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Need to know: Blackhawks still got the goose

2/13/2013

• The Chicago Blackhawks are the measuring stick of the NHL so far this season, and the Anaheim Ducks were relishing their chance to measure up. Although the Blackhawks remain undefeated in regulation at 10-0-3, the Ducks continued their surprising early run, edging the Hawks 3-2 in a shootout at the United Center to improve to 9-2-1 and 3-1-0 so far on their 11-day, six-game road trip. They wrap it up with games Friday at Detroit and Saturday at Nashville. What I like about this victory was that the Ducks again got contributions from a bottom-six forward, namely Andrew Cogliano tying the game late to force overtime. Oh, and the Viktor Fasth North American Party Tour continued, as the 30-year-old former Swedish Leaguer improved to a perfect 6-0-0 and was stellar in a 28-save performance, including stopping two of three Blackhawks in the shootout. Can this Ducks story get any better?

• Similar scripts and a pair of exciting finishes in Boston and Tampa, where the visiting teams wasted 3-0 leads but prevailed for shootout victories. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, indeed, escaped disaster.

The Blueshirts saw David Krejci of the Bruins make it 3-1 at 8:44 of the third period but were seemingly still in great shape. That was until Nathan Horton scored with 1:31 left followed by Brad Marchand tying the game with 43 seconds left, igniting TD Garden. This could have been one of those games that set the Rangers back, but instead Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan scored in the shootout to restore the two points in the standings. After dropping their opening two games, the Rangers have won seven of their past 10 and are beginning to look like the Cup contenders we all thought they were. Speaking of Nash, his assist on Carl Hagelin’s first-period goal was simply out of this world. In our TSN studios in Toronto, it ignited a "Holy jumpin’!" from colleague Darren Pang.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, the Habs also salvaged a victory despite allowing Tampa to score three times in the final 5:56 of the third period, including twice in the final 1:43. But David Desharnais delivered the shootout winner and a key win for the Canadiens, who stopped a three-game winless streak.

• What the heck is happening with the Sharks? San Jose went a perfect 7-0-0 in January but dropped to 0-3-3 in February after a 1-0 overtime loss in Nashville. According to colleague David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News, head coach Todd McLellan held a 20-minute team meeting Tuesday morning going over video a day after a brutal 6-2 loss in Columbus. The Sharks were much better defensively in Nashville, but suddenly the team that scored goals like the 1980s Oilers in January is struggling to find the back of the net in February, scoring only seven goals during this six-game slide. It doesn’t get any easier: The Sharks still have four more games on this road trip, including two at league-leading Chicago over the next week. Ouch. I know this: Sharks GM Doug Wilson isn’t afraid to make moves. He has depth on his blue line with the return of Brent Burns, and if he makes a deal, it wouldn’t surprise me if he traded from his excess on defense.

• Can the goalie story in Vancouver get any more delicious? Roberto Luongo -- aka @strombone1 on Twitter -- was excellent yet again in a 2-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild. You want numbers? Luongo’s 1.45 goals-against average and .943 save percentage are second only to superman Craig Anderson of Ottawa among NHL goalies. It just goes to show you how quickly the story changes in pro sports. Shunned by most Canucks fans last spring after a first-round loss to the Kings, Luongo asked for a trade to pave the way for Cory Schneider to get a shot at the No. 1 job. Next thing you know, the Canucks haven’t been able to find a fit in a trade for Luongo, and he’s now the toast of the town not only because of his outstanding performance but I would say even more so because of his professional attitude in this tough situation and his humbling demeanor through it all. Know this: The Canucks' front office is more than willing to sit tight on Luongo and let both goalies finish the season in Vancouver if the team never gets its asking price. Know this, part 2: I believe the Canucks' front office will have a gut-check decision to make closer to the April 3 trade deadline, when I predict a team or two will make a huge offer for Schneider, the younger, cheaper option. I still think the Canucks would rather deal Luongo, but it makes you think, no?

• And finally, how about the Carolina Hurricanes? My pick to win the Southeast Division before the season is really coming into form, going 4-1-1 on a season-long, six-game road trip and capping it with an impressive 4-2 win at New Jersey, handing the Devils just their second regulation loss. Cam Ward was Cam Ward and Eric Staal was Eric Staal, and what’s with Jiri Tlusty? OK, so his second goal Tuesday night was an empty-netter, but make it four goals in two games for him. At 7-4-1, the Canes are first in the Southeast Division, and while Tampa will give them a push, I very much like my original prediction: Carolina will win it.