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NHL Games Of The Week, March 7th-13th

MONDAY, MARCH 7TH

Boston Bruins at Florida Panthers

The second and third-place teams in the Atlantic Division square off in Sunrise in a crucial divisional showdown in Sunrise, as Boston embarks on a quick two-game road trip through the Sunshine State on the heels of a 2-1-1 homestand.  Patrice Bergeron picked up the lone goal in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals, moving him past Terry O’Reilly for eighth-place on the Bruins’ all-time scoring list with 607 career points.  Boston is probably looking forward to getting back on the road, as they’re 21-7-3 away from TD Garden as opposed to their 15-16-4 mark at home.  They trail the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by three points.  On the other side, the Panthers are just 4-4-2 in their last 10.  Following a 1-3-1 road trip, they’ve fallen back to second-place by a two-point margin, thanks to Tampa Bay’s franchise-record nine-game winning streak.  Florida dropped the final game of that road trip on Saturday in Arizona by a 5-1 score, as Jaromir Jagr was held off the scoresheet, denying him a chance to pass Gordie Howe for sole possession of third-place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.  Both Jagr and Howe sit at 1,850 points.  This will be the third of four meetings between the Panthers and Bruins, as Boston has won the first two contests by 3-1 scores, one at TD Garden and the other at the BB&T Center.

Washington Capitals at Anaheim Ducks

Washington’s four-game road trip continues on Monday night as they begin the California portion of the trip at the Honda Center in Anaheim.  On Saturday, the Capitals became the first team in the NHL to reach the 100-point mark this season following their 2-1 overtime victory in Boston, and they’re the only team that has yet to lose back-to-back games in regulation this season.  Washington has gone 8-3-0 in their last 11 games, with seven of those victories coming in one-goal games.  In their last three victories, defenseman Matt Niskanen has had a hand in each of the game-winning goals, scoring two and assisting on the other, which includes Saturday’s OT winner.  Braden Holtby will probably be returning to the crease after getting a breather from Philipp Grubauer, who made 33 saves against the Bruins.  The Caps will face a stiff test in the Anaheim Ducks, the NHL’s hottest team.  The Ducks are an astounding 18-1-1 in their last 20 games, putting them in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division by two points over the Los Angeles Kings, whom they defeated on Saturday by a 3-2 score in a hotly-contested matchup.  At one point this season, the Ducks had trailed the Kings by 16 points in the Pacific Division race.  Anaheim is in the midst of a franchise record 11-game winning streak, and a win over Washington would tie Florida and Chicago for longest winning streak in the NHL this season.  One thing to watch is whether or not Anaheim can keep up their incredible pace on the power play.  During their 11-game winning streak, the Ducks have converted an astronomical 45.2% of their chances with the man-advantage.  In addition to their recent success, the Ducks are a ridiculous 25-4-3 since the NHL’s Christmas break, and with Saturday’s victory, Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau became the fastest coach to reach 400 wins in NHL history, setting the mark in 663 games.

TUESDAY, MARCH 8TH

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders

A key Metropolitan Division showdown looms as the Penguins make their first-ever visit to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in what is just the second of four meetings between Pittsburgh and the Islanders, with the Pens having won the first meeting at the Consol Energy Center by a 5-2 score back on January 2nd.  The Penguins have won four of their last six, including a 6-1 win in New Jersey against the Devils to start off a four-game road trip.  Since returning on February 27th from a 10-game absence due to a lower-body injury, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin has been on fire, tallying four goals and seven points in six games, including a pair of goals in that win over the Devils.  Sidney Crosby is on a five-game point streak, as he had a pair of assists against New Jersey, giving him three goals and six assists total during that streak.  The Pens entered the week in the first wild card spot with 76 points, one point ahead of Detroit, four ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia, and just three behind the Islanders, who are in the third place in the Metro Division.  New York is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, trailing the Rangers by only three points for second place.  This will be the Islanders’ first home game following a hugely successful seven-game road trip in which they went 6-1-0, including a pair of overtime victories.  However, their most important victory of the trip was the final one, a wild 6-4 win over the archrival Rangers in Madison Square Garden, a game in which the Isles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period before going into the intermission up 4-3.  After the Rangers tied it early in the third period, Cal Clutterbuck scored the game-winner with 1:28 left, followed by Frans Nielsen putting the game on ice with an empty-netter and giving the Isles a 3-0-0 mark against the Rangers this season.  Usually you see a team get a few games at home after a long road trip, but the Islanders will play two more on the road right after this game, so it’ll be intriguing to see how much jump they have early on against Pittsburgh.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9TH

Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

Two of the top three teams in the Central Division will clash on Wednesday night in what could be a preview of a possible playoff matchup.  Chicago is tied with Dallas at the top of the division with 87 points, but owns first place due to a higher ROW (regulation and OT wins), while the Blues are just two points back of both the Blackhawks and Stars.  Chicago has won three of their last four, but have been up and down over the last few weeks, going just 5-4-1 in their last 10.  However, they did pick up a huge 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at home on Sunday, beating their old division rivals for the second time in less than a week.  Patrick Kane scored his 38th goal just 21 seconds into the opening period against Detroit, giving him his career-best 89th point of the season.  Corey Crawford made 26 of this 33 saves in the second and third periods, giving the Blackhawks a stable presence in the back end while the Red Wings had them on their heels.  Meanwhile, the Blues have been very streaky as of late, going through a 6-0-1 stretch, then falling into a three-game losing skid, followed by a three-game winning streak.  Goaltender Jake Allen has gone 3-3-0 since making his return to the lineup after missing more than a month due to injury, including 30 saves in a 4-2 victory at Minnesota on Sunday night, a game in which the Blues jumped out to a 3-0 lead before hanging on for the win.  In fact, it came on the heels of a win in Ottawa in which the Blues blew a 3-1 lead before coming out victorious 4-3 in a shootout.  This will be the fourth of five meetings between the Blues and Hawks and St. Louis is 1-2-0 against Chicago this season, with their only victory coming in overtime.

SATURDAY, MARCH 12TH

New York Rangers at Detroit Red Wings

The Rangers entered the week with a 6-4-0 record in their last 10 games, their most recent outing a 6-4 heart-breaker at home against the archrival New York Islanders in which the two teams combined for seven goals in the opening period before the Isles notched the game-winner with less than 90 seconds left in the third period.  Eric Staal scored his first goal as a Ranger in that contest and also tallied an assist less than a week after being traded to New York from Carolina at the trade deadline.  Sunday’s game was the final one in a tough stretch in which they played three games in four nights, dropping two of those games in the process.  The Rangers hold a three-point lead on second place in the Metropolitan Division, and barring a miracle, that’s probably the best playoff position they can hope for due to the 18-point lead that the Capitals have at the top of the division.  New York will travel to Buffalo for a match-up with the Sabres on Tuesday before heading to Detroit on Saturday for their only visit to Joe Louis Arena.  This will be the second of three meetings between the Rangers and Red Wings, as the Rangers won the previous meeting 1-0 in overtime on February 21st in New York.  The Wings hold a four-point edge on Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but only have four wins in their previous 10 games.  Following their 5-3 victory over Colorado in the Stadium Series game in Denver on February 27th, Detroit then beat the Stars 3-2 in overtime in Dallas before dropping a home-and-home set with the Chicago Blackhawks, which included getting stymied by Hawks goalie Corey Crawford in a 4-1 loss in Chicago on Sunday.  Wings netminder Petr Mrazek was yanked after giving up two goals on five shots in the first period in Chicago, just a few days after giving up five goals to the Hawks in a 5-2 loss in Detroit.  Detroit will travel to Columbus on Tuesday and host Winnipeg on Thursday before the Rangers come to town on Saturday.

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