By Allan Muir
A notated guide to this morning's must-read hockey stories:
• This is amazing: with a win tonight over the visiting Blackhawks, the Ducks could pull within three points of the Western Conference leaders...and they still have a game in hand. Hard not to look at this as a playoff preview.
• The Penguins fought their way through the slop to run their winning streak to 10 games by beating the Caps, 2-1. Stretching it to 11 will be a whole lot easier if Evgeni Malkin returns the to lineup Friday as expected.
• Max Talbot has been Philly's best forward in each of the last four games. If that keeps up, there's no way this team makes the playoffs.
• Capgeek has the cap-hit leaders for 2013-14. Two new entries crack the top five...can you guess who?
• Another day, another sexual assault arrest in hockey. I can already hear this one being sloughed off as a little drunken silliness. It shouldn't be.
• It sounds like Rick DiPietro is finding success -- and maybe a little peace -- in the AHL.
• The Blues expect to get T.J. Oshie back in the lineup this week...and that could mean the end of their awkward three-goalie rotation. Jake Allen's going nowhere, Which suggests that bad news is coming for Brian Elliott.
• Nice .gif work by the boys over at The Score capturing Sergei Bobrovsky's eye-opening meeting with the smelling salts after taking a Kevin Klein slap shot to the mask.
• Michael Del Zotto showed why the Rangers can't afford to trade him with a strong performance against the Devils. Meanwhile, the team refuses to rush Chris Kreider back into the lineup, despite an obvious need for his size and scoring touch.
• The Capitals were fixating on a wasted four-minute power play in the final 10 minutes when the contest was still knotted at one. Missed opportunities has been a recurring theme for the team this season. So has missing playoffs. By my estimates, Washington has to win 14 of its final 19 to sneak in. You like those chances, Caps' fans?
• Carolina's season may have reached a tipping point in a 4-1 loss to Florida. The Hurricanes have now dropped four in a row and fallen out of the Southeast lead. The potential loss of No. 1 defender Justin Faulk could complicate matters.
• The good news for Phoenix? Shane Doan's deflection at 11:28 of the third ended the Coyotes' franchise record 245:33 goalless streak. But that wasn't enough to derail the Kings, who got a career-high 40 stops from Jonathan Bernier. Honestly, I think there is zero chance that Bernier gets dealt before the deadline due to the way he is playing. Summertime, maybe, but he could be an impact player in the postseason if anything happens to Jonathan Quick.
• Cory Schneider showed up about 20 minutes before the rest of his teammates as the Canucks stole one from the Blues. From what I saw, it was his best effort of the season. His teammates were willing to give it away in the first and third.
• Sean Fitz-Gerald managed to avoid using some variation of "Jake Gardiner has been freed", so I'm linking to his story on the recall of the talented defender by the Maple Leafs. Amazingly, Gardiner kept agent Ben Hankinson after that hashtag-heavy screw-up. • Another piece from SFG, in which Toronto coach Randy Carlyle waits for James Reimer or Ben Scrivens to step up and seize the starting job.