Blues’ white-hot run matches history with 10th straight win

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Who amongst you is going to stand up and beat the St. Louis Blues?

*crickets*

At the moment, no one can stop the mighty Blues, who seem to score all the goals these days and let few, if any, by them. And it’s a run that has now matched a franchise record for wins in a row with 10 — a mark they set 17 years ago in 2002 — after a 4-0 win against the Minnesota Wild on Hockey Day In America.

The success is startling.

The Blues were 31st — dead last — on Jan. 3. Now, they’re third in the Central Division with 67 points, four points clear of the Dallas Stars and six points back of the second-place Nashville Predators with three games in hand on their division rivals.

And there are no signs of slowing. Like, zero.

The Blues came into Sunday having shutout the Colorado Avalanche 24 hours earlier with Jake Allen between the pipes. Two days before that, Jordan Binnington, a rookie sensation who has now won eight straight starts (a record for the longest winning streak by a Blues goalie), posted a 21-save shutout against the Arizona Coyotes.

Binnington to stopped all 30 shots he faced in the game for his fourth shutout of the season, and third straight game where the team has shutout the opposition.

Consider this: Binnington didn’t start his first game this season until Jan. 7 — ironically a shutout performance.

He’s now 12-1-1 in 15 appearances and has a save percentage north of .930.

As good as it’s going in the crease, it’s going just as well 200-feet yonder.

Vladimir Tarasenko has erased all memories of his slump earlier in the year and now has points in 12-straight, a career-long points streak that has seen 11 goals and 11 assists now after a three-point performance in Sunday’s win over the Wild.

The Wild, meanwhile, looked flat and disinterested.

Earlier this week, coach Bruce Boudreau promised, defiantly, that his squad would make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At this point, that appears to be wishful thinking in Minnesota.

Two nights after they blew a 4-1 lead to lose 5-4 in overtime to the lowly New Jersey Devils, the Wild put up their latest dud.

The Wild are still (barely) holding on to the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, but they have several teams hot on their heels. The loss of Mikko Koivu has proved detrimental to their cause, and neither of their goalies is doing much to help out their sputtering offense.

NBC Sports is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL Sunday tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Remaining NBC Hockey Day in America schedule:
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)


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

Devils’ Schneider wins first game since 2017 after epic Wild collapse

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Cory Schneider hadn’t won a regular-season hockey game since Dec. 27, 2017.

Not 2018. Oh, no.

2017.

A 21-game winless streak (0-17-4) and a year and a bit of frustration thanks to injury. Nobody had a bigger monkey on their back.

And when he was inserted into a 4-1 deficit to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, he wasn’t expected to end that drought either. His job was merely to relieve Keith Kinkaid, who was chased after allowing four goals on 17 shots in the second period.

But the Devils, who came into the game as the worst team in the NHL, Schneider’s appearance seemed to rally the team. Will Butcher snagged a late goal in the second frame to pull the Devils to 4-2. From there, the Devils rattled off two more in the third, including a game-tying goal by Ben Lovejoy with 2:45 remaining in the game to force overtime.

The Wild simply fell apart and Schneider’s 15 saves made sure New Jersey had a chance.

Nico Hischier supplied the overtime winner off a gaffe from Devan Dubnyk, who’s misplay of the puck summed up the second half of the game for the Wild — and utter embarrassment.

“Everyone else was probably more excited than I was,” Schneider said in a post-game interview on MSG+. “For me, it’s just nice to get a win and get two points. It’s been a long time, obviously. It’s just one, but it’s nice to get it.”

Schneider said 2018 was “just a bad year” and he was really looking forward to 2019.

“I’m my harshest critic. I’m hard on myself and I expect a lot from myself,” Schneider said. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t working. I’ve never gone through anything like that in my career, my life, to be honest.

“It seemed like no matter what I did, nothing was really going my way or working for me. I always want to play well for this franchise. For the owners and management who put a lot of faith in me and a lot of expectations on me, which is what I accept. It’s been a while, but hopefully, we can get back to try to play hockey, win games and get my career back on track here.”

So much for Bruce Boudreau’s promise of playoff hockey this season. A 4-1 lead should be an automatic win.

The Wild have been in free-fall mode for a while now, with just three wins in their past 10 games.

The loss of Mikko Koivu was deflating — devastating, really — but the team has failed to even attempt to rally around it. Look no further than Friday’s game for proof of that

Given the race for the final wildcard spots in the Western Conference, if the Wild don’t figure it out, they’re going to fall out of the playoff picture in short order.

For now, they own the final playoff berth.

Bonus content — just listen to the call on Hischier’s goal:


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

Koivu ‘totally confident’ in return from ACL surgery

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Leaning on his crutches, just six days after reconstructive surgery on his right knee, Mikko Koivu was asked if he had concern about his ability to return to the Minnesota Wild next season at age 36.

Just as if he were corralling a puck with a quick flick of his stick on a faceoff, Koivu didn’t flinch.

“Yes, I’m totally confident. I think those are just numbers,” Koivu said. “I think it’s about your effort, the way you take care of yourself on and off the ice, and at the end, it’s going to be a battle. But if you’re strong enough, you’re going to be able to do it.”

Koivu’s determination and strength has never been in doubt, but the torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus cartilage he suffered in a game at Buffalo on Feb. 5 has raised a question about the Wild captain’s future considering this major late-career injury. Koivu will enter the final year of his contract this summer, with a $5.5 million charge against the salary cap.

Factoring in the typical ACL recovery timetable, the chance is slim that Koivu will be ready to join his teammates for on-ice drills at the start of training camp.

“I think it’s too early to talk about it too much, but that’s definitely my goal,” Koivu said Thursday after the Wild’s practice, his first public comments since the collision with Sabres forward Tage Thompson .

Receiving medical clearance for the 2019-20 season opener will be an additionally hefty challenge, but Koivu, who was drafted sixth overall in 2001 by the Wild out of Finland and has topped the franchise leaderboards in several statistical categories over his 14-year career, cast his familiar steely gaze toward the daunting rehabilitation that’s ahead.

“It’s a fact that this knee will be stronger than I’ve ever experienced,” Koivu said. “The rest of it is up to me.”

The Wild are just 1-4-2 this month and 1-3 without Koivu, currently clinging to the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference . They host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, the only team they’ve beaten in February.

“We’re going to make the playoffs. That’s about as elaborate as I’m going to get,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have? Not going to happen. But we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Joel Eriksson Ek has been a productive fill-in over the last four games, but Koivu’s absence requires more than simply replacing a second-line center.

“In the locker room, outside the locker room. The little things of playing against every team’s top center, every faceoff that’s important, every time you need something,” Boudreau said.

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More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Boudreau feeling confident about Wild’s chances to earn playoff spot

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With one victory in their last seven games as they cling to the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is feeling confident about getting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and putting up a fight.

Appearing on the Paul Allen Show on KFAN Thursday morning, Boudreau went all Mark Messier on us.

“I can tell you right now; I’m not Joe Namath, but we are going to make the playoffs,” he said. “And we’re going to be somebody hard to deal with … I’m making that prediction right now.”

He followed that up later in the morning after the Wild’s skate ahead of their Friday game against the New Jersey Devils.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Boudreau said via the Star Tribune. “That’s about as elaborate as I want to get. You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have in the last month and a half? No. But we’re going to make the playoffs.”

The Wild currently have a two-point cushion as the West’s second wild card, leading a crowded pack at the bottom of the conference standings. There are six teams within six points of Minnesota, and just to show how nutty the playoff picture is even the last-place Los Angeles Kings are eight points behind.

They’ve made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but have been unable to get out of the first round since 2015. But right now Boudreau said he feels his team is “on the edge of things being really good rather than being very mediocre.”

It hasn’t been an easy second half for Boudreau or the Wild, and it should make the upcoming NHL trade deadline interesting. New general manager Paul Fenton is still taking stock of what he has as he looks to reshape the team’s future. 

“There will be some hard decisions to make come the trade deadline, but in the next 10 days or so, it will be determined by just how people play,” Fenton told Dan Rosen of NHL.com last week.

Eric Staal, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Brad Hunt, and Anthony Bitetto are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Does the value of moving any of them for future assets outweigh that of keeping them and attempting to put up a fight against potential opening round opponents in Winnipeg, Nashville, San Jose, or Calgary? They’re already without captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba for the rest of the season due to injury, and are in need of Jason Zucker picking it up offensively. The Nino Niederreiter trade is not off to a good start from Minnesota’s perspective either.

When asked if the Wild’s current cushion remains tight come Feb. 25, the day before the trade deadline, Fenton put it simply.

“Then I’ve got a hard decision to make, a very, very hard decision,” he said. “To evaluate this team the next little bit is certainly the reason that we’re having this conversation right now.”

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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.

Koivu injury further complicates trade deadline for Wild

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By Dave Campbell (AP Sports Writer)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Their hold on a spot in the playoffs hardly firm, the Minnesota Wild’s streak of six straight postseason appearances took a hit when captain Mikko Koivu tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee .

For the 35-year-old Koivu, who has never advanced past the Western Conference semifinals and has just a 16-39 record with the Wild in the playoffs, this severe late-career injury was a most unwelcome development even for a determined, intense player like him.

For the Wild, the absence of their second-line center and best defensive forward will be impossible to cover up.

For general manager Paul Fenton it created an unexpected complication to an already unclear picture about how to approach the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25. Is this a postseason-caliber team, with the opportunity to make some noise in a tournament that’s one of the most unpredictable in sports? Or are the Wild bound for mid-April vacations and a higher-than-usual draft pick? Throughout his first season on the job, well, Fenton has acknowledged his own uncertainty.

Should he try to buy and bring in a veteran center for the final push? Or start selling to restock the prospect pool? Stay tuned was Fenton’s answer to that question on Thursday morning, before the Wild hosted Edmonton.

”I’m going to watch them play here a little bit. I actually have meetings with our staff to talk about where we are and how we are going forward here,” Fenton said. ”I’m not trying to be mysterious. You guys watch our team as much and you look at the standings. Everybody is in it. It isn’t like we can say ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ or ‘You’re definitely in,’ or ‘You’re definitely out.’ It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end.”

The Wild entered play Thursday in fourth place in the Central Division and in control of the first wild card spot, with one game in hand and a three-point lead on Vancouver. They haven’t produced a winning streak longer than three games since a five-game run that ended on Oct. 29, and in the first three games this month out of their bye week they snagged just two of six points.

”It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up and to make their mark,” Fenton said.

The recently acquired Victor Rask will move up one line. Joel Eriksson Ek, who was recalled from the AHL after Koivu was hurt at Buffalo on Tuesday night, also will be heavily relied on.

”We’re really going to miss Mikko, because he might be the best player this franchise has ever seen,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”But if you sit and pout and go, ‘Woe is me,’ you’re going to be all done.”

Koivu, who will have surgery Friday, did not speak to reporters. Fenton declined to speculate on his readiness for training camp in September, but the typical recovery timeline for an ACL would put his availability for the 2019-20 season opener in doubt. That’s the final year on Koivu’s contract, with a $5.5 million salary cap hit.

In the meantime, his defense will unquestionably be missed the most.

”That’s my favorite part of his game,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.

Koivu missed just three or fewer games in eight of his first 13 seasons in the NHL. This one will be his career low for a non-lockout schedule.

”I’m sure there’s a lot of teams in the league that play against this team that are thinking that, ‘Finally, we don’t have to play against that weight and size that he brings to the game,’ because he’s a very competitive guy,” Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said. ”I’ve seen him wear down a lot of good centers.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports