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NHL Games of the Week, March 14th-20th

MONDAY, MARCH 14TH

Florida Panthers at New York Islanders

After completing a three-game homestand that saw them go 2-0-1, the Panthers head to Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders in the first game of a three-game road trip, where they’ll have a chance to take over first place in the Atlantic Division, as they trail the Boston Bruins by just one point.  After dropping a 5-4 heart-breaker in overtime to Boston in the first game of their most recent homestand, the Panthers rebounded to crush Ottawa 6-2 and then outlasted Philadelphia 5-4 in a shootout.  This begins an important stretch for Florida in which they’ll play six of their next seven on the road, and they’re 2-0-0 against the Islanders so far this season.  Jussi Jokinen is in the midst of a 10-game point streak (2 goals, 10 assists), while Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Reilly Smith all have three-game point streaks.  Meanwhile, the Islanders may not have a chance at catching Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division, but home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs is still in play.  The Islanders are just three points behind the Rangers for second place with three games in hand, while also holding a two-point edge over Pittsburgh with two games in hand.  Following a four-game winning streak, the Isles have lost two in a row entering Monday’s contest, one of them in a shootout by a 4-3 score to Toronto, and the other by a 3-1 margin in Boston on Saturday afternoon.  Islanders captain John Tavares notched the 200th goal of his NHL career in that loss to the Bruins.  That game was tied late in the second period before David Pastrnak scored what turned out to be the winning goal with 8.9 seconds remaining before the intermission.  New York has been playing without starting goalie Jaroslav Halak since last Tuesday, when he was put on the shelf for 6-8 weeks due to a lower-body injury.

Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks

Currently in the span of four games in six days (with the next two on the road), the Kings look to expand their two-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division when they visit Chicago for their third and final meeting with the Blackhawks this season.  L.A. and Chicago split their first two meetings, with the Hawks winning 4-2 in Chicago on November 2nd and the Kings winning 3-2 in overtime on November 28th.  After winning four in a row, the Kings are just 3-2-1 in their last six games.  One of those recent wins was over the league-leading Washington Capitals, a game in which they blew a 3-0 lead before prevailing in overtime.  Their most recent outing was a 2-1 overtime loss on home-ice to the New Jersey Devils, as their power play went 0-for-5 in defeat.  Milan Lucic is currently on a five-game scoring streak (2 goals, 5 assists), while Anze Kopitar has points in five of the Kings’ last six games.  Starting with this game, Chicago is beginning a stretch where they’ll play four of their next five at home.  They’re just 1-2-1 in their last four games, 5-4-1 in their last 10, and are coming off back-to-back crucial divisional losses on the road to St. Louis and Dallas.  Those two defeats dropped them three points behind the Blues and Stars, who are tied for the Central Division lead with 91 points.  While the loss to St. Louis was by a 3-2 score in a shootout, the setback to the Stars came by way of a 5-2 score, in which Dallas built a 4-0 lead and chased Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.  The Hawks failed to convert on any of their five power plays, and also allowed the Stars to convert on two out of six man-advantage opportunities.  Jonathan Toews saw his five-game point streak come to an end, while Patrick Kane has been held off the score sheet in three of the Blackhawks’ last four games.

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 15TH

Detroit Red Wings at Philadelphia Flyers

Playoff implications are stamped all over this showdown between two teams fighting over the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, as the Red Wings are clinging to that final playoff position by a three-point margin over the Flyers heading into their only visit to Philadelphia this season.  The Flyers won the previous meeting on January 17th by a 2-1 score in a shootout.  Detroit is only 2-3-1 in their last six games, and while losing a pair of games to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in that time is nothing to be ashamed of, dropping contests to Eastern Conference bottom feeders Columbus and Toronto is not something you can afford to do at this point of the season.  In fact, their two recent victories required late-game heroics in order to pull them out.  They needed a late third period goal from Justin Abdelkader to complete a rally from a 2-0 deficit to beat struggling Winnipeg 3-2 at home last Thursday.  Brad Richards’ goal with 31.8 seconds left in regulation sent Saturday’s game against the Rangers to OT, where Darren Helm finished it off for another 3-2 victory.  How’d they follow up that two-game winning streak?  By being shut out 1-0 by Toronto at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, as Jonathan Bernier stopped all 38 Red Wings shots he faced.  In the meantime, Philadelphia has been heading in the opposite direction, going 6-1-1 in their last eight games, with their most recent contest being a 5-4 shootout loss in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers.  That tilt came on the heels of the Flyers sweeping a home-and-home with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  This week will be a crucial one for Philly if they are to make up any ground, as they immediately travel to Chicago after this game for a Wednesday match-up with the Blackhawks before hosting Pittsburgh on Saturday.  The Flyers and Red Wings will link up one more time this season after Tuesday’s contest, and that game will be on April 6th in Detroit.

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks

The Bruins begin a four-game road trip on Tuesday, with the first three happening in the state of California.  They’ll take on the Sharks for the second and final time this season following a 3-1 victory over the Islanders at home on Saturday.  Since dropping a 4-1 decision to the Lightning on February 28th, Boston has been on a roll, going 5-0-2 in their last seven games, putting them one point ahead of Florida and Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.  David Pastrnak has scored goals in three of Boston’s past four games, including a pair in Saturday’s victory over the Islanders.  His goal with 8.9 seconds remaining in the second period ended up being the game-winning tally.  With the win, the Bruins moved back to .500 on home ice for the first time since December 29th, but will look to add to their already stellar road record of 23-7-3 starting on Tuesday night.  Patrice Bergeron has points in eight of his last 10 games.  On the other side, San Jose is 6-2-0 in their last eight games, and is 15 points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for third place in the Pacific Division, so a playoff spot is pretty much a guarantee for the Sharks at this point.  Their main focus is trying to catch the Kings and Ducks, who are ahead of San Jose by three points and one point, respectively.  They’re in the midst of a stretch in which they’re playing nine out of 10 at home.  San Jose is coming off a 5-2 victory over the Capitals at SAP Center on Saturday night, denying Washington a chance to become the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot this season.  Five different players, including veterans Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, scored for San Jose and Martin Jones made 23 saves in picking up his 34th victory.  A really interesting stat from that game is how the Sharks’ ran their all-time record to 56-6-1 when both Thornton and Marleau score goals in the same game.  San Jose won the previous meeting against Boston by a score of 5-4 back on November 17th.

 

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16TH

New York Rangers at Anaheim Ducks

Following a stretch in which they won five out of six games, the Rangers have gone 2-3-1 in their last six, but still maintain a three-point edge on the Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division.  They begin a three-game road trip on Wednesday night in Anaheim, and the Rangers have balanced out an impressive home record with a mediocre mark of 16-15-4 on the road.  This trip through California will be important, especially if the Rangers are to put any distance between themselves and the Islanders.  New York is coming off tough back-to-back losses this weekend in Detroit and at home against the Penguins.  The Rangers had a lead in the final minute of regulation against the Red Wings, only to see Detroit send it to overtime and win it there.  In Sunday’s matinee against Pittsburgh, the Rangers came out flying early against the Penguins, but some stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury kept the Pens in the game, where they went ahead of the Rangers for good halfway through the third period and ended up winning 5-3.  Anaheim enters this week cooling off after a red-hot stretch in which the Ducks went 18-1-1, a run of games that included a 14-game point streak (12-0-2) and a franchise-record 11-game winning streak.  Since then, Anaheim has come back to Earth just a bit, going 0-2-1 in their last three games.  They’re coming off a 5-2 loss in St. Louis, a game in which they were tied 1-1 in the third period before allowing the Blues to score a pair of goals just 1:04 apart, giving them a 3-1 lead and allowing them to cruise from there.  Wednesday’s game against the Rangers will be the second contest of a three-game homestand and the first time they’ve played New York since a 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden on December 22nd.

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 20TH

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

Metropolitan Division rivals at the opposite end of the playoff spectrum in the Eastern Conference tangle on Sunday evening at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, as the league-leading Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet for the fourth time this season.  The Caps hold a 2-1-0 edge in the season series, and will play a pair of home games against the Hurricanes and Predators before making the trip to Pittsburgh.  Washington enters this week having completed a 2-1-1 road trip, with the last three of those games coming in California.  Their last contest was a 5-2 setback in San Jose in which they were tied with the Sharks 2-2 heading into the third period after Jay Beagle was stopped on a penalty shot late in the second.  The loss denied the Capitals a chance at clinching a playoff spot, but at this point, the only question is when Washington will clinch the Presidents’ Trophy.  They hold a healthy 12-point edge on the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues for the top overall spot in the NHL.  Meanwhile, the Penguins have a tenuous lead on the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, owning a one-point edge on the Red Wings and a four-point lead on the Flyers coming into this week.  They trail the Islanders by two points for third place in the Metropolitan Division, and are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games.  However, they suffered a huge setback when star center Evgeni Malkin was injured in Friday night’s 3-2 victory over Columbus, and the Pens have confirmed he will miss 6-8 weeks with an upper-body injury.  Pittsburgh won their first game without Malkin on Sunday afternoon, a 5-3 game that was back-and-forth following an early surge by the Rangers.  Matt Cullen got the game-winning goal midway through the third period when his centering pass went off Marc Staal’s skate and into the net.  Conor Sheary had the first multi-goal game of his young NHL career in that game as well.  Pittsburgh will have a busy week before playing the Caps, as they host the Islanders and Hurricanes and pay a visit to the Flyers before welcoming Washington to town.  Following Sunday’s contest, the Caps and Pens will then have one more meeting this season, and that will be on April 7th in D.C.

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