Friday Four: Kane, Blackhawks vault into playoff contention
NHL Network analyst Weekes also discusses Stars, Flyers, Sabresby Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst
Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
Who would have thought that the Blackhawks, a team that's had two eight-game losing streaks this season, would be closing in on the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference?
They've won a season-high six straight games after a 4-3 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and are two points out of a playoff spot. Patrick Kane is on a 13-game point streak (10 goals, 19 assists), Alex DeBrincat is playing well, and Dylan Strome seems to have found a home in Chicago after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes.
Video: Clutch Performance: Blackhawks' efficient power play
Young players like defenseman Erik Gustafsson and goalie Collin Delia have played big roles this season, and veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook recently said he wants to remain with the Blackhawks rather than be moved prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET. That says a lot about the kind of franchise Chicago is to play for.
The Stars lost 3-2 in overtime at the Nashville Predators on Thursday but extended their point streak to six games (5-0-1). They've been very good defensively, having allowed eight goals in the five wins, including two or fewer in four of those games. Starting goalie Ben Bishop has been outstanding, and Anton Khudobin has been very good as his backup. Good goaltending is something the Stars haven't had in a long time and if they make the playoffs, it will certainly help having that tandem.
Dallas also has two great young players on defense in John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. The 19-year-old Heiskanen has 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) this season and has played big minutes. He was the lone representative of the Stars at the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game.
Their eight-game winning streak ended with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, but the Flyers continue to play well. Carter Hart, a 20-year-old rookie goalie, has been sensational during this run; so has Anthony Stolarz, who's allowed two goals on 77 shots in two games since returning from injury.
Video: VAN@PHI: Hart dives for sensational save on Goldobin
The 8-0-1 run has put Philadelphia into the mix for a wild card in the East, something that figures to make for some difficult decisions prior to the trade deadline. Do they trade pending unrestricted free agent forward Wayne Simmonds, or keep him around for the playoff push and try to re-sign him after the season?
They have Claude Giroux, who finished second in the League in scoring last season and is capable of carrying the offense by himself. If he gets some help from his teammates, the Flyers will be in much better shape down the stretch.
Buffalo made a nice third-period comeback and got a point in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, but the Sabres have to turn things around before they fall farther in the standings. They've allowed at least four goals in each of their past three games and five of the past six, and they've dropped four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card in the East.
Video: CAR@BUF: Skinner ties it late with his second goal
The good news is that forward Jeff Skinner has 33 goals and is second in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. He's been that player they needed to take some of the pressure off center Jack Eichel. Buffalo still has two months to improve in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile traded a second-round pick to the New Jersey Devils this week to acquire 6-foot-6 forward Brian Boyle. He's a great guy on and off the ice and should help Nashville's power play, which ranks last in the League at 12.8 percent.
It was nice to see goalie Cory Schneider play well for the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. He made 28 saves but came up short in the shootout in a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders. It was Schneider's first NHL game since Dec. 14. He still hasn't won since Dec. 27, 2017 (0-15-4), but his performance showed that he is still capable of playing at an elite level.