Tonight's games: Time to focus on the playoffs

The 2010 Winter Olympics allowed hockey to take center stage (at least for one day) but now it’s time to get back to business. With 24 teams returning to action, let’s take a look at each game beginning with the most intriguing match-ups.

Today’s Best

New Jersey Devils (37-21-3, 77 pts) at San Jose Sharks (40-13-9, 89 pts) – 10:30 PM ET

A staggering 13 players from the Sharks and Devils represented their countries in Vancouver. There won’t be much time for them to lick their wounds, though, because both teams hold paper-thin leads over their rivals.

Buffalo Sabres (33-18-9, 75 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-4, 76 pts) – 7:30 PM ET
Yes, it would have been sexier if we had the chance to see overtime gold medal winning goal (OTGMWG?) scorer Sidney Crosby play against USA goaltender Ryan Miller a mere two days after that thrilling game on Sunday. Still, with only one point separating Pittsburgh from Buffalo, both teams have plenty to play for.
Rest of the games after the jump


Montreal Canadiens (29-28-6, 64 pts) at Boston Bruins (27-22-11, 65 pts) – 7:00 PM ET


Montreal’s grasp on the 8th-seed is tenuous at best and slightly-more-comfortable Boston would like nothing more than to make life miserable for their eternal rivals.

Chicago Blackhawks (41-15-5, 87 pts) at New York Islanders (25-29-8, 58 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET

With nearly 30 points separating these teams, this is a true battle of  the “Haves” versus the “Have nots” …

Carolina Hurricanes (24-30-7, 55 pts) at Toronto Maple Leafs (19-31-11, 49 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET
… while this game basically pits the poor versus the homeless.
Florida Panthers (24-27-10, 58 pts) at Atlanta Thrashers (26-24-10, 62 pts)  7:00 PM ET

In the spirit of Wednesday’s trade deadline, we have the most demoralizing move of last year (Florida losing Jay Bouwmeester for nothing) against this year’s most depressing trade (Atlanta receiving peanuts for Ilya Kovalchuk). H-hooray?
Vancouver Canucks (37-22-2, 76 pts) at Columbus Blue Jackets (25-28-10, 60 pts)  7:00 PM ET

Obviously, the Canucks probably went home during the break but it’s way more fun to imagine the team on the road this entire time as if they’re in some Homer-like odyssey. Right?
New York Rangers (28-27-7, 63 pts) at Ottawa Senators  (36-23-4, 76 pts)   7:30 PM ET

Two of the most unlikely success stories in the NHL face each other in this one. The Senators are inexplicably on fire (8-2 in their last 10 games) while Glen Sather inexplicably made two good trades this season.
Philadelphia Flyers (32-25-3, 67 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-24-11, 63 pts)  7:30 PM ET

If the Flyers actually do land Dan Hamhuis, we might as well call Philadelphia “Nashville East.” Which, strangely enough, is one of the nicest things anyone ever said about the Flyers.
Edmonton Oilers (19-36-6, 44 pts) at Nashville Predators (33-23-5, 71 pts) – 8:00 PM ET
When you shoot the puck though the net like Shea Weber did, you can drink at my imaginary bar for free.
Los Angeles Kings (37-20-4, 78 pts) at Dallas Stars (28-21-12, 68 pts) – 8:30 PM ET

It’s kind of weird that Johnathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury received medals for doing nothing, sort of like when Tom Brady’s backup gets a Super Bowl ring for holding a clipboard. Can’t they get half medals or something?
St. Louis Blues (28-25-9, 65 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (37-21-5, 79 pts) – 9:00 PM ET

With the Coyotes seemingly poised to make an improbable run to the playoffs (and possibly, gulp, home ice for the first round), it’s pretty difficult to argue against  naming Dave Tippett coach of the year.

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    The Buzzer: Special nights for Seguin, Boyle, Rinne

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    Player of the Night: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars.

    There some nice three-point nights on Friday, including nights involving Seguin’s opponents (Johnny Gaudreau scored one goal and two assists while Sean Monahan had 2G, 1A) and the guy who got picked ahead of Seguin many moons ago (Taylor Hall had a three-point night and a big hit).

    While you might feel the urge to ding Seguin for getting an empty-netter to collect a hat trick, he already covered the cool points portion of this contest earlier in the game with a sweet lacrosse-style goals.

    (I can’t get enough of those types of goals. Am I alone in that account?)

    Seguin crossed the 200-goal mark tonight, by the way.

    Highlight of the Night: Normally, I wouldn’t double-dip on a highlight, but it really cannot be overstated how cool it was that Brian Boyle finished this brilliant assist by Will Butcher on Hockey Fights Cancer night. (Also, the Seguin bit included his lacrosse goal anyway, so due diligence.)

    He definitely was emotional on Friday, as his family participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy enough to score many more going forward.

    Streak-breaker: Jack Eichel helps the Sabres beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Buffalo had been on a seven-game skid.

    This was the best goal from Buffalo’s 3-1 win, though:

    Factoids:

    On a night when the Stars honored great two-way Finnish forward Jere Lehtinen, Pekka Rinne moved all alone for first all-time among Finnish goalies for shutouts, edging his former backup Carter Hutton in the process:

    It almost feels like the Vegas Golden Knights send a new (positive) record every night they play. (More on their win here.)

    Bearded wonder Joe Thornton now has his sights set on Super Mario:

    Injuries might obscure Nino Niederreiter‘s hot run, but it’s time to take notice if you haven’t already.

    Scores

    Bruins 4, Penguins 3
    Jets 4, Ducks 1
    Wild 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
    Islanders 5, Flyers 4
    Capitals 3, Lightning 1
    Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (OT)
    Sabres 3, Oilers 1
    Devils 3, Canucks 2
    Rangers 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
    Blue Jackets 5, Senators 2
    Maple Leafs 5, Hurricanes 4
    Predators 2, Blues 0
    Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)
    Stars 6, Flames 4

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Golden Knights pad Pacific lead, even with Burns’ first goal

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    Coming into Friday’s game, what was stranger: Brent Burns having zero goals on the season despite 84 shots on goal in 20 games, or the Vegas Golden Knights leading the Pacific Division?

    Both points ended up being relevant to the discussion, as Burns finally scored his first goal of 2017-18 to help the San Jose Sharks rally for a “loser point,” but the Golden Knights ultimately won 5-4 in OT.

    With that, the Golden Knights won their fourth game in a row and now have 29 standings points, making for at least a slight cushion for the Pacific Division lead (the Kings are in action, but at 26 points, they’ll trail Vegas even if they manage a comeback win).

    Vegas probably wasn’t happy to see a three-goal lead dissolve, yet the Golden Knights just keep plugging away. They enjoyed a strong output from three forwards with plenty to prove in James Neal (one goal, one assist), William Karlsson (two goals), and Jonathan Marchessault (one goal and two assists). Both Neal and Karlsson are at 12 goals on the season now.

    The Golden Knights do have a bit to be concerned with, though, and that’s not limited to giving up the lead. Maxime Lagace “wasn’t feeling good” so he left the game for Malcolm Subban, while David Perron suffered an upper-body injury and did not return thanks to this questionable check:

    Even in defeat, Burns has to feel relief with this goal:

    Heck, even the Sharks seemed to wipe a little sweat off of their brows as the beastly blueliner finally scored.

    (Eh, Burns might need a few more goals to get people to stop complaining about his fantasy value. Sorry, Sharks.)

    Joe Thornton‘s two assists helped the Sharks secure a standings point, and now he sits alone at 12th all-time in assists, passing Joe Sakic.

    The Golden Knights continue to be one of the most heartening stories in the NHL, but even in grabbing the extra point, they’re only five ahead of the Sharks. Fighting off regression won’t be easy for the Golden Knights, yet they have incentive to push for some sort of home-ice advantage, as they improved to an impressive 9-1-0 in Vegas so far in their inaugural season.

    You never know how far a good run might take you, so don’t blame the Golden Knights for letting it ride.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Video: Devils’ Butcher with some razzle dazzle to set up Boyle

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    If you’re the type to get annoyed when college free agents soak up a lot of attention during the dog days of the hockey summer (Brandon Dubinsky is nodding), you were probably fed up with defenseman Will Butcher by the time he chose the New Jersey Devils as his destination.

    Well, at least the 22-year-old blueliner is backing up the hype, especially when it comes to setting up goals.

    Butcher’s 15th assist (and 17th point of the season) ranks as one of his best yet, as he totally baffled the Vancouver Canucks before setting up a Brian Boyle goal. You can watch that sweet helper in the video above this post’s headline.

    Speaking of Devils rookies, it seems like Nico Hischier is OK after this Alex Edler hit, but the Devils might be wise to keep an eye on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, as this looked a little worrisome:

    Again, it seems like Hischier avoided injury, yet we shall see.

    There was also this big hit by Taylor Hall on rising Canucks forward Brock Boeser:

    The Devils ended up beating the Canucks 3-2 on Friday.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Well, at least Flyers are getting ‘loser points’

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    Love it or hate it, the loser point is a reality in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams that really make things weird with what is now an 8-9-6 record in 2017-18.

    8-9-6. Look at that. It almost makes your eyes hurt, right? Something just seems wrong about that.

    No doubt about it, there are a lot of reasons to be frustrated if you’re a Flyers fan right now. Most obviously: they’ve now lost seven straight games after falling 5-4 in OT to the New York Islanders. Philly came into the third period with a 4-2 lead that they squandered, aside from getting a “loser point.” There’s at least some frustration with head coach Dave Hakstol:

    Still, in this weird standings format, not all losing streaks are equal.

    Bad: They dropped two straight games to the Islanders. Good-ish: At least both games went to overtime.

    Bad: Yeah, teams that want to take the next step can’t afford many slumps like seven games without a win. Good-ish: They grabbed four points during this skid. They’re at least scrapping for points when they can, in general; while they only have two wins in their last 10 games, yet they’ve managed at least a standings point in all but three (2-3-5, ugh).

    Bad: The Flyers are tied for last in the Metropolitan Division, and they’re really last since they’ve generated 22 points in 23 games while the Hurricanes have that many in 20 games played. Good-ish: While they have disadvantages that would force them to make a real run to do damage, you can’t rule out the Flyers in the wild card races.

    Ultimately, this team remains … perplexing.

    They have one foot in the current, with good stuff like the dominant Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek line in mind, even if some of that makes moves like the Brayden Schenn trade sting a little extra. On the other hand, they’re trying to bring along a group of wet-behind-the-ears defensemen, and there’s a fear that that group will take long enough to hit its stride than some of those forwards will start to hit the wall of regression.

    Ultimately, it might be crucial for GM Ron Hextall to figure out what to emphasize in the near future, particularly the trade deadline.

    At the moment, the Flyers are essentially aiming for the best of both worlds: developing that young talent while hoping to be competitive. That’s a great have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario, but sometimes teams really lower their ceilings by being too trigger-shy to commit one way or the other.

    You’d think with a seven-game losing streak, that Philly would be downright-bad. Instead, they seem more stuck in the middle, and such a situation presents its own set of problems, or at least some head-scratching questions.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.