Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Mar 22 2015, Page 21

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - March 22, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE 6 ST. PAUL, Minn. — The way the Western Conference was stacked up this weekend, the St. Louis Blues would face the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs. For the second straight Saturday, the Wild gave the Blues a potential preview of the dangerous opponent they could be with a decisive victory. Justin Fontaine had a goal and two assists, linemate Thomas Vanek also scored and the Wild beat the Blues 6- 3 with a well- rounded performance. “ This is a tough matchup. I think the last couple games we’ve played them well,” said right wing Chris Stewart, who scored first for the Wild. “ That’s a good sign.” Stewart was enjoying some extra satisfaction in sparking the win against his former team, but the Wild were wary of expressing any contentment with their recent mastery of the Central Division leader. “ We’re just trying to get to the playoffs right now. Obviously I don’t have any time to sit around and think about stuff like that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “ I don’t find that team, regardless of the score, do we ever have a feeling of confidence or a feeling of comfort.” Zach Parise, Jonas Brodin and Mikko Koivu contributed goals, too, and Charlie Coyle and Ryan Suter each had two assists for the Wild, who improved to an NHL- best 22- 6- 2 since trading for goalie Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14. They have a league- high 93 goals in that span. “ We didn’t play very well. Some of the goals were once- in- a- lifetime goals, but still, they scored six goals,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz each had a goal and an assist and Paul Stastny scored late for the Blues, who stayed three points behind Anaheim for the top seed. The Blues have played one fewer game. The Wild are in the first wild- card position, which would be matched up against the second division leader. Brian Elliott stopped only 12 of the 16 shots he faced and was pulled after Brodin’s slap shot at 4: 05 of the second period gave the Wild a 4- 0 lead. That came 26 seconds after Parise tapped in a rebound of Brodin’s shot to move into the top 10 in the league with 28 goals. Elliott was 4- 1- 1 in his past six starts, including two shutouts. The Blues were 7- 1- 2 in their previous 10 road games. Dubnyk, acquired from Arizona for a third- round draft pick, has played all 30 games since. He made 26 saves in this one after a season- high 41 saves in a 3- 1 win at St. Louis last weekend, when Minnesota managed only 19 shots. That was Elliott’s first loss to the Wild in seven starts. “ The one in our building, I don’t think we disliked the way we played at all. We deserved two points in that game. We just had a lapse and they capitalized and their goalie stopped 40 shots,” Blues captain David Backes said. “ Tonight I think they were the better team. They were on their toes, jumping us, putting pucks in the right spots, playing a really fast game.” Tarasenko, on a power play, and Schwartz, with a rebound backhand, brought the Blues within two. But Fontaine, playing the wing with Vanek on the third line centred by Coyle that was all over the ice, pushed the lead to 5- 2 with his goal with 3: 49 left before the second intermission. — The Associated Press B6 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 2015 winnipegfreepress. com NHL REPORT T WO months ago, NHL fans didn’t know who Andrew Hammond was. Now, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray is being asked whether he is working to get him re- signed. “ Just tell him to stop the puck the rest of the year and we’ll be fine,” Murray said during the GM meetings about one of the NHL’s hottest goalies. Eight important questions to ponder heading into the stretch run of the NHL season: 1. Is Hammond a hot goalie or a developing goalie? Maybe he is both, although the more likely scenario is he is riding a confidence wave rather than suddenly blossoming into an NHL super goalie. Before he started on this 12- 0- 1 run, he had a .898 save percentage in the American Hockey League. Saturday morning, he had a .950 save percentage for the Senators. Hammond, 27, could be a late bloomer. But the only important fact now is the Senators have their best chance of making the playoffs if he is in net. He didn’t surrender more than two goals in a game until his 13th game. 2. Who is benefiting most from trade deadline acquisitions? Marek Zidlicky has given the Detroit Red Wings the right- shot defenceman they have wanted for their power play. His offensive skills seem perfect for their puck- possession game. He had three goals and seven points in nine games. By contrast, New York Rangers defenceman Keith Yandle had one goal in eight games. Andrej Sekera has two assists in 10 games with the Los Angeles Kings. 3. Is there still a race to finish last, guaranteeing Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the draft? Absolutely. The Buffalo Sabres lost their game in hand on Friday and remained in last place by three points, but they still must play the 29th- place Arizona Coyotes twice. The Coyotes had one win in 17 games. Both teams shed key players at the trade deadline. 4. Is there any chance Cam Talbot will be the Rangers’ playoff goalie? Not unless Henrik Lundqvist has a setback in his injury recovery. He was supposed to return to practice on Friday but missed it because of the birth of his daughter. Fan chatter about Talbot replacing Lundqvist is not grounded in reality. Lundqvist is considered one of the NHL’s top goalies, and Talbot has been hot for 11 games. Don’t forget he was average when he first received the call to replace Lundqvist. 5. If the playoffs started today, who would be the favourite? The Rangers are playing the best in the Eastern Conference, but don’t count out the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Kings ( if they make it). 6. Is there a sleeper in the playoff pool? The Minnesota Wild are sneaky good, with an impressive lineup from top to bottom. If goalie Devan Dubnyk continues to play at a high level, the Wild are true Stanley Cup contenders. With Barry Trotz behind the bench, the Washington Capitals could be a sleeper in the Eastern Conference. Alex Ovechkin is the most dangerous player in the game right now. 7. Who will win the Norris Trophy? It’s too close to call. Votes could be scattered among 10 players. Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber is probably overdue, as is Drew Doughty ( Los Angeles). But Erik Karlsson ( Ottawa), P. K. Subban ( Montreal Canadiens), Duncan Keith ( Chicago) and Kris Letang ( Pittsburgh Penguins) are all worthy Norris candidates. 8. Are the Penguins going to be a better playoff team? They are playing a style more conducive to post- season success, but it’s difficult to know where they are as a team because of multiple injuries. But in some of their games, they appear to be their own worst enemy. They have not kicked the habit of letting their emotions get the best of them. — USA Today By Kevin Allen HOT Hamburglar Previously unknown goalie now Sens’ best chance of making playoffs WILD 6 BLUES 3 Wild best team in NHL since acquiring goalie Dubnyk By Dave Campbell ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES A fan holds a sign as Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew ‘ The Hamburglar’ Hammond skates past. SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew Hammond has taken the NHL by storm since being called up from the AHL. Entering Saturday’s action he was 12- 0- 1 with a .950 GAA. B_ 06_ Mar- 22- 15_ FP_ 01. indd B6 3/ 21/ 15 7: 24: 42 PM

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