I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
The surging Chicago Blackhawks took the Central Division lead last night, but the Minnesota Wild got it right back on Sunday.
In doing so, Minnesota also regained the lead in the Western Conference, so it seems especially fitting that the Wild beat the Pacific-leading San Jose Sharks 3-1 in the process.
It was a tight one, with Devan Dubnyk gaining sole possession of first in the NHL with his 35th win of the season. Dubnyk and Martin Jones played well (there was even a jersey save), while each squad seemed to contain two dangerous offenses. For the most part.
Here’s a quick look at the race for the top spot in the Central, and thus the West:
1. Wild – 90 points in 63 games
2. Blackhawks – 89 points in 65 games
While Minnesota’s margin of error is smaller than they might have expected, they showed tonight that those games in hand could make a difference. And, hey, they got Zach Parise back from that mumps issue …
Things were looking a bit glum for the Pittsburgh Penguins after the first period on Sunday.
The Buffalo Sabres built a 3-0 lead, chasing Matt Murray in the process. A would-be 1-1 goal missed by a hair. It looked like the Columbus Blue Jackets would fatten their lead over second place in the Metro.
Of course, the headline gives it away: that didn’t happen. Good thing they still have Marc-Andre Fleury and a willingness to fight through their mistakes, as they rallied back to win 4-3 tonight.
(Doing so in regulation is that much more impressive.)
Fleury was a big part of that rally, making 28 saves during two periods of perfect relief work. As you’d expect, other Penguins chipped in to come back from that 3-0 deficit.
Justin Schultz continues his remarkable career turnaround, enjoying the best statistical night of any Penguins skater.
He scored a goal and two assists to help trigger that comeback, though Conor Sheary and Evgeni Malkin also deserve special mentions considering their one-goal, one-assist nights.
Despite nine shots on goal, Sidney Crosby didn’t register a point, which is just another reason why this win should hearten the Penguins as they ready for what could be a difficult road ahead as defending champions.
Speaking of which, most teams likely realize this and it’s easier said than done, but this game provided more evidence that it’s foolish to get in a track meet with this attacking team.
It’s also foolish to expect the Penguins to roll over, even when they dig themselves a big hole.
Sergei Bobrovsky might make an already competitive Vezina Trophy race crowded. If nothing else, he’s doing things that no other Columbus Blue Jackets goalie has managed.
Bobrovsky set a new franchise record on Sunday, grabbing his 34th win of 2016-17. He’s already won a Vezina for the Blue Jackets, but faced some rocky times between that honor in a shortened season and this record-breaking year.
With about a month left, “Bob” could make it pretty tough for anyone to set a new wins mark for Columbus … perhaps himself included.
Bobrovsky’s 34 wins aren’t just impressive compared to previous Blue Jackets goalies; he’s tied for second place in that category, with only Devan Dubnyk having more at 35.
Looking at things from a more recent perspective, he’s on a hot streak in the short term, too.
He’s now on a two-game shutout streak after Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets blanked the New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Sunday.
After a 38-save masterpiece to shut down the Minnesota Wild, it was a little easier for Bobrovsky this time around, as he made a 20-save shutout. This streak represents some of his best work, sticking with the theme:
As much as the Blue Jackets’ success is about the team being able to deploy waves of quality scorers at opponents, don’t forget about the impact of a healthy Bobrovsky.
There’s been quite a bit of bad news for the St. Louis Blues lately, but winning tonight could help to turn things around.
Sure, they’ve lost five in a row and trail the Nashville Predators by six points for third in the Central, but they also hold two games in hand. Yes, they trail the Kings by a point for the first wild card spot, but St. Louis holds two games in hand on them, too.
So, yeah, things could look sunnier … if they beat the Colorado Avalanche on NBCSN tonight.
If not, they’d cede part of those advantages and lose to easily the worst team in the NHL. So the stakes are pretty high for the Blues tonight.
In addition to catching the game on NBCSN, you can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.
Sunday presented at least two instances of double-take near-goals. Moments that made for some challenging video reviews, just in time for this week’s upcoming GM meetings.
Chris Stewart sure seemed to believe that he put the Minnesota Wild up 2-0 against the San Jose Sharks, and Martin Jones didn’t seem to know what happened … although he showed the wherewithal to keep this in the jersey save category, even if save maybe deserves a question mark.
The league provided a pretty straightforward explanation:
At 12:45 of the first period in the Sharks/Wild game, video review confirmed the referee’s call on the ice that the puck did not cross the San Jose goal line. No goal Minnesota.
The Wild seemed to shake that setback off pretty well, as Eric Staal made it 2-0 for real with a goal a few minutes later. San Jose did get one goal back to end the first, however.
The Sharks – or at least the people behind their Twitter feed – believe that this was highlight reel material.
(Jake McCabe‘s save might warrant a higher spot on said “Top 10,” though.)