Now that it's late February and the American sports calendar is changing, Sunday is becoming a showcase day for the NHL. The New York Rangers extended their lead atop the Eastern Conference, while the Florida Panthers attempted to further the movement to abolish the Southeast Division from hockey.
The Bruins put 48 shots on target on Sunday, but Nicklas Backstrom stopped all of them. Despite the volume of chances created by Boston, Minnesota Wild blog Hockey Wilderness felt like their team executed its gameplan perfectly.
Primed for a big game on national television as part of Hockey Day in America, the Wild came out and stayed with the defending Stanley Cup champions step for step, shot for shot through two periods. Each hit was accounted for, each loose puck was fought for, each shot was defended and rebounds were cleared. The Wild showed what they can do when they plan their work and work their plan.
Anaheim Ducks 2-0 Florida Panthers
The Ducks looked like they were going to be sellers at the deadline a couple of weeks ago, but at this rate Bobby Ryan isn't going anywhere. Anaheim is creeping back toward a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers are 23rd in the NHL in goal differential but seeded third in the Eastern Conference playoff race. What a sport! Anaheim Ducks blog Anaheim Calling had praise for goalie Jonas Hiller after the match.
Jonas Hiller has been one of the biggest reasons the Ducks are surging in the second-half. In several games, the Anaheim netminder has played well enough to earn the shutout, but things just haven't panned out that way. Tonight, however, Hiller stonewalled the Panthers all night, and the Ducks provided just enough offense to secure two more points on their current road trip.
Hal Gill had a solid debut for the Preds in their win, and they appear to be cruising into the playoffs. Still, Nashville Predators blog On The Forecheck has some concerns and would like to see their team trade for a center at the deadline.
The opening goal for Dallas made for a perfect example why, for the playoff run, I'd love to see the Preds add an experienced center (as opposed to wing) and allow Craig Smith to stay on the wing, where his defensive responsibilities are simpler. As the Stars worked the cycle and Ribeiro carried the puck behind the Nashville net, Smith made a poor decision to leave his man (Ryder) alone in the slot to help out Kevin Klein with Ribeiro. A pass right through Smith gave Ryder a slam-dunk opportunity from right between the faceoff circles, and he delivered. If Smith stays on his man, that's just a weak wraparound attempt by Ribeiro.
New York Rangers 3-2 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Rangers were better than the Blue Jackets for the vast majority of their game, but soon-to-be-not-Blue-Jacket Rick Nash saved the day for his team and forced overtime with a late goal. And then his teammates screwed it up. New York Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter explains.
None other then Rick Nash would tie the game with just over a minute remaining in the game. The goal would force the game to overtime, where the Rangers would work their magic. It would only take 22 seconds for this game to be decided as Marian Gaborik, Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan would connect for the game winner.
Del Zotto made a great effort to force the puck out from behind the net, where it would land on Gaborik's stick. Gaborik would fire it cross-ice to a wide open Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto showed great patience and slipped it over the Derek Stepan, who tapped it into the wide open net for the win.
Fun fact: The Winnipeg Jets are one point out of the lead in the Southeast Division. I don't know if it's dumber that the Winnipeg Jets are in the Southeast or that the Southeast actually gets a playoff spot. In any event, Winnipeg were good on Sunday and the Avs were bad. Winnipeg Jets blog Arctic Ice Hockey, take it away.
The difference between the team that lost 3-1 to the New York Islanders last Tuesday and the team that just reeled off three-straight impressive wins is very easy to see. Following that disappointing effort earlier in the week, the Winnipeg Jets have managed to turn around their fortunes in a big way and it all culminated in tonight's 5-1 dismantling of the Colorado Avalanche. The newly-formed top-6 continued to produce at an astonishing rate, as Ladd's Little Wheeler combined for eight points tonight while Burmi's Wellwood Kane added another five. Not to be outdone, much maligned (at least by me) defender Dustin Byfuglien added two power-play helpers while leading the team in ice-time at with 21:56.
Roberto Luongo got a rest on Sunday, with his highly talented backup Cory Schneider getting the start. As Vancouver Canucks blog Nucks Misconduct explains, Schneider wasn't great, but he did enough to get the win as the Canucks gave him plenty of help on the other end of the ice.
Cory Schneider was not at the superb, eye popping level he has been at lately. He looked a little shaky on a couple shots, and the two goals were both ones that he has stopped before. He was across on the Paarvaji goal in time, but it trickled through. He had a couple of malfunctions with the puck when he left the net. But he still got the win, he still stopped everything that came at him when the Oilers felt some brief hope at 2-1 and 4-2. This was not one of his best. But it was a win that he earned as much as his team.