Sports

 
National Hockey League

 
      ***** National Hockey League Previews from The Sports Network *****
                               Thursday, March 26
                              (All times Eastern)
 
 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (40-22-11) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (26-36-10), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins take aim at just their second
 win in seven games when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes for Thursday's
 Metropolitan Division clash.
 
 With 91 points, the Penguins are likely headed back to the postseason for a
 ninth consecutive spring, but the club hasn't been playing at a high level
 lately. Pittsburgh has lost five of six and has scored a total of seven goals
 during that stretch.
 
 However, the Pens have picked up points in two straight, following up
 Saturday's 3-1 win at Arizona with Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss against
 visiting St. Louis. Pittsburgh did hold a 2-0 lead over the Blues at one
 point, but eventually lost when Alex Steen recorded the game-winner just 35
 seconds into OT.
 
 Former Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek set up the winning play, as he held
 the puck at the right point, raised his stick and faked a shot before slapping
 a cross-ice pass to Steen for a successful deflection.
 
 "The OT goal was my fault," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy admitted. "(Steen)
 got inside position, and I can't let that happen."
 
 Blake Comeau and Steve Downie lit the lamp for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre
 Fleury suffered the setback despite stopping 32 shots.
 
 The Penguins suffered just their third regulation defeat and fifth overall
 this season when scoring first, dropping to 17-3-2.
 
 Pittsburgh star forward Evgeni Malkin missed his fifth straight game Tuesday
 with a lower-body injury and is not expected to be back until the weekend when
 the Pens host Arizona and San Jose on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
 Fellow forward Patric Hornqvist has sat out the last four tilts with an
 undisclosed injury and could also return this weekend.
 
 Malkin leads the Pens with 28 goals and is second on the team to captain
 Sidney Crosby with 64 points. Hornqvist has 23 goals and 22 assists for
 Pittsburgh.
 
 The Pens are third in the Metro Division. They are two points behind the New
 York Islanders and three in front of the Washington Capitals, who hold the
 first of two wild card spots in the East.
 
 Carolina beat the Penguins on the road to begin the season series on Nov. 28,
 but Pittsburgh answered with a win the following day to split the home-and-
 home set. The Pens also notched a 2-1 regulation win against a visiting
 Hurricanes' club on Dec. 31, handing Carolina its seventh loss in the last
 nine meetings in this series.
 
 Pittsburgh has won four straight in Raleigh and owns a 19-10-7 road record
 this season.
 
 The Hurricanes, who have been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race,
 have lost their last four games (0-2-2). They are just 2-6-3 in 11 games this
 month.
 
 Carolina did put forth a strong effort Monday night against visiting Chicago,
 but Corey Crawford was able to steal a win for the Blackhawks.
 
 The Hurricanes fired 44 shots on net in the 3-1 loss and Crawford shut out
 Carolina in the third period with 15 saves over the final 20 minutes.
 
 The Blackhawks led 2-0 after the first period, but Carolina cut the deficit in
 half early in the second period on a goal from Victor Rask. Crawford, however,
 was able to keep the 'Canes off the boards the rest of the way. He stopped 18-
 of-19 shots in the second period alone.
 
 Anton Khudobin stopped 22 shots for the Hurricanes, who will miss the playoffs
 for a sixth straight season.
 
 "We weren't sharp early, not sharp," said Carolina coach Bill Peters.
 
 The Hurricanes are 0-1-1 at the start of a five-game homestand and 15-15-6 at
 PNC Arena this season.
 
 NEW JERSEY DEVILS (31-31-11) AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS (39-24-10), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Capitals hope to rebound from a shutout
 defeat when the well-rested club hosts the New Jersey Devils in Thursday's
 Metropolitan Division battle.
 
 The Capitals have been idle since closing a three-game road trip on Saturday
 with a 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Washington had won three in a row before
 getting blanked by Ondrej Pavelec and the Jets.
 
 Despite the loss and the recent down time, Barry Trotz's club still is holding
 onto the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, where they
 sit three points ahead of red-hot Ottawa. The Caps also are three points in
 back of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metro. The Pens visit Carolina
 tonight, while the Senators are hosting the New York Rangers.
 
 Braden Holtby turned aside 21 shots on Saturday for the Capitals, who were
 shut out for the fourth time this season. Washington allowed a goal in each
 period and went 0-for-3 on the power play.
 
 "I thought we were playing really good in the first period," said Trotz. "But
 then they got that second goal in and it seemed like we were chasing a lot. We
 had some quality chances, but just couldn't get anything past Pavelec."
 
 Beginning with tonight's tilt, Washington is playing two straight and three of
 its next four on home ice. The Caps are 20-11-5 at Verizon Center this season.
 
 New Jersey, meanwhile, has just about run out of steam in its playoff push
 after losing its last two games in regulation. The Devils, who have missed the
 postseason in two straight years since making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in
 2012, are 12 points out of playoff spot in the East with only nine games left
 on their schedule.
 
 The Devils were shut out 3-0 by the New York Islanders on Saturday and then
 lost the second part of a two-game homestand in Monday's 3-1 setback versus
 the Los Angeles Kings. New Jersey had won three straight before the two-game
 slide.
 
 The Kings grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period and New Jersey was never able
 to recover. Scott Gomez cut the deficit in half in the second stanza, but Anze
 Kopitar restored Los Angeles' two-goal edge just over five minutes into the
 third.
 
 Cory Schneider stopped 30 shots in the loss
 
 "For us to come out like that, it's tough," said Schneider. "It was just not a
 good start."
 
 New Jersey is just 13-19-3 on the road this season, but has won two straight
 away from the Garden State. The Devils will visit Carolina on Saturday and
 tonight's test begins a stretch of three road tilts in four games.
 
 Washington has won three of four meetings versus the Devils this season, but
 New Jersey's lone win came on Nov. 14 in D.C., marking the club's fifth win in
 the last eight encounters at Verizon Center. Schneider posted a 30-save
 shutout in that meeting and is 3-4-0 with a 2.10 goals against average in his
 career against the Caps.
 
 Holtby is 5-3-1 with a 2.01 GAA in nine lifetime outings versus the Devils.
 
 LOS ANGELES KINGS (36-23-14) AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS (44-25-5), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Los Angeles Kings will try to pick up a third
 straight win at the start of an important road trip when they visit the New
 York Islanders for Thursday's clash at Nassau Coliseum.
 
 The defending Stanley Cup champions are in a tight race for a playoff spot out
 West and a 2-0 mark to begin a five-game swing has helped their chances. Los
 Angeles posted a 3-1 decision in New Jersey on Monday before beating the New
 York Rangers, 4-2, the following night in a rematch of last spring's Cup
 Finals.
 
 L.A. is two points out of the last wild card spot in the Western Conference
 and just one behind Calgary for the third postseason berth from the Pacific
 Division. The Kings have a game in hand to use over the idle Flames tonight.
 Los Angeles also has played one fewer game than the Winnipeg Jets, who hold
 the last wild card berth and are hosting Montreal on Thursday.
 
 The Kings, who beat New York in six games for their second Cup in three
 seasons, dealt the Rangers just their second loss in nine outings on Tuesday
 night. Jonathan Quick led a strong all-around effort with 34 saves, while
 Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter, Robyn Regehr and Jake Muzzin provided the goals.
 
 "It does seem like we do play good hockey when our backs are against the
 wall," said Kings center Anze Kopitar. "We dug ourselves a hole, so we've
 gotta climb out of it."
 
 Kopitar recorded two assists to extend his point streak to four games. The
 Slovenian star has compiled 11 assists and 14 points over his last 11 outings
 and is leading L.A. with 59 points this season.
 
 The Kings have won five of their last six road games, improving their away
 record to 14-14-7.
 
 L.A. hopes to take care of business against another New York club tonight,
 when they visit the struggling Islanders.
 
 The Isles are sitting second in the Metropolitan Division with 93 points, but
 have lost five of their last six games. They have earned points in the last
 two outings, however, picking up a 3-0 win Saturday in New Jersey before
 dropping a shootout decision Tuesday against Minnesota.
 
 New York began a four-game homestand with a 2-1 defeat against the Wild, who
 won their 10th straight road game. The Islanders went ahead 1-0 late in the
 second period on John Tavares' 34th goal of the season, but Zach Parise evened
 the score for Minnesota with 8:15 remaining in the third.
 
 Parise also recorded the only goal of the shootout, beating Jaroslav Halak on
 Minnesota's first attempt. The shot rang off the left post and hit Halak in
 the back before slipping into the goal.
 
 Devan Dubnyk then stopped Kyle Okposo and Tavares to seal the win.
 
 "You need to shut the door when you have the lead," said Tavares. "We got a
 bad bounce there and it's unfortunate, but we were able to get a point out of
 it."
 
 Halak made 31 stops for the Islanders, who sit two points ahead of Pittsburgh
 in the division and are five in front of fourth-place Washington. Both the
 Capitals and Penguins are in action on Thursday.
 
 The Isles fell to 23-12-1 at home after Tuesday's shootout defeat. Including
 tonight's game, the club has five regular-season games remaining at the
 Coliseum. New York will relocate to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after this
 season.
 
 The Kings are hoping to avenge a loss from earlier this season, as the Isles
 notched a 2-1 shootout win at the Staples Center on Nov. 6. It was the third
 win in the last five meetings for New York, but L.A. is 4-1-1 in its last six
 trips to Long Island.
 
 ARIZONA COYOTES (22-44-8) AT BUFFALO SABRES (20-46-7), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams with one eye already looking towards
 this summer's draft will meet Thursday in Buffalo when the Sabres host the
 Arizona Coyotes at First Niagara Center.
 
 With an NHL low 47 points, the Sabres are the odds-on favorite to land the top
 overall selection at the June 26 draft. Arizona is next in line, as the club
 is currently second from the bottom in the league standings, and last in the
 West, with just 52 points. Buffalo had the NHL's worst record in 2013-14, but
 finished second in the draft lottery to the Florida Panthers.
 
 The top two prospects at the 2015 draft are forwards Connor McDavid and Jack
 Eichel.
 
 Arizona is coming off a rare victory, halting an eight-game slide with
 Tuesday's surprising 5-4 overtime victory in Detroit. It was the Coyotes'
 first victory since March 5 against Vancouver and just their third win in 23
 games (3-18-2).
 
 The Coyotes had lost seven straight road games -- all in regulation -- before
 winning in the Motor City. It was Arizona's first away victory since beating
 Chicago on Feb. 9 and it pushed the club's road mark this season to 12-21-3.
 
 Tuesday's tilt was a back-and-forth affair with neither team holding a lead of
 more than one goal. In the end, Mark Arcobello's second goal of the night was
 the difference, as he scored with 1:52 to play in OT to deliver the win for
 Arizona. He took a stretch pass from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, raced into the
 Detroit zone and slipped a low shot past Jimmy Howard for the deciding marker.
 
 David Moss also scored twice, John Moore lit the lamp and Mike Smith made 33
 saves for the Coyotes.
 
 "We competed hard, hung around the game and our power play came through big
 for us," Arizona head coach Dave Tippett said.
 
 Smith will start again tonight and is 4-3-2 with a 2.72 goals against average
 in his career against Buffalo.
 
 The Sabres have lost three straight and only have one victory over their last
 11 games (1-8-2).
 
 Buffalo has failed to gain a point during its current three-game slide and
 fell 4-3 in Monday's road loss against Dallas. The Sabres scored first and
 also held leads of 2-1 and 3-2 before falling to the Stars, who received the
 game-winner from Cody Eakin with 3:14 to play in the third period.
 
 Brian Gionta had two goals in the loss and Matt Moulson added a goal and an
 assist for the Sabres. Anders Lindback stopped 35 shots in defeat.
 
 "Seems everyone's focused on a draft choice, but our focus is trying to get
 these guys to compete and win," said Sabres coach Ted Nolan.
 
 Buffalo is home for just one contest before taking to the road for two
 straight. After visiting Colorado on Saturday, the Coyotes and Sabres will
 meet in the desert on Monday. Arizona is set to visit Pittsburgh to close a
 three-game road trip before its rematch versus Buffalo.
 
 The Sabres have won two straight and seven of the last eight meetings with the
 Coyotes. Buffalo has won three of the past four encounters on home ice.
 
 ANAHEIM DUCKS (46-22-7) AT BOSTON BRUINS (36-25-12), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Bruins have nine games left to prove they are
 worthy of a playoff spot. A good start would be ending a five-game slide when
 they host the Anaheim Ducks in Thursday's clash at TD Garden.
 
 Although they won the Presidents' Trophy with a league-high 117 points in
 2013-14, the Bruins wouldn't be in the playoffs if the season ended today. An
 0-3-2 record over the last five games combined with a seven-game winning
 streak by Ottawa has Boston one point behind the Senators for the last wild
 card spot in the East. The Senators have played one fewer game than the Bruins
 and host the New York Rangers on Thursday.
 
 "We all know where we are, we all know what we have to do if we want to be in
 the playoffs, and we just have to react, and win some hockey games," Bruins
 head coach Claude Julien told his club's website.
 
 The Bruins last played on Sunday when it lost a 5-3 road decision against the
 Tampa Bay Lightning. Dougie Hamilton, who leads all Boston defenseman with 42
 points, did not play in that game and after Tuesday's practice Julien said the
 blueliner will be sidelined indefinitely.
 
 While Hamilton is out for tonight, the B's are hoping David Krejci can return
 to the lineup versus Anaheim. Krejci, sidelined since Feb. 20 with a left knee
 injury, has been practicing with the team and the centerman could be back
 tonight after sitting out 15 games.
 
 Krejci has only seven goals and 19 assists in a disappointing 38-game run this
 season. However, he has been a big part of Boston's offense in recent seasons,
 including 2013-14, when the Czech forward led the Bruins in points with 69.
 
 Boston scored first in Sunday's meeting with the Lightning, but Tampa tallied
 the next four goals to build a 4-1 lead before the midway point of the second
 period. The Bruins scored twice in the third stanza, but it wasn't enough to
 avoid the regulation loss.
 
 Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Daniel Paille all lit the lamp for the
 Bruins. Tuukka Rask gave up four goals on 12 shots before being pulled early
 in the second period. Niklas Svedberg allowed one goal on seven shots in
 relief.
 
 Beginning with tonight's test, the Bruins are playing two straight and three
 of their next four at home, where they are 21-10-6 this season.
 
 Anaheim enters Thursday having yielded 12 total goals over a two-game losing
 streak, but the club still is in great shape to win its third straight Pacific
 Division title. The Ducks sit nine points ahead of second-place Vancouver,
 which does hold two games in hand over Anaheim. The Canucks host Colorado on
 Thursday.
 
 The Ducks also are tied at 99 points with St. Louis for the Western Conference
 lead and are a point in back of Montreal in the Presidents' Trophy race.
 
 After getting embarrassed 7-2 by the New York Rangers in the opener of a five-
 game road trip on Sunday, the Ducks were dealt a 5-3 setback two nights later
 in Columbus.
 
 Anaheim lost despite taking an early 2-0 lead and outshooting the Blue Jackets
 by a 40-27 margin for the game.
 
 Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano and Matt Beleskey each lit the lamp and John
 Gibson allowed four goals on 26 shots for the Ducks, who had won six in a row
 before beginning this road trip.
 
 "All the guys on the ice need to make better decisions with the puck. It's
 simple as that," said Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski.
 
 Anaheim, which will close this trek with tilts versus the New York Islanders
 and New Jersey Devils, own a solid 21-12-4 road record this season.
 
 The Ducks boast a 5-1-1 record in their last seven games against Boston, but
 the Bruins have claimed three of the past five meetings at TD Garden.
 
 NASHVILLE PREDATORS (45-21-8) AT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (46-21-7), 7:30 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to boost their division
 title chances with a fifth straight victory when they host the Nashville
 Predators in Thursday's battle at Amalie Arena.
 
 The Bolts enter today's action one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for
 first place in the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens, who also lead the NHL
 with 100 points, are playing tonight in Winnipeg. Both teams have eight games
 left in the regular season.
 
 Tampa is on its second four-game winning streak of the month and boasts an
 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games. The club's longest stretch of consecutive
 wins this season is six set from Oct. 28-Nov. 9 and it hasn't won five
 straight since that run.
 
 Nashville, meanwhile, is on a more modest two-game win streak at the moment.
 However, considering the Predators struggles in recent weeks, the brief run is
 an extremely positive sign.
 
 Prior to picking up consecutive wins over Buffalo and Montreal in their last
 two trips to the ice, the Predators hadn't won two in a row since Feb. 22-24.
 
 Nashville entered Saturday's game versus the Sabres with a 2-8-1 mark in its
 previous 11 tilts. It notched a 3-0 win over Buffalo and then closed a three-
 game homestand with Tuesday's overtime victory against the Canadiens.
 
 The Preds are still in a tight race for the Central Division crown. They have
 98 points, one less than St. Louis for the division lead and four more than
 Chicago.
 
 Nashville trailed Montreal by a 2-1 count heading into the third period, but
 Ryan Ellis tied the game with 12:04 left in regulation and Filip Forsberg
 scored the winning goal 1:54 into OT.
 
 Skating on the power play after P.K. Subban was called for tripping, Nashville
 worked the puck around the horn with Mike Ribeiro firing it from the right
 side to the left where Forsberg had a clear shot for the winner.
 
 Mattias Ekholm also scored for the Predators, while Pekka Rinne stopped 27
 shots in the win.
 
 "It's a huge win for us, especially after being down after the second period
 and then winning the game," said Nashville defenseman Roman Josi.
 
 Forsberg has 22 goals and 34 assists this season and his 56 points are two shy
 of Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau for the rookie lead.
 
 James Neal sat out a fifth straight game with an upper-body injury and is
 questionable for tonight. Neal skated with the team yesterday for the first
 time since suffering the injury on March 12. He is second on Nashville with 22
 goals this season.
 
 Nashville is 17-14-6 as the road club this season and will complete a two-game
 swing when it visits Washington on Thursday.
 
 The Lightning are capping a six-game homestand tonight after recording a 4-3
 regulation win in Tuesday's clash with the Florida Panthers.
 
 Ryan Callahan notched the deciding marker against the Panthers with 2:28 left
 in regulation as Tampa Bay tied a franchise record with its 46th win of the
 season. The Lightning also won 46 games in their Stanley Cup-winning
 campaign of 2003-04 as well as 2010-11 and last season
 
 Brenden Morrow, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning,
 winners of four straight and eight of 11 in March.
 
 "Can't rely on one line or a couple guys," said Callahan. "You have to have
 everybody."
 
 Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33-of-36 shots for the victory.
 
 The Lightning are 30-7-1 as the host this season, blowing past their previous
 home wins record of 25.
 
 Nashville has won five of its last six meetings against Tampa, but the
 Lightning have won three of the past four encounters at home. The Preds are
 just 2-4-0 with two ties in eight all-time trips to Central Florida.
 
 Ben Bishop is expected to start tonight for the Bolts, while Rinne will likely
 go for Nashville. Rinne is 3-0 with a 2.93 goals against average in three
 career tilts against the Lightning. Bishop suffered a regulation loss in his
 only lifetime appearance in this series.
 
 SAN JOSE SHARKS (35-30-8) AT DETROIT RED WINGS (39-21-12), 7:30 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Detroit Red Wings are still in solid position at
 making a 24th straight trip to the postseason, but some recent struggles are
 tightening up the standings just a bit.
 
 The Red Wings look to get on track Thursday night and deal the San Jose
 Sharks' playoff chances another blow.
 
 Detroit has split the first two contests of a four-game homestand and lost for
 the seventh time in 10 games with Tuesday's 5-4 overtime setback to the
 Arizona Coyotes.
 
 This stretch has knocked the Red Wings nine points behind the second-place
 Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division and they now lead the fourth-
 place Ottawa Senators by only five points with 10 games to play. The Sens host
 the New York Rangers on Thursday.
 
 Things have gotten much more critical for the Sharks, who have dropped 10
 points behind a wild card spot with nine games left on their schedule thanks
 to four losses in their past five games.
 
 Detroit did manage a point in Tuesday's loss to Arizona, but lost the game
 when Mark Arcobello took a stretch pass from defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
 and slipped a low shot past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard with 1:52 to
 play in overtime.
 
 Jakub Kindl and Justin Abdelkader each tallied a goal and an assist, while
 Luke Glendening and Gustav Nyquist also scored in the loss. Howard made just
 17 saves.
 
 "Once we got a goal, they got one back," said Detroit captain Henrik
 Zetterberg, who notched two assists. "These kind of games you want to get two
 points."
 
 The Red Wings played without forward Pavel Datsyuk for a fourth game in a row
 due to a lower-body injury, while defenseman Niklas Kronwall was a late
 scratch because of a lower-body ailment. Neither have been ruled out to return
 tonight, but forward Erik Cole is slated to miss at least the next three games
 because of an upper-body injury suffered versus the Coyotes.
 
 The Sharks have been off since Monday's 5-2 loss to Ottawa in which the
 Senators scored four times in the third period to rally past San Jose.
 
 Joe Pavelski and Chris Tierney scored 30 seconds apart in the second period
 for San Jose, which fell to 1-3-0 on its seven-game road trip. Antti Niemi
 made 32 saves for the Sharks.
 
 "It's sure not about me. It's about the group and the team and I'm part of
 that," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan of the recent slide. "The coaching
 staff feels the pain just as the players do.
 
 "We're not dealing in the fantasy world yet. We're dealing in a world where we
 look at numbers. We still have an opportunity. We didn't take care of our own
 business."
 
 The Sharks had a four-game series winning streak over the Red Wings snapped
 with a 3-2 loss at home on Feb. 26. Datsyuk and Glendening scored third-
 period goals for Detroit and Howard made 20 saves.
 
 Matt Irwin and Patrick Marleau had the goals for San Jose and Niemi made 32
 saves.
 
 Howard is 4-6-4 with a 2.73 goals against average and .910 save percentage in
 14 games versus the Sharks lifetime, while Niemi is 12-3-2 against the Red
 Wings with a 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage and three shutouts in 17 meetings
 (16 starts).
 
 San Jose has still won 10 of its past 13 overall in this series and six of its
 last seven in Detroit.
 
 NEW YORK RANGERS (46-19-7) AT OTTAWA SENATORS (37-24-11), 7:30 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Ottawa Senators have charged into the playoff race
 thanks to a goaltender who hadn't even started an NHL game until mid-February.
 
 The New York Rangers are in the mix for the best record in the league thanks
 to their backup netminder.
 
 The two surging clubs square off on Thursday night when the red-hot Senators
 go for an eighth victory in a row and the Rangers try to rebound from a rare
 loss.
 
 Ottawa had not been in a playoff position since Nov. 21 before they beat the
 San Jose Sharks 5-2 on Monday. That moved the Senators a point ahead of the
 Boston Bruins for the second wild card position in the Eastern Conference with
 10 games to play. They have a game in hand over the Bruins, who host the
 Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
 
 Goaltender Andrew Hammond has been the key piece of the surge, going 14-0-1
 over his first 15 NHL starts. That run began on Feb. 18 when the Senators were
 without both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner due to injury.
 
 Hammond made 29 saves to beat the Sharks and is one shy of Patrick Lalime's
 NHL point streak to begin a career. Lalime went 14-0-2 for the Pittsburgh
 Penguins over his first 16 starts in 1996-97.
 
 Hammond has never faced the Rangers.
 
 Mika Zibanejad had a pair of goals in Monday's win over the Sharks as the
 Senators scored four third-period goals to rally in front. Mike Hoffman added
 a goal and two assists, while Bobby Ryan notched three helpers.
 
 "We're finally starting to go up a little bit but we have to keep it going,"
 said Ryan. "There's still several games to go so we have to keep playing hard
 if we want to make the playoffs."
 
 Ottawa is 17-2-2 over its past 21 games and its current seven-game win streak
 is the longest for the franchise since a club-record 11-game run from Jan. 14-
 Feb. 4, 2010.
 
 Forward Milan Michalek did not play on Monday due to an upper-body injury and
 his status for tonight's game against the Rangers is unknown.
 
 The Rangers have been just as hot as the Senators, winning 20 times over 24
 games since losing No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to a vascular injury. Cam
 Talbot has stepped in and done an excellent job, helping the Rangers to the
 top of the Metropolitan Division with 99 points. That has the Blueshirts six
 points ahead of the second-place New York Islanders with two games in hand.
 The Isles host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
 
 The Rangers also trail the Montreal Canadiens by only one point for the most
 in the NHL.
 
 Talbot is 19-8-4 this season with a 2.19 goals against average, .927 save
 percentage and five shutouts this season. He is expected to start tonight and
 beat the Sens the only time he faced them, halting 29 of the 30 shots fired
 his way.
 
 Talbot's run as the main goaltender is nearing an end, however. Lundqvist
 practiced on Wednesday and is expected to back up Talbot tonight with an eye
 on returning this weekend. New York visits Boston on Saturday, then hosts the
 Washington Capitals the following day.
 
 "There's no doubt that Cam has done extremely well for us," Rangers coach
 Alain Vigneault told his team's website after practice on Wednesday. "But if
 you look at the body of work that Hank has done for this team over the years,
 there's no doubt that he's the No. 1 guy. Moving forward he will be the No. 1
 guy; but we still have a lot of hockey to be played in a short amount of time,
 so I will use both goaltenders."
 
 Talbot posted 31 saves in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Kings, just the Rangers'
 second in nine games. Mats Zuccarello scored 51 seconds into the contest and
 Kevin Hayes also scored.
 
 New York had a string of 10 straight games of allowing two goals or fewer
 snapped.
 
 "Our execution wasn't what it needed to be against such a strong opponent, and
 we paid the price for it," Vigneault said.
 
 The Rangers won the first of three meetings this season with the Senators 3-2
 in overtime at home on Jan. 20 and have taken three of the past four
 encounters overall. That span includes back-to-back wins at Ottawa.
 
 FLORIDA PANTHERS (33-26-14) AT TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (27-41-6), 7:30 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Florida Panthers try to bolster their playoff
 chances on Thursday night when they visit the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.
 
 The Panthers are five points behind the Ottawa Senators for the second wild
 card spot in the Eastern Conference. They have played one more game than the
 Sens, who host the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
 Florida recently picked up key home wins over the Detroit Red Wings and Boston
 Bruins, but opened a five-game road trip on Tuesday with a 4-3 loss to the
 Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
 Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri and Jonathan Huberdeau tallied for the Panthers
 and Roberto Luongo made 21 saves.
 
 "Bottom line, I just need to be better," Luongo said.
 
 The Panthers were without forward Nick Bjugstad, who leads the club with 24
 goals, on Tuesday due to a lower-body injury and he is questionable for
 tonight.
 
 The Maple Leafs aim to avoid a seventh straight loss in regulation tonight and
 were bested last time out 2-1 on Monday by the Minnesota Wild. Jake Gardiner
 had the goal in defeat and Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves.
 
 It marked the fourth time over Toronto's losing streak that it scored just a
 single goal.
 
 "We battled really hard tonight," said Bernier. "I thought our structure was
 able to keep them from generating any speed through the zone and it worked for
 the most part."
 
 Toronto plays the second contest of a four-game homestand having won just six
 times over its past 36 games. With an eye to the future, forward Casey Bailey
 is expected to make his NHL debut with the Leafs tonight.
 
 Bailey signed an entry-level contract with Toronto on Saturday after the
 undrafted 23-year-old led the Penn State Nittany Lions with 22 goals and 40
 points this season. He also was a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award.
 
 The Maple Leafs snapped a four-game slide to the Panthers on March 3 with a
 3-2 win at Florida. That contest was a notable one due to both Luongo and Al
 Montoya suffering injuries in the contest for Florida, leading to goaltending
 coach Rob Tallas put on a uniform and taking a seat on the bench.
 
 Luongo started and exited with a shoulder injury, but later returned to the
 contest after Montoya sustained a groin injury that still has him sidelined.
 
 Luongo is 17-7-0 with a 2.31 goals against average and .925 save percentage in
 28 games versus the Leafs. He expects to start tonight.
 
 Bernier made 40 saves in the win over the Panthers, moving to 2-2-0 versus
 them with a 2.58 GAA and .929 save percentage in five games (4 starts).
 
 The Panthers have won four of their past six in Toronto.
 
 MONTREAL CANADIENS (46-20-8) AT WINNIPEG JETS (38-24-12), 8 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Winnipeg Jets look to rebound and keep hold of sole
 possession of a playoff spot in Thursday night when they host the mighty
 Montreal Canadiens.
 
 The Jets had a five-game win streak halted with Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the
 Vancouver Canucks. Blake Wheeler and Jiri Tlusty scored goals to give Winnipeg
 a two-goal edge, but the next five tallies went to the Canucks. Two of those
 were scored into an empty-net.
 
 Drew Stafford had an assist to give him four goals and five helpers over a
 seven-game point streak and Michael Hutchinson yielded three goals on 28 shots
 faced.
 
 "We played pretty well for 50 minutes," said Hutchinson following his first
 start since March 12. "It was fun to get back in there ... not as fun sitting
 on the bench."
 
 The loss has the Jets just two points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the
 second wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Kings have played one
 fewer game and visit the New York Islanders on Thursday.
 
 Netminder Ondrej Pavelec had started Monday night for the Jets, making 33
 saves in a 4-1 win at Edmonton. He could get the call tonight having won his
 past five starts and is 4-9-1 lifetime versus Montreal with a 2.89 goals
 against average and .901 save percentage in 14 games.
 
 Winnipeg begins a four-game homestand tonight likely without forward Bryan
 Little and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien due to upper-body injuries. The duo
 have missed the past nine games.
 
 The Canadiens come in leading the NHL with 100 points, one up on a trio of
 teams. They reached the century mark by earning a point in Tuesday's 3-2
 overtime setback to the Nashville Predators.
 
 Skating on the power play after P.K. Subban was called for tripping, Nashville
 worked the puck around the horn with Mike Ribeiro firing it from the right
 side to the left where Filip Forsberg had a clear shot for the winner.
 
 Brendan Gallagher scored for a third game in a row, giving him a career-high
 22 tallies on the season and David Desharnais also lit the lamp as the Habs
 had a three-game win streak snapped.
 
 Despite their league-leading point total, the Canadiens are just one point
 ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division. The
 Bolts host the Predators tonight.
 
 "We've got eight games left," said Montreal forward Max Pacioretty. "We're
 just trying to get better every game and get into playoff mode before it
 comes."
 
 Carey Price made 28 saves in the loss and will get a rest tonight as backup
 Dustin Tokarski is expected to get the start. Tokarski will make his third
 start this month and first since stopping 41 shots in a win over Florida on
 March 17. He has never faced the Jets.
 
 Price made 29 saves in a 3-0 win at home over the Jets on Nov. 11. It was
 Montreal's seventh victory in eight games and 10th in the past 12 meetings
 with Winnipeg.
 
 Montreal has won four of its past five as the road team in this series.
 
 COLORADO AVALANCHE (33-28-12) AT VANCOUVER CANUCKS (43-26-4), 10 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The Colorado Avalanche's playoff chances took a big hit
 on Wednesday night and they'll try to avoid another setback one night later
 when they visit the Vancouver Canucks.
 
 The Avalanche find themselves 10 points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the
 second wild card spot in the Western Conference with nine games to play
 following a big 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers last night.
 
 Colorado fell behind 3-0 after 20 minutes before Ryan O'Reilly assisted on
 second-period tallies by Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay before netting a game-
 tying goal himself 4:54 into the third frame.
 
 However, the Oilers went back in front for good on Derek Roy's goal with 9:18
 to play to hand the Avalanche a third loss in a row.
 
 Reto Berra took the loss despite stopping 26-of-27 shots faced in relief of
 Semyon Varlamov, who yielded three goals on seven shots through the first 9:36
 of action.
 
 "It's not the type of start we wanted, but at the same time, yes I am proud of
 the way the guys played after," Avs coach Patrick Roy said on his club's
 website. "The second and third period, I thought we dominated the game. We had
 44 shots on net, a lot of good chances. Obviously, we did a lot of good things
 out there."
 
 Roy had planned to start Varlamov on both nights of this back-to-back set as
 Colorado closes out a five-game road trip. Varlamov is 3-8-1 in 12 games (11
 starts) versus the Canucks with a 2.86 goals against average and .902 save
 percentage.
 
 The Canucks come in sitting second in the Pacific Division, three points ahead
 of the Calgary Flames. The fourth-place Los Angeles Kings are lurking at four
 points back of Vancouver.
 
 A pair of goals and an assist by Radim Vrbata led the Canucks to their third
 straight victory on Tuesday night with a 5-2 decision over the Jets.
 
 Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists, Chris Higgins scored once and
 assisted on another and Yannick Weber also scored for the Canucks, who rallied
 back from a 2-0 deficit to win for the seventh time in nine games.
 
 "Our battle level has been pretty hard," said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins.
 
 Eddie Lack stopped 26 shots versus the Jets and is 0-1-1 lifetime versus the
 Avs with a 4.96 GAA and .868 save percentage. He has given up 10 goals on 76
 shots in this matchup.
 
 The Avalanche won the first of three meetings this season 7-3 at home on Oct.
 24 for their third straight victory in this series, but the Canucks responded
 with a 5-2 win in Denver on Nov. 4.
 
 Vancouver has won nine of the last 10 matchups at home.
 
 
 
 03/26 11:06:05 ET

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