Welcome to the “NHL Morning Skate,” a daily collection of the latest news and notes from around the League.
THURSDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
* The Blues (idle) would become the first team to clinch a berth in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Stars lose in regulation to the Flyers AND the Coyotes lose in any fashion to the Panthers.
SNEAK PEEK AT THURSDAY’S ACTION
All Times Eastern
Minnesota @ New Jersey, 7:00 p.m., FS-N+, MSG PLUS
Dallas @ Philadelphia, 7:00 p.m., FS-SW, CSN-PH
Columbus @ Montreal, 7:30 p.m., RDS, FS-O, TSN-HABS
Tampa Bay @ Ottawa, 7:30 p.m., SUN, SNET-E, TVA
Pittsburgh @ Detroit, 7:30 p.m., NHLN-US, ROOT, FS-D
Buffalo @ Edmonton, 9:30 p.m., TSN, MSG-B
Florida @ Phoenix, 10:00 p.m., FS-F, FS-A
Washington @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m., CSN-DC+, FS-W
Anaheim @ San Jose, 10:30 p.m., PRIME, CSN-CA
PARISE MAKES FIRST VISIT TO NEW JERSEY
Former Devils captain Zach Parise returns to New Jersey for the first time when the Wild visit the Devils at Prudential Center. The 17th overall selection by New Jersey in the 2003 NHL Draft, Parise played the first seven seasons of his NHL career for the Devils, totaling 194-216—410 in 502 regular-season games before signing with the Wild as a free agent July 4, 2012.
“I’ve been excited to come back here to play, but it was one of those things, you look at the schedule in October and you’re like, ‘Ah, we’re not going there until March, I’ve got a lot of time until then,’” Parise told NHL.com. “Then it’s December and you’re still like, ‘I’ve got a couple of months.’ But then the Olympics came and went and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going there in five games.’ It really snuck up on me, but I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.”
DUCKS, SHARKS MEET IN PACIFIC DIVISION SHOWDOWN
The Ducks (45-17-7) visit the Sharks (45-18-7) at SAP Center in a battle for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Both clubs have 97 points, but Anaheim sits in first place by virtue of playing one fewer game. San Jose, meanwhile, has won two of the clubs’ first three meetings this season, but fell 6-3 in their most recent matchup Dec. 31. The teams will face off for a fifth and final time April 9 at Honda Center.
“Everybody’s aware of where we are and where Anaheim is,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “Twelve games left, so [today’s] the biggest game of the year so far.”
(Home Team in Caps)
Tampa Bay 5, TORONTO 3
CHICAGO 4, St. Louis 0
WINNIPEG 5, Colorado 4 (OT)
VANCOUVER 2, Nashville 0
CRAWFORD, BLACKHAWKS STYMIE BLUES
Corey Crawford (23 saves) recorded his 10th career shutout and second of the season to lead the Blackhawks to their fourth victory in their past seven outings (4-2-1).
* With the win, the Blackhawks (40-15-15, 95 points) leapfrogged the Avalanche (44-20-6, 94 points) for second place in the Central Division and moved within six points of the Blues (47-15-7, 101 points) for the top spot in the division/conference.
* Crawford improved to 10-2-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 15 career appearances versus the Blues, including a 7-0-2 mark at United Center. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his .767 points percentage is the highest by any active goaltender who has played in at least eight games against the Blues.
* Duncan Keith scored his second game-winning goal of the season, establishing a career high (69 GP). He had four game-winning goals in 607 career contests entering 2013-14.
* Keith leads all defensemen and ranks fourth in the NHL with 50 assists this season. His 55 points also place second among blueliners.
* Patrick Sharp assisted on each of Chicago’s first two goals for his 15th multi-point game of the season. He now has 1-9—10 in his past nine outings and is tied for ninth in the NHL with 29-39—68 this season, three points shy of his career high established in 2010-11.
* With the victory, Joel Quenneville became the third coach in NHL history to reach 700 wins. Only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782) have more head-coaching victories.
* Prior to the contest, the Blackhawks honored Michal Handzus for playing in his 1,000th NHL game. The 37-year-old native of Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, who was originally selected by the Blues in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 1995 NHL Draft, has 185-295—480 during his 15-season career.
STAMKOS’ NATURAL HAT TRICK POWERS LIGHTNING
Trailing 2-1 late in the first period, Steven Stamkos scored three consecutive goals for his seventh career hat trick and second of the season to power the Lightning to their fourth straight victory.
* With the win, the Lightning (38-24-7, 83 points) leapfrogged the idle Canadiens (38-25-7, 83 points) for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have one game in hand, but the Canadiens lead in ROW (MTL: 33, TB: 32).
* Stamkos’ three goals came in a 12:33 span over the first and second periods. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, those were the fastest three goals of Stamkos’ career, besting his previous mark of 18:40 established Feb. 17, 2009 (his only other natural hat trick).
* Stamkos now has 5-2—7, including two game-winning goals, in has past four outings and 13-12—25 in 20 career games against the Maple Leafs.
* Valtteri Filppula collected two assists to extend his point streak to six games (2-8—10). He leads the Lightning with 22-29—51 in 64 games this season.
* Tyler Johnson scored his 22nd goal of the season to move within one of the franchise record for goals by a rookie (Stamkos: 23 in 2008-09).
* Ben Bishop made 36 saves, including 21 in the third period, to improve to 33-11-6 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and five shutouts in 54 appearances this season.
WHEELER LIFTS JETS IN OVERTIME
The Avalanche fought back from three one-goal deficits, but Blake Wheeler scored at 1:42 of overtime to lift the Jets to their second victory in their last three games.
* With the win, the Jets (32-30-9, 73 points) moved within four points of the idle Coyotes (33-25-11, 77 points) for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
* Wheeler now has 1-7—8 in his past four games. He leads the Jets with 24 goals and 59 points this season, five shy of his career high established in 2011-12.
* Andrew Ladd scored twice to eclipse the 20-goal mark for the third time in the past four seasons. He also reached the 50-point milestone for the third time in his NHL career.
ROOKIES LEAD CANUCKS PAST PREDATORS
Eddie Lack made 30 saves for his fourth career shutout and Nicklas Jensen scored his first career game-winning goal to lead the Canucks to their fourth victory in their past seven games.
* With the win, the Canucks (32-30-10, 74 points) moved within three points of the idle Coyotes (33-25-11, 77 points) for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
* Lack improved to 13-14-4 with a 2.34 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and four shutouts in 34 appearances this season. His four shutouts are a franchise record for a rookie and lead all first-year goaltenders in 2013-14.
* Jensen now has 3-2—5 in seven games, including 3-1—4 in his past four outings, since being recalled from Utica (AHL) March 7.
The Blues suffered their first regulation loss to a divisional opponent this season, snapping their franchise-record streak at 22 games (20-1-2) . . . Maple Leafs forwardPhil Kessel scored his team-leading 35th goal of the season, which ranks third in the NHL. He now is two goals shy of his career high, established in 2011-12 . . . Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn posted an assist to extend his point streak to five games (3-4—7) . . . Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak collected two helpers while celebrating his 28th birthday . . . Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom (0-2—2) recorded his 200th career assist . . . Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg skated in his 400th NHL game . . . Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman played “Shoot the Puck” between periods at the Blues-Blackhawks game.
Source: NHL Media