Pittsburgh Penguins tie Washington Capitals atop the East standings thanks to tonight’s games

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(Technically, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be considered the No. 1 teams in the NHL if the Detroit Red Wings only come away with a point or less against the Los Angeles Kings tonight. That being said, I simply cannot call either one superior to Detroit considering the fact that the Red Wings will finish Saturday with 24 games played to Pittsburgh and Washington’s 28. So let’s keep the discussion to the Eastern Conference then, OK?)

Pittsburgh 7, Columbus 2

It seems like Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are flat-out unstoppable right now. Crosby scored two goals to push himself into the NHL lead in goal scoring with 23 (Steve Stamkos is stuck at 21, even though his Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Colorado Avalanche) while the Pens pushed their dominant winning streak to nine games.

The game was almost over after the first period, a time frame in which the Penguins took a 4-0 lead and out-shot the hapless Blue Jackets 16-2. Steve Mason only managed to play a little under 16 minutes in this game, allowing four goals and then making way for Mathieu Garon (who allowed three more). Marc-Andre Fleury continued his streak of being the other ridiculously torrid Penguin, stopping 21 out of 23 shots to win his 11th.

Crosby wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to score two goals, either, as Paul Martin managed two unassisted power-play goals in the first period.

This win puts the Penguins at 18 wins and 38 points on the season, which would tie them with the Washington Capitals if they lost in regulation to the still-very-hot Atlanta Thrashers.

Atlanta 3, Washington 1

… Which is exactly what happened.

Only Alex Ovechkin could solve Ondrej Pavelec, who continues to operate on a whole other plane of hockey existence. He stopped 45 out of 46 shots against one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL. Semyon Varlamov wasn’t half-bad himself (30 out of 33 saves), but he was no match for Pavelec.

Rich Peverley, Alexander Burmistrov and Andrew Ladd scored for Atlanta.

While the Caps are suffering from a slight hiccup (two losses in a row), the Thrashers have won seven of eight games, only losing to (wait for it) the Penguins on Thursday.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.