. They have been together for most of the past two seasons when both are healthy and have been an outstanding pairing for the Bruins.

Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender during the 2008-09 season with the Bruins and has been a finalist five other times, including during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup winning season in 2010-11. He finished fifth in 2012-13 when the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup Final.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Silfverberg plays OT hero; Donato helps Wild

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Three Stars

1. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Silfverberg was involved in three of Anaheim’s four goals during their 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks. After helping set up the Ducks’ first two goals, Silfverberg put the game to bed 38 seconds into overtime to clinch the victory for Anaheim.

2. Ryan Donato, Minnesota Wild

One-third of Minnesota’s “Kid Line” set up both Wild goals during a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals. The two points earned helped move Minnesota back into Western Conference wild card spot with seven games to go. Donato now has 13 points in 14 games since being dealt to the Wild.

3. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell tallied twice and assisted on the OT winner, helping the Ducks to go two-for-three on the power play. The goals were Rakell’s first in seven games. He now has 13 on the season.

Highlights of the Night

• Silfverberg has five multi-point games this season and four in his last 18 games:

Jordan Greenway powered his way to the net for his 12th of the season and finished off with some nice stick handling:

Factoids of the Night

• Donato’s assist on Greenway’s goal was the 10,000th point in Wild franchise history.

Scores
Wild 2, Capitals 1
Ducks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lightning’s Gourde suspended two games for illegal check to the head

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Yanni Gourde has been suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his hit to the head of Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning forward went to lay a hit on Staal and ended up getting his head, leading to a match penalty and an ejection. Staal, who missed 32 games this season while dealing with a concussion, left the game before returning and scoring Carolina’s second goal in a 6-3 loss.

“I haven’t really watched or seen it but, you know, it’s a fast game, things happen,” Staal said afterward. “Obviously, you never want to see those hits. I was fortunate enough to come out of it feeling all right.”

DoPS head George Parros said the head check was avoidable in the department’s suspension video.

“While we acknowledge Gourde’s argument that Staal is bent low and stumbling as he plays the puck, this hit does not meet any of the criteria for unavoidable head contact,” Parros said.

Gourde, who has no history with the DoPS in his 179-game career, will miss the Lightning’s games against St. Louis on Saturday and Boston on Monday. He is eligible to return next Saturday vs. Washington.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Gourde forfeits $10,752.68 — money that goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.