Wednesday Night Hockey

Blackhawks outlast Blues in shootout win

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The chances of the St. Louis Blues going from last place in the National Hockey League just after the New Year began to finish first in the Central Division at regular season’s end took a bit of a hit on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Blues dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were punted from playoff contention a night earlier.

Wednesday’s game on NBCSN was St. Louis’ game-in-hand on the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets. A win would have put them level on 96 points with their two of Central rivals, but they only managed one point to put them on 95 with two games remaining. Essentially, they will need Winnipeg and Nashville to each drop their two remaining games and find wins in their own two remaining to steal the division crown.

Both Nashville and Winnipeg are in action on Thursday.

Jonathan Toews was the start of the show, opening the scoring in the first period off a slick feed from Patrick Kane for his 35th. The goal gave Toews a new career high, surpassing the total of 34 he set 10 years ago.

Toews then scored the only goal of the shootout to give Chicago the win.

Some figured Toews fell off last year after his worst statistical season outside of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Instead, the 30-year-old has set a new career high in goals and points and has matched a career mark in assists, needing just one more for the career-high hat trick.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

St. Louis was a stubborn bunch in this game. They trailed 3-1 in the third period thanks to Kane’s 42nd but watched as David Perron brought the game to 3-2 and then Tyler Bozak scored with 38.9 seconds showing on the game clock to force overtime.

Cam Ward got the start for the Blackhawks in what could be his final in the NHL. There’s a thought out there that the 35-year-old could hang ’em up after his 699th NHL appearance.

The start was Ward’s first in a month, with an injury keeping him out of action for a good chunk of that. Still, the veteran backstop turned aside 37 shots in win No. 333 in his 14-year NHL career.

The Blues went with Jake Allen, who made 35 saves. St. Louis plays the second half of a back to back against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and it’s expected that rookie wonder Jordan Binnington will get the call there.

St. Louis still needs to make sure they get another point, regardless of where they finish, just in case the Dallas Stars win out. Dallas (91 points) could move into third place in the division if everything went right for them and everything went wrong for the Blues.

A final note: Kane set a new career-high in points with 107, eclipsing the 106 that won him the Art Ross in 2015-16.


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: Blackhawks host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

On the morning of Jan. 3, the Blues were 15-18-4 and last in the NHL. Since then, they have gone 28-10-4 to become the seventh team since the 1967 expansion – and first in over 20 years – to make the playoffs after ranking last in the entire League at any point after Jan. 1.

Since the Blues are in the hunt for the Central crown, only one team in NHL history has won its division after sitting in last place at any point after its 20th contest: the 2007-08 Capitals, who sat in last place overall through 30 games before claiming the Southeast Division title.

The Blues remarkable turnaround makes Craig Berube a contender for the Jack Adams Award. In case you were wondering, there is precedent for a coach winning the award after taking over midseason – it has happened three times since the inception of the award in 1973-74, most recently by Ken Hitchcock of the Blues.

After rallying to force OT on Monday to keep their season alive, the Blackhawks were officially eliminated on Tuesday by virtue of Colorado’s win over Edmonton. The Oilers led that game 2-0 in the second period, but the Avs scored six unanswered goals to put a firm grasp on the second Wild Card spot. That result also eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention.

For Chicago, this now marks two straight years without a playoff appearance, three straight years without a playoff win, and four straight years without a playoff series win.

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

WHAT: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
WHERE: United Center
WHEN: Wednesday, April 3, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Brayden Schenn – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden SchwartzOskar SundqvistDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Zach SanfordIvan BarbashevAlex Steen

Vince DunnAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Carl GunnarssonRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Drake CaggiulaJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerDominik Kahun

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Dennis Gilbert – Brent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues defensemen find ways to contribute offensively

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues have found a way to go from being in the basement of the NHL standings to competing for the Central Division title all in the same season. A lot of the credit seems to go to goalie Jordan Binnington, interim head coach Craig Berube, or forward Ryan O'Reilly. All three of those individuals deserve a ton of praise for getting the Blues turned around, but we often ignore the contributions this team gets from their defense.

Heading into Wednesday’s action, the Blues are tied for lead the league (with Carolina) for goals by defesemen. Incredibly enough, St. Louis has three defenders with double-digit goal totals so far. Alex Pietrangelo (13), Vince Dunn (12), and Colton Parayko (10) lead the way in that category. Carl Gunnarsson, Jay Bouwmeester Robert Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson, and Chris Butler have also combined to find the back of the net 11 times.

“Obviously, you’re not creating those [goals] by yourself,” Dunn said after a game against the Penguins last month, per NHL.com. “The forwards did a great job pressuring them and getting the puck back when we got it in. They found us up high. The [defensemen] got their pucks through.”

It’s no secret that all of the best teams in the Central have high-end defensemen. The Predators are often considered to have the best blue line in the league, while the Jets have Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey and others. We never seem to give the Blues enough credit in that regard. Maybe a division title will change that.

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

The Blackhawks, who will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, will look to play spoiler against their division rivals tonight. There’s still a lot on the line for St. Louis, who are within striking distance of the Jets and Predators in the standings. A win of any kind would move the Blues to second place in the division and it would put all three teams at 96 points (the Jets would remain in first place because they have the highest amount of ROW).

“Obviously, it’s been a great run with all the stuff we have (went through) during this year,” winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. “It’s really good and I’m really proud of everyone on this team, how we went from last place in the League. There’s still a lot of stuff to play for. There’s no time to rest and hang on to this success. We need to improve this and keep going.”

Starting tonight, the Blues will finish the season with three games in four nights, but they’ll face three non-playoff teams in Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver.

“It’s a special group, it really is…But in no means are they satisfied,” Berube said. “That’s the feeling I get from them and that’s good. They want a lot more.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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.

Avalanche hold on, regain sole possession of final wildcard in West

In a battle for one lone playoff spot, a massive win by one contending team often demands an equal or greater response from another.

It’s either that or things get dicey.

With Arizona winning 1-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks, they drew level with the Colorado Avalanche on points for the second and final wildcard in the Western Conference. The win threw the ball back in the Avs’ court, a high-stakes game of HORSE that’s drawing ever closer to an epic conclusion after narrowly holding on to a 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Colorado seemed up to the task right out of the gate, finding goals from Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon inside the first 10 minutes of the opening period to jump out to a 2-0 lead through the first 20.

Winners of six of their past 10 outings, and with points in their previous five, the Avs kept their foot on the gas and Tyson Barrie snatched a 3-0 lead early into the second period. Barrie’s goal was his record-breaking 73rd with the franchise, ushering him past Sandis Ozolinsh for most by a defenseman.

The Golden Knights entered the night needing a single point to clinch their second berth into the playoffs for the second time in their two-year existence. Despite not having Marc-Andre Fleury due to injury, the Malcolm Subban-led Knights had done an admirable job holding the fort in his absence with 10 wins in their past 13 games.

And like a team running hot, Vegas stormed back following Barrie’s goal, striking twice through Paul Stastny and Reilly Smith to pull them to within a goal.

Gabriel Bourque restored the two-goal cushion late in the period, a goal that survived a challenge for goaltender interference.

Vegas poured it on in the third, firing 15 shots on Philipp Grubauer (who ended his night with 34 saves). One beat him — an Alex Tuch swat out of mid-air that made for a nail-biting finish for the Avs.

Vegas had several chances when they pulled Subban as a full-frontal assault came the way of the Avalanche net. Adding to the drama was a penalty to the Avalanche with eight seconds left gave Vegas one final chance.

This is how close Jonathan Marchessault came to tying the game, grabbing a point that would have snagged a playoff spot for the Golden Knights.

Arizona’s win and Colorado’s response only adds to the hype train rolling into their meeting on Friday, a game that could very well decide the race if Colorado is to win or one that will write another chapter if Arizona can continue to defy all expectations.

They don’t get bigger than that down the stretch.


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

Pastrnak’s five-point night helps Bruins tighten hold on second place

Give David Pastrnak the games back that he missed due to injury and it’s more than likely he’d be challenging the Alex Ovechkin and a couple others for the Rocket Richard.

Hell, he might be flirting with a 100-point season, too.

Alas, he’ll have to settle for a new career-high in goals after a magical night.

Gifted does not do Pastrnak justice and doesn’t begin to describe his goal-scoring abilities, and he put another show against the New York Rangers on Wednesday Night Hockey, sniping his third hat trick of the season in a five-point effort that as the Boston Bruins doubled up the Rangers 6-3 on NBCSN.

Pastrnak scored a goal in each period, included two power-play markers and another on the second line after a little line juggling saw Pastrnak move down to play with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk while Bruce Cassidy experimented with new linemates for Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the latter who contributed three assists in the game.

Pastrnak’s goals were his 34, 35 and 36 of the season, surpassing the 35 total he scored last year.

For good measure, ‘Pasta’ added a pair of assists to give him 77 points in 61 games this season. His third hat trick of the current campaign was the first time a Bruins player had achieved the feat since Cam Neely did so 25 years ago during the 1993-94 season.

The win, coupled with the Toronto Maple Leafs only managing to get a point against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-4 shootout loss, means the Bruins move six points clear of their Atlantic Division rivals, and will likely have home-ice advantage when the two teams inevitably meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s a big deal given that Boston has now won 12 straight at TD Garden.

The Rangers brought the game to 3-2 in the third period before penalty trouble ultimately sealed their fate later in the frame.

Mika Zibanejad scored twice, goals No. 29 and 30, for the lone silver lining for the Blue Shirts, who have won just twice in the month of March.

Henrik Lundqvist put himself in the save of the year conversation with his dandy in the first period.

Lundqvist made his 50th appearance for the Rangers this season, making him the seventh netminder in league history to have appeared in at least 50 games in at least 12 different seasons, joining a pretty elite crew of puck stoppers.

He is one win shy of 450 in his NHL career.


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