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Weekly Primer

Blues, Stars lead Central; East playoff race tightens

St. Louis, Dallas tied with 91 points; Philadelphia emerging as wild card contender

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The St. Louis Blues sent a message to the rest of the NHL last week, with four consecutive wins against some of the top opposition in the League.

Alex Pietrangelo's overtime goal against the Dallas Stars on Saturday gave the Blues their fourth straight victory. With 91 points, they matched the Stars for the most in the Central Division.

St. Louis will look to continue its winning ways when it visits the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday (9 p.m. ET; FS-MW, SNW, NHL.TV).

The Blues also defeated the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks last week.

"We're getting something out of everyone, I think," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's a different game, each guy's stepping up, and I think we're doing a great job of everyone just sticking with it and rolling with the punches. We're playing a great team game right now. This is the time of year when the intensity starts to ramp up and I think we're doing a great job of handling it."

Here are other games that should garner plenty of attention:

Tuesday, March 15: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- The Penguins learned Saturday they'd be without center Evgeni Malkin for the remainder of the regular season because of an upper-body injury, but that didn't stop them from beating the New York Rangers 5-3 on Sunday. With the victory the Penguins moved within two points of the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh is 29-0-0 when leading after two periods.

Tuesday, March 15: Detroit Red Wings at Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, CSN-PH, NBCSN) -- Philadelphia is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games and trails Detroit by three points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. Philadelphia enters Tuesday with a four-game point streak. Detroit, which will be seeking its third straight win, begins a four-game road trip.

Tuesday, March 15: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-SW, NHL.TV) -- It's the third game of the Stars' five-game homestand; they are 1-0-1 following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Blues on Saturday. The Kings are 3-1-1 in March and lead the Ducks by two points and the San Jose Sharks by three atop the Pacific Division.

Wednesday, March 16: New York Rangers at Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- The Rangers begin a three-game trip to California that will go a long way in determining if they finish second in the Metropolitan Division and secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Forward Rick Nash returned over the weekend after missing 20 games because of a bone bruise in his leg.

Friday, March 18: Nashville Predators at Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET; FS-TN, CSN-DC, NHL.TV) -- Capitals coach Barry Trotz faces his former team, which saw its 14-game point streak end when Nashville lost 4-2 at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. The Predators had gone 9-0-5, the longest point streak in franchise history.

Saturday, March 19: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers (1 p.m. ET; ROOT, CSN-PH, NHL.TV) -- The Battle of Pennsylvania resumes at Wells Fargo Center with each side in the midst of a heated playoff race. It's also a preview of a 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game that will feature these teams at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Feb. 18, 2017.

Sunday, March 20: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) -- A Central Division showdown at United Center. The Blackhawks lost 5-2 to the Stars on Saturday and have fallen into third place in the division, three points behind the Stars and Blues. The Wild and the Colorado Avalanche each have 74 points in a heated battle for the second wild card in the Western Conference; the Wild have a game in hand.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Crosby had a goal and an assist Sunday and extended his point streak to eight games. The pressure on Crosby to produce will mount with Malkin injured, but Crosby didn't seem fazed in New York.

Crosby, who has four goals and nine assists during his streak, scored his first regular-season goal at Madison Square Garden since Nov. 30, 2009.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers -- Gostisbehere has three goals in his past three games and has 15 this season. He leads all rookie defensemen in goals and is fifth among all rookies with 38 points in 49 games.

"I feel like I've deserved to be in the NHL," Gostisbehere told the Flyers website Saturday. "I don't think you really have to prove anything if you're good enough. Just let your hockey do the talking."

Video: PHI@FLA: Gostisbehere beats Luongo to tie it late

Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars -- Spezza extended his goal streak to six games Saturday. He has 28 goals this season, seven shy of his NHL career-high 34 he's scored three times (2006-07, 2007-08 and 2011-12). He has 10 goals in his past 10 games.

"He's played his best hockey by far all year," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Really skating well. He's put himself in position … a lot of times he's scored a lot of different goals around the front of the net. He's been in the right place, pucks have come to him, he's made good plays. I really like the way he's playing. Offensively, since the time he's been here, this is the best he's been."

LINE CHANGES

Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins -- With Malkin out the rest of the regular season, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan moved Schultz to the top power-play unit. He has two assists in four games since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers.

"It's definitely an opportunity. I have to take advantage of it," Schultz said. "Hopefully we can get some chemistry out there. There's a lot of firepower out there so putting the puck in the right places for them and hopefully we can have some success."

Rick Nash, New York Rangers -- Coach Alain Vigneault didn't waste any time putting Nash on a line with center Eric Staal; the two were together when Nash returned Saturday in a 3-2 loss at Detroit and again Sunday against Pittsburgh. Viktor Stalberg was on the left wing.

"I'm trying to find that competitiveness again," Nash told Northjersey.com. "My hands are about a second behind what my mind wants to do."

Video: NYR@BOS: Nash dekes out Rask in front to go on top

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers -- Nugent-Hopkins returned to the lineup Saturday after missing 24 games because of a broken hand. He centered a line with Lauri Korpikoski on the left and Nail Yakupov on the right.

"I felt pretty good," Nugent-Hopkins told the Oilers website. "I think energy-wise you feel pretty good no matter what because you're just excited to get back out there. There's a few plays where I mishandled the puck. I think that will just come after a few games. For the most part I felt pretty good. [My] legs felt pretty good, so [my] hand held up well."

POINT SHOTS

The Capitals gave up the first goal Saturday for the 13th time in their past 15 games and have been outscored 8-0 in the first period of their past five games. "We had rough starts lately," right wing Justin Williams said. "It's five straight games that we haven't had a lead. It's really tough coming from behind every night. It seems we're used to it now. We need to stop thinking about it and get that first goal. Our starts have been a problem for us with that first-period goal differential. But we have time to clean it up." … New Jersey Devils defenseman John Moore has four goals this season. Three have been scored in overtime. … With the Kings, Ducks and Sharks as the top three teams in the Pacific Division standings, it appears there will be an intrastate series in the first round of the playoffs. Kings forward Milan Lucic said he believes it will be great for the Golden State. "The way things are looking you know for sure that there's going to be at least one California playoff series, so I think it goes to show how hockey's going in the state of California and how much into it the fans are and how much they're loving it. And personally it's great to be a part of it," Lucic told CSN Bay Area. "I've enjoyed that part. I've enjoyed the rivalry part as much as I have everything else."

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