‘Hawks-Bolts is ‘going to be a good one’

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of their longest winning streak in 12 years, though they’ve once again been outdone by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Last season’s Stanley Cup Final participants stand as the NHL’s two hottest teams entering Thursday night’s marquee matchup, with the Blackhawks on a franchise-record 12-game run and the resurgent Lightning vying for a seventh consecutive win.

No buildup was really necessary for the Blackhawks’ first visit to Tampa since their pivotal 2-1 victory in Game 5 of a finals series it won in six, but both teams’ stellar recent play has added to the hype.

Chicago (32-13-4) has outscored opponents 47-22 since last losing Dec. 27, with Tampa Bay (25-17-4) nearly as impressive in compiling a 24-13 margin over its best stretch of the season.

The Lightning can earn their longest streak since winning a club-record eight straight during their 2003-04 championship season by halting a four-game skid against Chicago including last year’s finals. The Blackhawks earned a 1-0 home win Oct. 24 on Jonathan Toews‘ goal 17 seconds into overtime.

“We turned the page on last year, but the storyline is going to read, ‘the Stanley Cup Finals a year later’,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “But they won (Tuesday) and their streak is at 12 and we’re at six so that’s 18 wins between us. It’s going to be a good one.”

The Blackhawks’ dominant stretch has been led by the same core that carried them to their third title in six years last spring. Patrick Kane has 21 of his league-leading 71 points during the streak, Toews has eight goals and five assists and Duncan Keith 12 points and a plus-11 rating.

Rookie Artemi Panarin has done his part as well by amassing six goals and eight assists, including two of the latter to support Corey Crawford‘s 38 saves in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Nashville that opened a three-game trip.

“We’re getting contributions from everybody, all four lines, all six (defensemen),” Keith said. “It’s one game at a time. I think we’re trying to be smart and playing a good team game.”

Crawford owns a 1.88 goals-against average in winning nine consecutive starts.

“He’s been amazing,” said Kane, who scored his 30th goal Tuesday to already match a career high. “He just seems like he’s got a whole new focus in the net, and some nights he looks unbeatable. It’s pretty fun to watch. I think he’s very underrated as far as goalies go around the league, but we feel we have the best kept secret with him.”

The Lightning are well aware of Crawford’s talents, as he held them to 10 goals in the finals and stopped 21 shots in this season’s previous meeting. The steady goaltender helped Chicago limit Steven Stamkos to one assist in the 2015 championship series.

Stamkos leads Tampa Bay with 20 goals but has taken a back seat of late to young Russians Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. Both had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Edmonton, giving Namestnikov 10 points over the unbeaten run highlighted by a hat trick Friday against Pittsburgh.

Kucherov has five goals and four assists over a six-game point streak and 26 points in 20 games since Dec. 5, second only to Kane (30) over that span.

Ben Bishop figures to be back in goal after Andrei Vasilevskiy worked the Edmonton game. The All-Star has yielded three goals over a three-start winning streak to lower his GAA to 1.97, second in the NHL.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.