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NHL Playoff Races: Blues end Blue Jackets’ run at 10

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With points at a premium for teams in the NHL’s bubble races, sometimes it’s about digging deep … and maybe getting a bounce or two.

All four division leaders either hold huge or at least comfortable edges over their competitors through Saturday, so let’s focus on teams that are in more urgent battles for positioning, if not spots altogether.

Blues > Blue Jackets

After rattling off 10 consecutive wins, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell short against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 regulation decision. St. Louis is on a nice run of its own, as this gutsy win gives them five in a row.

Jake Allen ended up winning a goaltending duel with Sergei Bobrovsky, as Allen turned aside 33 out of 34 shots on goal. Vladimir Tarsenko scored a very “Vladimir Tarasenko” goal as the decisive tally:

Earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Golden Knights 2-1 via a shootout, so the Avalanche and Blues now hold the West’s wild-card spots. Each team could conceivably creep into the Central’s top three, yet they also don’t have a lot of room ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks. (Update: Minnesota ended up beating Nashville, widening its lead.)

Third in Central: Wild (defeats Nashville) – 92 points, 74 games, 38 ROW
First WC: Avs – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
Second WC: Blues – 89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW

Update – Third in Pacific:  Ducks – 89 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW
Ninth place: Kings (after loss to Oilers) – 89 points, 76 GP, 39 ROW

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Gutsy wins by Devils and Panthers

For quite some time, it looked like the Arizona Coyotes might play the spoiler against the Florida Panthers.

Florida entered the third period down 2-0, but Vincent Trocheck helped them rally with two goals, pushing him to 30 on the season. Denis Malgin ended up collecting the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 win for the Panthers, who willed their way to a big win.

The New Jersey Devils probably rank as even more impressive. One night after gutting out an overtime win against the defending champion Penguins, the Devils beat the East-leading, more-rested Lightning by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall assisted on the game-winner by Kyle Palmieri after scoring in OT on Friday, while Nico Hischier had two goals in as many nights.

Keith Kinkaid was even better closing out back-to-back wins, as he stopped 35 out of 36 shots on goal against the dangerous Lightning.

With the Atlantic top three essentially locked in and the Capitals closing in on the Metropolitan Division crown, take a look at the Metro’s other two spots, the two wild-card holders, and where the Panthers rank after a busy Saturday:

METRO2: Penguins – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
METRO3: CBJ – 89 points, 76 GP, 36 ROW

East WC1: Flyers – 88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW
East WC2: Devils – 86 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW

Ninth: Panthers – 83 points, 73 GP, 35 ROW

With three games in hand on the Blue Jackets and two on the other relevant Metro teams ahead of them, the Panthers are in a strong position to push their way into the postseason if they can keep things going.

Imagine how Florida felt going into the third. They lost their most recent game to Columbus by a humbling score of 4-0, and were down 2-0 with a four-game road trip looming. Saturday could have delivered a punch to the gut; instead, they kept fighting and demanded a big win.

Losing in regulation keeps Columbus from a) at least briefly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage and b) creating a meaningful cushion ahead of the bubble pack. They remain in third in the Metro even after this loss, but this one stings.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Underrated Barrie; Oilers’ playoff chances

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Panthers forward Denis Malgin has made more of a difference than anyone expected. (therattrick.com)

• Michael Leighton was traded to the Penguins earlier this week, but he’ll spend most of his team with their farm team in Wiles-Barre/Scranton. That’s not a problem for him because he seems pretty comfortable there already. (citizensvoice.com)

• The Bruins are starting to look like one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. (WEEI.com)

• Canadiens forward Daniel Carr is skating on his team’s fourth line, but he isn’t playing like it. (Montreal Gazette)

• Avs blue liner Tyson Barrie still isn’t getting the respect he deserves. (Mile High Hockey)

• Looking at Ottawa’s forward depth chart, it seems as though they’re at least two forwards away from being in the same class as Tampa and Toronto. (silversevensens.com)

• What’s on the Chicago Blackhawks’ Christmas wish list? (Blackhawks Up)

John Gibson and Ryan Miller have kept the Anaheim Ducks in the playoff chase so far this season. (anaheimcalling.com)

• Even though they got off to a rocky start this season, the Oilers can definitely still make the playoffs. (Oilers Nation)

• The Score looks at three European players to keep an eye on during the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship. (The Score)

• A Jets fan, who passed away last year, is being honored in a cool way. A jersey with his name on the back is expected to visit every NHL rink. (NHL.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Big centers back: Getzlaf in for Ducks, Panthers regain Barkov

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The Anaheim Ducks would probably qualify as unlucky so far in 2017-18 even beyond an extremely unfortunate bounce of a puck fracturing Ryan Getzlaf‘s cheekbone.

That loss was especially severe with Ryan Kesler already recovering, as Getzlaf missed 19 games, last appearing in a contest on that painful night of Oct. 29. The Ducks get quite the treat, then, as both Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg are slated to return as they host the Carolina Hurricanes.

Check out how much better everything fits together with the returns of Getzlaf and Silfverberg, not to mention the recent addition of Adam Henrique (line combos via the Ducks website):

Rakell-Getzlaf-Perry
Cogliano-Henrique-Silfverberg
Blandisi-Vermette-Kase
Wagner-Grant-Shaw

The Ducks are still without Kesler, and Patrick Eaves is fighting a serious physical battle that puts hockey on the backburner, so there’s still some mystery to how the Ducks might look if they can get anywhere near full-strength this season.

As is, they look a whole lot better going into Monday’s game, something the Florida Panthers could relate to.

While Anaheim’s dealt with bad luck, you could chalk up Florida’s troubles to a mix of unforced errors (jettisoning depth, particularly to Vegas) and tough breaks of their own (Roberto Luongo‘s injury issues). Either way, management will look infinitely smarter when Aleksander Barkov is in the lineup than when he’s not, so the Panthers must be happy to welcome him back tonight.

Interestingly, Left Wing Lock lists Barkov along with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, rather than Denis Malgin taking Bjugstad’s spot (Malgin received looks, at least, once Evgenii Dadonov suffered an injury).

That would be quite the top-heavy approach for Florida, even if Malgin can mesh well with Vincent Trocheck.

While the Panthers have floundered at times, the Ducks seemed like they were finally starting to crater under the pressure of all those injury losses, as Anaheim only boasts two wins (2-4-4) in its last 10 games.

It’s true that the return of Barkov and Getzlaf would be important in just about any context for their teams, but each team likely feels especially relieved on Monday, as they can use all the help they can get.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Faksa’s hot hand cools Vegas

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Player of the Night: Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars.

In a span of 6:46, Faksa scored all three of the Stars’ goals in a 3-0 win, slowing down the Vegas Golden Knights for at least one night. (That face he’s making in the post’s main image is actually a reaction to all of the gambling/”Facts of Life” puns that thankfully didn’t make it into headlines.)

This is the first hat trick of Faksa’s career. He now has eight goals this season, putting him in a position to crush last season’s career-high of 12 goals.

Troll of the Night: Glen Gulutzan

There’s believing in your team and then there’s challenging an empty-netter with less than a second remaining.

Someone should break down the environmental impact of the NHL actually having to go through the motions of doing a blog post and everything else they would normally do on this tally.

Wasted Rally

The Rangers admirably fought back from a three-goal deficit to tie things up against the Panthers, with Chris Kreider (two goals, one assist) and Pavel Buchnevich (1G, 2A) leading the way. For those who question Kreider’s efforts, consider this goal:

It was all for naught, as Denis Malgin – new addition to Florida’s top line – scored the game-winner, and didn’t even have the decency to wait until overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Bo Horvat made a great play, with bonus points for it this goal coming at John Tavares‘ expense. Save that puck, kid.

To little surprise, Tavares got the last laugh, powering the red-hot Islanders to a 5-2 win.

Malcolm Subban made some sweet saves for Vegas in a losing effort, too:

Factoids

Anze Kopitar is about as hot to start this season as he was cold in all of 2016-17, basically:

Circling back to Tavares, maybe the Islanders should stay in Brooklyn a little longer, after all?

A friendly reminder that Auston Matthews is a premium “volume shooter,” among other skills.

John Tortorella isn’t just good at landing gigs, he usually makes his presence felt.

Scores

Lightning 2, Sabres 0
Islanders 5, Canucks 2
Panthers 5, Rangers 4
Sharks 3, Flyers 1
Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)
Kings 4, Red Wings 1
Predators 3, Blackhawks 2
Maple Leafs 4, Flames 1
Oilers 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Panthers’ lethal top line lost their Dadonov

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Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is thankful that his vision guides the franchise once again, but the results for his renovation have often been pretty unappealing so far in 2017-18.

That said, the Panthers’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov has been electric, with Dadonov’s return to the NHL being a smash success. Even with some slow production for Dadonov in his past few games, he’s been outstanding by metrics both fancy and simple, including generating 18 points in 22 games. Dadonov’s addition/return sure seems to be the no-brainer highlight of an otherwise polarizing (if not just flat-out poor) summer.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury really spoils the fun for “Dad,” however, as he’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. That news comes from a variety of reports, including Panthers play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein.

Dadonov probably suffered his shoulder injury thanks to this hit by Cody Franson of the Chicago Blackhawks:

Early on, it looks like the dynamic duo of Barkov and Huberdeau will see Denis Malgin as their new winger. Malgin, 20, was recently recalled from the AHL; he scored 10 points in 47 games last season and was unable to generate a goal or an assist in five regular-season contests in 2017-18, though he was receiving less than 10 minutes of ice time per night.

Dadonov, Barkov, and Huberdeau were essentially attached at the hip at even-strength so far this season, so if there’s a drop-off with Malgin/assorted other forwards, it will be that much easier to see how much of a difference Dadonov makes.

The Panthers are taking on the Devils in New Jersey tonight. Florida’s currently ranked second-to-last in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 18 points (8-12-2). On paper, losing Dadonov will only exacerbate this team’s issues, and it must sting to see Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith stand as such strong contributors for the Vegas Golden Knights.

(Marchessault was named the NHL’s first star of the week. Ouch.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.