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NHL Games Of The Week, March 21-27

MONDAY, MARCH 21ST

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders

The Flyers are 8-2-1 in their previous 11 games, but Saturday’s loss to the Penguins by a 4-1 score on home ice coupled with Detroit’s 5-3 win over Florida kept Philadelphia from making up any further ground on the Red Wings, as they enter this week three points behind the Wings for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Philly also got some bad news as goalie Michal Neuvirth is now out for three weeks with a lower-body injury.  That injury and the loss to Pittsburgh were a tough way to end what had been a good week for the Flyers, as they notched an important 4-3 victory over the Wings at the Wells Fargo Center last Tuesday and then followed it up with a huge 3-2 win in Chicago the following night.  With 12 games remaining and two in hand on Detroit, Philly begins a four-game road trip on Monday night in Brooklyn against the Islanders in what will be the fourth meeting of five between these Metropolitan Division foes this season.  Steve Mason will probably get the start for the Flyers, who are 1-1-1 against the Isles this season.  New York began last week with a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Florida Panthers at the Barclays Center, erasing a 2-0 deficit in the final seven minutes of the third period in a 3-2 win.  Unfortunately for the Islanders, the rest of the week didn’t go as planned, as they went 0-2-1 on a three-game road trip.  They rallied to force OT in the later stages of the third period in Pittsburgh last Tuesday before settling for one point in a shootout loss.  On Thursday, they were down 3-1 in Nashville and got a goal from Brock Nelson early in the third period to cut the deficit to 3-2.  Unfortunately for the Isles, Nelson’s goal was only one of two shots they were able to muster in the third period, and they weren’t able to complete the comeback in a 4-2 loss.  The road trip then concluded in a 3-0 loss in Dallas, a game that saw the Islanders get off to a fast start and trade quality scoring chances with the high-flying Stars, only to be stifled by Kari Lehtonen and his 27 saves.  New York has allowed the first goal in five straight games, and if they are to catch Pittsburgh and the Rangers, that’s a trend that will have to end.  The Islanders are currently in the first wild card spot with 85 points, three behind the Rangers and the Penguins, who are tied for second place in the Metro Division with 88 points.

Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators

It would be an understatement to say that the Los Angeles Kings have been on fire, as they’re on a 7-0-1 run and are coming off a week in which they ripped off four wins in a row, giving themselves a four-point cushion over Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division.  When the Kings beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Saturday at Staples Center and the Arizona Coyotes were blanked 2-0 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, they became the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth.  They started the week by defeating two of the top three teams in the Central Division, shutting out the Blackhawks 5-0 in Chicago and soundly beating the Stars 5-2 in Dallas, before coming home and picking up a 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers and their playoff spot-clinching victory over Boston.  Anze Kopitar has at least one point in five straight games, and has tallied 13 points in L.A.’s last 10 games (6 goals, 7 assists), while Jonathan Quick is 5-0-1 in his last six starts and has 37 wins this season, two short of his career-best and the second-highest total in the league.  The Kings will begin a three-game road trip in Nashville, who they’ve defeated twice this season in overtime, once at home and once in the Music City.  This will be the third and final meeting between the two, and could be a possible first round playoff preview, as Nashville holds a five-point lead on Colorado for the first wild card spot in the West with 10 games left while also residing five points behind Chicago for third place in the Central.  The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and have only two regulation losses in their last 18 (11-2-5), which has allowed them to maintain a pretty comfortable position in the hyper-competitive Central Division.  Nashville started off last week by completing a 2-1-1 swing through Western Canada, which they ended with a 3-2 victory in Edmonton.  They followed that up by taking down the Islanders 4-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday before traveling to Washington to complete back-to-back games on Friday, where they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Capitals.  Nashville will look to bounce back against the Kings in what will be the first game of a four-game homestand.  Pekka Rinne will probably get the start in this one, as he is 9-1-2 in his last 12 starts while compiling a save percentage of .937 in that time, bouncing back after going through some uncharacteristic struggles earlier this season.

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 22ND

Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks

These two Central Division foes will tangle in the Windy City for the second time in the span of 12 days and the fourth time in just over a month.  The Stars lead the season series 3-1-0 and won the last meeting 5-2 in Dallas on March 11th.  Dallas owns a two-point lead on St. Louis for the top spot in the division and a hold a four-point edge on third-place Chicago, and followed up a two-game losing streak with a pair of wins over Eastern Conference opponents at the end of last week.  They rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the third period for a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday, but it was a costly victory.  Tyler Seguin, who is tied for sixth in the league in goals (33) and points (73), suffered a cut to his right Achilles tendon in the final seconds of that victory, and he will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks.  In their first game without Seguin, the Stars got goals from Cody Eakin, Patrick Eaves, and Ales Hemsky, as well as 27 saves from Kari Lehtonen in a 3-0 win over the Islanders.  It was Lehtonen’s second shutout of the season and his first since a 3-0 win over St. Louis on December 27th, which was also the last time the Stars shut out an opponent.  Dallas captain Jamie Benn has points in five of his last seven games, and even though the Stars are very deep up front, they’ll need him to shoulder an even greater burden while Seguin is out.  Benn is third in the league in goals (36) and second only to Patrick Kane in points (80).  Speaking of Kane, his Blackhawks have been struggling as of late, going 4-4-2 in their last 10 and 1-3-2 in their last six games.  Chicago began last week by getting pasted 5-0 by the Kings on home ice and followed it up with a 3-2 setback to the Flyers at home two days later.  That pushed their losing streak to four games, which was a season-high.  The Hawks then bounced back with a 4-0 road victory over the hapless Winnipeg Jets, as former Jets captain Andrew Ladd scored in his first game in Winnipeg since being traded to Chicago a couple of days before the trade deadline.  On Sunday, the Blackhawks trailed the Minnesota Wild at home 2-0 before rallying to force overtime.  Minnesota would go on to win 3-2 in a shootout, their fourth win over Chicago in as many meetings this season.  Backup goalie Scott Darling has started three straight games, as Corey Crawford is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.  Darling has performed very well in Crawford’s absence, stopping 26 of 29 shots in the loss to Philadelphia, making 28 saves against the Jets, and then saving 32 of 34 shots against the Wild.

St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks

Two teams comfortably entrenched within the top three of their respective divisions meet up at the SAP Center in San Jose looking to improve their playoff position and make one last push for first place.  With nine games left, St. Louis trails the Dallas Stars by two points for first place in the Central Division, while the Sharks are five points behind first-place Los Angeles and just one behind second-place Anaheim.  This will be the final game of a very up-and-down five-game road swing for the Blues, who started the trip with a 5-4 OT victory in Dallas before inexplicably allowing a combined 13 goals in losses to the downtrodden Flames and Oilers.  They rebounded by dominating Vancouver 3-0, out-shooting them 50-19 and giving goalie Brian Elliott a win in his first start since February 22nd.  Elliott had missed 10 games with a lower-body injury.  Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 34th goal of the season and the 100th goal of his NHL career, putting him in a tie for fourth in the league in goals scored.  On the other side, the Sharks are 8-3-0 in their last 11 games and have won four in a row at home, a good turnaround for a team that had been struggling on home-ice for much of this season.  This contest will be the third of six consecutive games for the Sharks at the SAP Center, and they started the homestand by using a big third period to beat the New York Rangers 4-1 on Saturday, getting goals from Joe Thornton, Joel Ward, and Joe Pavelski in a 3:20 span to break open a 1-1 game.  Earlier in the week, the Sharks picked up a 3-2 win over Boston on home ice on Tuesday before dropping a 3-1 decision to the Coyotes in Arizona on Thursday.  San Jose returned the favor against the Coyotes at home on Sunday night, as James Reimer made 25 saves in a 3-0 victory.  It was Reimer’s second shutout for the Sharks since being acquired in a trade with Toronto last month, while Ward, Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl found the back of the net for the Sharks.  Thornton has been on a roll, picking up points in 11 of his last 13 games (2 goals, 11 assists), quietly having a stellar season in which he is tied for third in the league in assists (53) and eighth in points (70).  Pavelski is one point behind Thornton in points, and is in a three-way tie for fourth in the league in goals with 34.  This will be the third and final meeting between the Sharks and Blues, in addition to being the only time they’ll meet at the Shark Tank.  San Jose won the first two meetings, 3-1 on February 4th and 6-3 on February 22nd.

 

THURSDAY, MARCH 24TH

Florida Panthers at Boston Bruins

After beginning a crucial three-game road trip in New York against the Rangers, the Panthers will head to Boston on Thursday night, as they enter this week with a tenuous hold on first place in the Atlantic Division.  They currently have 89 points, two ahead of second-place Tampa Bay and three ahead of the Bruins.  Florida is 4-2-0 in their last six games, but had a pair of convincing wins over struggling Atlantic Division rivals last week sandwiched between a pair of very discouraging losses.  Last Monday, Florida had a 2-0 lead over halfway through the third period against the Islanders before allowing three goals in the final seven minutes of a 3-2 loss.  The Panthers bounced back with back-to-back 4-1 wins over the struggling Montreal Canadiens and the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs before hosting Detroit last Saturday.  In a game in which they could’ve widened their lead in the Atlantic, the Panthers blew a 3-1 lead, allowing the Red Wings to score the final four goals in a 5-3 defeat in which Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey was in attendance.  When the Panthers have won this season, the player they deem the most valuable for that night has worn a hoodie featuring Spacey’s face with a space background.  Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to pick up the win with Spacey in the crowd on Saturday night.  The game’s momentum shifted when Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk scored with 10 seconds left in the second period to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.  Teddy Purcell picked up the 100th goal of his NHL career in the loss, his second since being picked up by the Panthers in a trade with Edmonton, and his first goal as a Panther at the BB&T Center.  Meanwhile, the Bruins have cooled off following a 5-0-2 stretch.  After beating the Islanders 3-1 at home on March 12th, Boston hit the road for a three-game road trip through California, where they promptly lost all three games.  The Bruins started off the trip with a 3-2 loss in San Jose where they were tied 2-2 heading into the third period.  Three nights later, they outshot the Anaheim Ducks 38-26, but Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen stopped all 38 shots in a 4-0 Anaheim victory.  The Ducks scored two goals 1:16 apart early in the first period, and the Bruins spent the rest of the game playing catch-up.  The following night in Los Angeles, the Bruins were unable to solve Kings goalie Jonathan Quick until the third period, but were unable to find the equalizer in a 2-1 loss.  Boston will play another road game in New York against the Rangers on Wednesday before the Panthers come to town the following night.  This is the fourth and final meeting between Florida and Boston, with the Bruins winning the first three, including a 5-4 overtime win in Sunrise on March 7th.

 

SATURDAY, MARCH 26TH

Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche

In past years, one would usually find multiple teams chasing the last couple of playoff spots late in the season, but in the Western Conference, there’s only two teams battling for the final wild card spot.  On Saturday afternoon, these two teams meet up at the Pepsi Center in Denver for what will be an incredibly important contest in terms of playoff implications.  Heading into Monday night, the Wild trail the Avalanche by a single point for the final playoff position in the West, and they’re coming off a week in which they bounced back from a pair of defeats with a pair of shootout victories.  Following a 4-1 in Montreal on March 12th, the Wild dropped the final two games of their road trip, falling in OT to Ottawa 3-2 last Tuesday and losing 7-4 in New Jersey on Thursday.  With back-to-back games on tap this past weekend and points at a premium, Minnesota held off Carolina at home by a 3-2 score on Saturday in a shootout despite letting a 2-1 lead slip away with 6:51 left in the third period.  On the following night in Chicago, the Wild had a 2-0 lead in the second period, but the Blackhawks were able to tie it up heading into the third.  However, the game went to a shootout, and Minnesota prevailed by a 3-2 score for the second straight game.  Devan Dubnyk provided the Wild with some very stellar goaltending over the weekend, making 31 saves against the Hurricanes and 29 against Chicago, as Minnesota won for the fourth time in as many meetings against the Hawks, the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.  The Wild will play four of their next five games at home, and they’ll host the Kings on Tuesday night and the Flames on Thursday before heading out west to play Colorado.  On the other side, the Avalanche have won three in a row, all on the road, and six of their last eight overall.  After dropping a 3-2 decision to Winnipeg in the opening game of their four-game trip, the Avs bounced back, starting with a 3-1 win in Vancouver.  They followed it up with a 4-3 shootout win in Calgary in which they rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and then concluded the trip with a 3-2 victory in Edmonton on Sunday night.  Backup goalie Calvin Pickard made 26 saves in his first start in 15 days, while Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog returned from a three-game suspension by contributing a goal and an assist.  Landeskog was suspended due to a cross-check to the head of Ducks defenseman Simon Despres on March 9.  Matt Duchene has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is still listed as day-to-day.  Colorado will host Philadelphia on Thursday night before welcoming Minnesota to town on Saturday.  This will be the final meeting of the season between the Avs and the Wild, as Minnesota holds a 3-0-1 edge in the season series.

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 27TH

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers

The Penguins have currently assumed the role of the hottest team in the NHL right now, as they’ve won six straight and eight out of their last 10.  They began last week with a pair of home victories, 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders and a 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes.  Having occupied the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, Pittsburgh continued to make their surge up the standings with huge back-to-back wins over heated rivals.  On Saturday, they went to Philadelphia and took down a Flyers team that had been on a roll, winning by a 4-1 score.  The Penguins held the Flyers to just 17 shots on goal, the fewest they’ve ever allowed against Philadelphia in the 49-year history of the rivalry between these two teams.  They didn’t have much time to celebrate, as they returned home Sunday evening to host the Washington Capitals in what was a chippy, physical, and angry contest between two long-time rivals.  Pittsburgh roared out to a 2-0 lead early on and held a 3-2 edge in the third period before pulling away with three third period goals in a 6-2 victory.  It was the most goals scored against the league-leading Capitals this season, and it pushed the Penguins into a tied with the Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 88 points.  Sidney Crosby has been sensational since the calendar flipped over to 2016, as he has rebounded from his early-season struggles to produce at the level that we’ve come to expect from the Penguins’ captain.  Crosby is riding a 12-game point streak (6 goals, 14 assists), and currently ranks third in the NHL with 76 points.  At this rate, Pittsburgh is not in a hurry to rush back the injured Evgeni Malkin.  Before meeting up with the Rangers on Sunday, Pittsburgh will host New Jersey on Thursday and travel to Detroit on Saturday.  On the other hand, the Rangers are just 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, and are coming off a week in which they lost two out of three games on their road trip to California.  They began the trip with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, as Kevin Klein notched both goals, the first time in his NHL career that he has record a multi-goal game.  On the following night in Los Angeles, the Rangers were 4:10 away from earning a win against the Pacific Division-leading Kings, but a controversial goal by Anze Kopitar tied the game 3-3, and Kopitar would end the game when he deflected home the game-winner 1:34 into overtime.  New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist was spectacular in the loss, making 33 saves, but the Rangers were not happy that the tying goal was awarded when they felt like Lundqvist had been interfered with by Kings forward Tyler Toffoli.  That defeat seemed to carry over into the final game of the trip, as the Rangers allowed three third-period goals in a 4-1 loss to San Jose while being outshot 52-26.  Lundqvist was pulled in the third period after making 43 saves and giving up four goals.  New York has a busy week ahead, as they’ll host Florida on Monday night and Boston on Wednesday night, travel to Montreal on Saturday, and then return home on Sunday to face the Penguins.  This will be the fourth and final meeting between New York and Pittsburgh, as the Rangers trail the season series 1-2-0.

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