Wednesday night saw some unexpected victories from the Sabres, Kings and Canucks. Two games also went into overtime after late goals in the third, all leading up to a very busy Thursday night for the NHL.
Sabres Score Late and Score Early to Win – Buffalo Sabres 5, Boston Bruins 4 (OT)
Matt D’Agostini scored on a breakaway 22 seconds into overtime to give Buffalo their second win in two days. The Bruins overcame a one goal deficit three times before taking a lead on a powerplay goal by Milan Lucic midway through the third. It appeared that lead would hold until a goal mouth scramble with under a minute left in the game allowed Matt Moulson to tie the game at four.
D’Agostini would say the game was “one of momentum” and that it ended up being a “character win” for the struggling club.
Red Wings Grind Out Victory – Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1 (OT)
Gustav Nyquist scored his 15th goal of the season in the dying seconds of overtime to give the Red Wings the win and pull them within four points of the final divisional playoff spot. Though the Canadiens only registered 16 shots on goal through regulation, they were able to get the game into overtime after Brian Gionta backhanded a shot past Red Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard.
Howard was not happy with losing the shutout late in the game, but said that getting the two points for the win was “all that matters.”
High Scoring Kings Topple Avalanche – Los Angeles Kings 6, Colorado Avalanche 4
Anze Kopitar’s second goal of the game early in the third period would hold up as the unexpected game winner to give the Kings the victory over the Avalanche. The Kings had lost nine of their previous eleven games. but the Olympic break allowed them to right the ship and overcome a two-goal deficit in the game to get the win.
Canadian defenseman, Drew Doughty, was a force to be reckoned with during the Olympics, but had a rare quiet game against the Avalanche, registering only a lone assist on the empty net goal.
Lack Earns Shutout Over Blues – Vancouver Canucks 1, St. Louis Blues 0
Making 20 saves in the game, Eddie Lack’s third career shutout helped the Canucks get the win against the division-leading St. Louis Blues. The victory ended a seven-game losing streak for Vancouver, their longest losing streak in 15 years. Janek Hansen would score the lone goal of the ggame midway through the third period, when a pass by Tom Sestito would spring him for a breakaway.
St. Louis coach, Ken Hitchcock, was disappointed in the loss, but said the effort put forth by the Canucks was not unexpected. “They’ve been sitting here getting blasted for probably a month,” said the coach. “They’re very desperate.”
Metropolitan Foes Clash For the Last Time – Columbus Blue Jackets at New Jersey Devils:
The Blue Jackets and the Devils meet for the last time this season, and with only two points separating the two teams in the standings, the game could not be more important. Columbus should be getting a big boost to help their playoff hopes, as oft-injured winger Marion Gaborik is expected to return in this game after missing the previous 22. New Jersey veteran, Patrik Elias, is also expected to play after missing many of the Olympic games for the Czech Republic due to an illness.
Elias told the Devils official website that the illness caused fever, shortness of breath, and bronchitis, but he’s “back now and feeling well.”
Maple Leafs Visit Tavares-less Island – Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders:
For the Islanders, the sooner this season ends, the better. Their slim chance at the playoffs likely took a nosedive after it was announced that franchise center, John Tavares, would likely be out for the season. Tavares partially tore his MCL playing for Canada at the Olympics. Islanders coach, Jack Capuano, is still confident in his team’s ability to win games, but admits Tavares is a big loss.
“We had a tough enough time scoring goals before the break,” he said.
Olympian-Packed Teams Face Off – Chicago Blackhawks at New York Rangers:
Few teams sent as many players to the Olympics as the Blackhawks and the Rangers. The Blackhawks had 10 players play for their respective national teams, while the Rangers sent seven of their own. Now both teams turn their sights to the upcoming NHL playoffs, with the Blackhawks attempting to win their conference and the Rangers just trying to stay ahead of a tightly packed Eastern Conference.
Chicago defenseman, Duncan Keith, was one of the Olympians sent to Sochi, calling the experience a great one. But he knows that the focus must now be on the NHL.
“It’s all part of the business, all part of doing our job and getting focused again,” the defenseman said.
Streaking Sharks Visit Red-Hot Flyers – San Jose Sharks at Philadelphia Flyers
The Sharks and the Flyers hope the momentum built early in the month was not stopped by the Olympic break. The Flyers entered the break winning four in a row, while the Sharks have won three out of four in February. Their one loss of the month came to the Flyers, allowing four goals in the third period to lose the game, 5-2. One Flyer in particular will have something to prove, as Flyers star Claude Giroux was one of the noticeable absentees from Team Canada’s Olympic roster. Giroux had a rough start to the season, but had 11 points in the seven games before the mandated break.
Key Cross-Divisional Matchup For Top Teams – Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are hoping to keep their lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference, while the Canadiens are hoping to simply hold onto a playoff spot. The Penguins lead the conference and the Metropolitan division with 83 points, only 5 points ahead of the second-place Boston Bruins who play in the Atlantic division. Montreal holds the final divisional playoff spot for the Atlantic, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs at 70 points.
Pittsburgh captain, Sidney Crosby, had a quiet Olympic performance in Sochi, especially compared to his performance in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where it was his goal in overtime that allowed Canada to take home the gold.
Bad Blood Fuels Divisional Rivalry – Detroit Red Wings at Ottawa Senators
Long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators, Daniel Alfredsson, made headlines this past offseason by leaving Ottawa and joining the Red Wings. He claimed he made the move because he felt the Red Wings gave him a better chance at the Stanley Cup. The Senators are hoping to make him regret that choice. The Red Wings are three points ahead of the Senators in the standings.
The Red Wings won the first meeting of the season between the two teams in early December, Drew Miller scoring the game winner of that game.
Capitals Hope to Earn Needed Points in Visit to Florida – Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers
After thoroughly handling the defunct Southeast division the past couple years, the divisional realignment has put the Washington Capitals in an unfamiliar position: Out of the playoffs. They are hoping a visit to the former divisional rival will help them return to familiar ground. The Florida Panthers are likely heading for a long offseason, currently fourteenth in the conference, well out of the playoff race.
Scoring Capitals defenseman, Mike Green, is expected to return from a late January concussion in this game.
Amidst Trade Rumors, Tampa Bay Visits Nashville – Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators
Tampa Bay star Marty St. Louis is a late and unexpected addition to trade rumors that swirl around the league before the March 5 trade deadline. It all stems from St. Louis’s initial exclusion from Team Canada. Many felt his play this year warranted a spot on the team, and because Tampa Bay’s general manager was part of the management for Canada, it was assumed he was a virtual lock. His exclusion prompted St. Louis to address the Lightning management and ask about a possible trade.
Nashville begins a five-game home stand without starting goaltender, Pekka Rinne, in net. Rinne was sent to Nashville’s minor league affiliate for a conditioning stint after missing three months due to a hip infection.
Jets Hope to Stay Hot at Home – Phoenix Coyotes at Winnipeg Jets
In late December, the Jets were well out of the playoff race and struggling to find an identity. They fired their coach, Claude Noel, and replaced him with savvy veteran coach, Paul Maurice. Since that hiring, the Jets have won nine out of thirteen games and four out of five at home. The Jets now find themselves just two points behind the Phoenix Coyotes and the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Phoenix coach, Dave Tippett, knows that there are “10 or 12 teams in the same boat”, fighting for a playoff spot. He continued by saying “every game is important” down the stretch.
Dallas Looks to Continue Long Streak – Carolina Hurricanes at Dallas Stars
Few teams have dominated the Hurricanes as long as the Stars have. Dallas has won every game against Carolina played in their home arena for almost two decades. It was 1996 when the Hurricanes franchise last had a regulation win against the Stars in Dallas, back when the Carolina Hurricanes were known as the Hartford Whalers.
For the Hurricanes, their playoff hopes rest on their current five-game road swing. They lost late in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, but need to put forth a similar effort if they want to beat the Stars.
Kings Attempt to Continue Scoring Ways Against Flames – Los Angeles Kings at Calgary Flames
There were goals aplenty as the Kings faced the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. Down two goals late in the second period, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter tied the game at four to kickstart the resumed season for Los Angeles. Their penalty kill allowed three goals in that game and needs to have a better showing to get the win against the Flames.
Calgary has won the previous two meetings between the two teams, both by only a single goal, and both goals coming late in period three. They will attempt to play spoiler for the Kings playoff hopes, as their own playoff chances are slim.
Wild Look to Pick Up Easy Points Against Edmonton – Minnesota Wild at Edmonton Oilers
The Minnesota Wild know not to take any games for granted, even those against the bottom-feeding Edmonton Oilers. Only a few seasons removed from an epic collapse in the standings that saw them fall from top of the league to the bottom, the Wild are hoping this season is one where they will have better luck holding onto a playoff spot.
The Oilers are in the midst of a seemingly endless rebuild and find themselves at the bottom of the NHL this season. Though it is expected that they will be active at the trade deadline next week, Edmonton’s coach, Dallas Eakins, insists their focus is on the game against the Wild and not the future.
This article is one in a series, presented daily, which provides coverage, analysis and projections for NHL fans.
By Jonathan Gardner