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WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

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: Kane’s streak hits 19 games

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha

This edition of three stars will consolidate a would-be top six into three. Go ahead and play some thematic Judas Priest.

While the Red Wings fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Blackhawks, Mantha was the most impressive part of a great effort by Detroit’s top scorers. Mantha generated a whopping four assists, also firing a robust seven shots on goal. The massive winger’s really been assertive lately, as he’s fired 20 SOG in his past three games. Even Alex Ovechkin thinks Mantha’s being a handful for goalies, right?

(As a bonus, three of Mantha’s four assists were primary ones.)

Dylan Larkin probably ranks as the real second star, but let’s just mention him in the Mantha entry. Larkin scored two goals and one assist, and actually topped Mantha with nine SOG. Lakin now has 58 points in 60 games, leaving him just five away from last season’s career-high of 63.

Andreas Athanasiou rounded out that dominant output from that top Red Wings line with two goals, including the one that sent that game to OT.

2. Carl Soderberg

You have to grasp straws to make much of a difference between the most productive Avs of the night, as both Soderberg and Tyson Jost enjoyed one-goal, two-assist Wednesday evenings as Colorado crushed Winnipeg 7-1.

Soderberg’s numbers are slightly better, though. Soderberg’s plus/minus (+4) was one up from Jost’s +3, and Soderberg fired five SOG to Jost’s 3.

If the likes of Soderberg and Jost can take the heat off of top scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, that the Avalanche become pretty scary. (That combo was pretty deadly in their own right on Wednesday, though.)

3. Erik Gustafsson

It’s tempting to name Patrick Kane as the third star of the night, at least while “Breaking the Law” here with actually-a-more-than-top-three.

Let’s consider this the last double-starring, then, because Gustafsson generated more points (three, all assists), while Kane scored two nice goals, including a swaggery OT-winner.

We’ll get deeper into Kane’s honestly kind of mindblowing achievements later on, so this seems like a nice opportunity to note that the Blackhawks have unearthed another gem in Gustafsson. The 26-year-old somehow has 41 points in just 58 games this season. While his 12 goals come from some luck (11.4 shooting percentage, which is very high for a defenseman), you can also clearly see that he’s a slick, creative player.

Gustafsson’s assist on Kane’s OTGWG illustrates that, so enjoy these highlights:

The Swede is now the first European-born defenseman in Blackhawks history to break the 40-point barrier in a single season.

Highlight of the Night

The Nate Schmidt goal that sent Bruins – Golden Knights into OT probably takes the cake for the best goal of Wednesday, but enjoy the full highlights of that game for your trouble:

Questionable hit

Should Cal Clutterbuck receive supplementary discipline for this hit?

Factoids, Kane on fire edition

Patrick Kane didn’t just extend his point streak to 19 games, he did it with aplomb. Kane scored two goals against the Red Wings, including the overtime game-winner.

When you think of a 19-game point streak, you probably picture quite a few games where a player barely gets there, like having one hit during an epic baseball streak. Instead, Kane keeps knocking it out of the park; he has an astounding 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points. That’s more than he managed during a longer 26-game point streak earlier in his career, when he managed 40.

There are other ways to break up Kane’s red-hot streak. He also has an 18-game road point streak going; only six different players have enjoyed longer road-runs.

Kane’s now at 350 goals for his career, and his 920 points is the most for a U.S.-born player through their first 12 seasons.

Scores

CHI 5 – DET 4 (OT)
COL 7 – WPG 1
CGY 4 – NYI 2
BOS 3 – VGK 2 (SO)

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.

Sharks survive third-period Avalanche, hold on in 5-4 win

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Spotting yourself a 4-1 lead should be easier than that, right?

The San Jose Sharks certainly made things interesting for themselves, and downright hairy nearing the end of their 5-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Sharks were rolling up to the 16:33 mark of the second period. After Avs forward Matt Calvert tied the game 1-1 in the first, the Sharks rattled off three unanswered as Colorado when into full-blown implode mode.

Something like this:

The Sharks were beneficiaries of some suspect goaltending from Philip Grubauer, who gave up four goals on 14 shots and was pulled after Joonas Donskoi‘s goal made it 4-1. That meant rookie Pavel Francouz was sent to the wolves.

Instead, the Czech netminder steadied the ship (after allowing Lukas Radil‘s fifth of the season, of course), making 12 of 13 saves to give the Avalanche a shot at a comeback.

And they tried their darndest to end their five-gaming losing streak, which instead extended to six games in the loss.

Tyson Jost scored his first of two goals in the game while the other Tyson, Tyson Barrie, notched one of his own to put the Avalanche to within one.

The game came down to the last second, literally.

Nathan MacKinnon, announced as an NHL All-Star along with fellow forward Mikko Rantanen earlier on Wednesday, had the tying goal on his stick when Martin Jones, who couldn’t make a save to save his life in the third period, made the only one that mattered in the end, shutting the door from point-blank range to preserve the lead.

Colorado’s near-comeback took a bit of the shine away from both Joe Pavelski‘s and Brent Burns‘ four-point effort. Pavelski’s goal and three assists were paramount for the Sharks, including his third apple on Lukas Radil’s eventual game-winner (which came off a broken play that turned out good in the end).

Burns, meanwhile, had the same stat line, contributing on the first four Sharks goals.

The loss meant a demotion to a wild card spot for the Avalanche, who were overtaken by the victorious Dallas Stars.

San Jose, meanwhile, moved within three points of the Pacific Division summit with the win.

Here’s what Pavelski had to say after this one:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks and Avalanche meet for the first time this season in a matchup of teams that would each be in the playoffs if the season ended today but enter the new year on very different paths. San Jose won nine of 15 games in December (9-4-2) including a 7-2-2 stretch in its last 11. Colorado, on the other hand, is mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and has lost nine of its last 11 games (2-6-3).

San Jose has been streaky over the last five weeks or so, losing four straight at the end of November into December followed by winning seven of eight and then losing three straight prior to Christmas before winning two in-a-row ahead of Monday’s loss.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 23 goals. The 34-year-old finished with 22 goals last season in a full 82 games. Pavelski picked a good time to be on a career pace (on track for 46 goals – career high is 41 from 2013-14), since he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Avs are led by their trio – what was known as the MGM line – of Landeskog, last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up in MacKinnon and rising star Rantanen. Like the team, the three of them have come a long way since Colorado’s disastrous 2016-17 season when they finished last in the NHL.

Rantanen ranks second in the NHL in points and MacKinnon sits third. Not since Evgeni Malkin (1st) and Sidney Crosby (3rd) in 2008-09 has a pair of teammates finished in the top three in scoring in the same season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin LabancBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

AVALANCHE
Tyson JostNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
Gabriel LandeskogAlex KerfootJ.T. Compher
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque – Sheldon Dries – Logan O’Connor

Sam GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeTyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth – Ryan Graves

Starting goaliePhilipp Grubauer

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Sharks-Avalanche from Pepsi Center.

Avalanche search for answers during slump

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Asking just a few top players to carry you through an 82-game season might make sense to, say, the CEO of the Dallas Stars, but such a strategy rarely works out over the long haul in the NHL.

Even so, for much of 2018-19, the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog seemed like they might just carry the Colorado Avalanche to greatness, or some place close to that.

At one point, the Avs were hot enough to be in the running for the Central Division crown, firing off to a 15-6-4 start by late November. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Sharks, they’re now in a soul-searching period, as a five-game losing streak pushed them to 19-13-8, good for third in the Central.

Let’s ponder some of the questions Colorado is facing as they get ready to host the Sharks on Wednesday.

[Sharks – Avs preview]

Loading up versus finding balance

Amid these struggles, the Avalanche have chosen to break up that vaunted top line, at least briefly.

Tyson Jost now finds himself with MacKinnon and Rantanen, while Landeskog slides to the second line with Alexander Kerfoot and J.T. Compher.

The ideal scenario would be that such splendid linemates might unlock Jost’s potential as the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, while Landeskog could conceivably give a so-so second-line a big boost of skill and snarl.

Most realistically, this tweak provides another test run in the debate about loading up a top line versus spreading the wealth.

Speaking of wealth, it actually brings some alternate experimentation to mind: would the Avalanche be wiser to see how Rantanen and MacKinnon might operate running their own lines?

Beyond potentially giving Colorado greater balance, they’d maybe get a better idea of Rantanen’s true value. The 22-year-old will see his rookie contract expire after this season, and while a big payday is basically inevitable, the Avs might want to know a little bit more about what Rantanen can accomplish on his own.

Consider that, since his breakthrough 2017-18 season, Rantanen’s lined up for more than 1,500 even-strength minutes with MacKinnon, and only about 150 without him, via Natural Stat Trick. His ice time is nearly the same with Landeskog, and those trends carry over to the power play, too.

None of this is to say that Rantanen owes his production to MacKinnon. It’s most likely akin to Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin: two dangerous scorers who become even more dangerous together.

It behooves the Avalanche to get a better idea of their optimal lineup options. Would Landeskog work better with Rantanen or MacKinnon, or totally separate? Is it better just to load up? Would having the last change make a difference in home versus away situations?

A bad cold streak is tough to spin, yet if they gather some useful intel, there could be quite the upside. Especially if they get an impact player from the 2019 NHL Draft thanks to Ottawa’s pick, thus opening the door for even greater things.

(Sorry, Senators fans.)

Questions in net

Heading into 2018-19, signs pointed to (traded for and extended) goalie Philipp Grubauer transitioning to a starting job, while Semyon Varlamov and his expiring deal being phased out. Instead, Grubauer has struggled, while Varlamov’s snared a greater share of the starts (25 to 15).

Varlamov is injured, so Grubauer gets a chance to get back on track against the Sharks on Wednesday.

There are worse goalie situations around the NHL, but Colorado’s remains hazy.

Somewhere in between

It’s possible that the Avalanche were playing over their heads, and gravity is starting to take over.

By many measures, they’ve been a bottom-third team from a possession standpoint, but they haven’t really been under water to a totally disastrous level. In a way, it’s fitting that their PDO is an even 1.00, basically the indicator of flat-average luck. At the moment, they might simply fall into the middle of the pack, and finding better balance really could be crucial.

Beyond all that, this is a young team, with its best players in their prime years. Those fresh legs could pay off, particularly at high elevation, and those young players could pay greater dividends as they learn the ropes and become more confident.

Getting things going early in 2019 could be a great help, by the way. After two home games including Wednesday’s match with the Sharks, the Avalanche will face a five-game road trip.

While failing to get back on track could make for a damaging stretch, the Avalanche could learn a lot about themselves as they try to earn a second straight playoff berth.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.