Early ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

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Boston 2, Tampa Bay 1

This hasn’t been an easy stretch for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On back-to-back nights they’ve been forced to play the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference on the road. In both games, the Lightning did a good job of holding their opponents to only 2 goals. Unfortunately, they only scored a single goal as they lost for the second straight night.

In a battle for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, Milan Lucic scored the eventual game-winner with about 4 minutes left in the game. Lucic netted the goal on a rebound after an unbelievable scramble in front of Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. For his part, Smith had a fantastic game and gave his team a chance to win. They’ll just need to start scoring more than once if they want to win.

Washington 3, St. Louis 2

Welcome to the Capitol, Mr. Arnott. The Caps have been saying for two years that they wanted a 2nd line center, and one game into the Arnott-era it seems they might have found the right guy for the job. Thursday’s win was their third in a row—the first time they’ve won three games in a row since the Winter Classic. In fact, the Caps didn’t have a lead until Arnott’s goal with 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. It was a tough way to lose for the Blues who played a good road game and desperately need the points in the tight Western Conference.

Toronto 3, Philadelphia 2

The good news for the Flyers was Kris Versteeg was able to bury 2 goals against his former team. The bad news is no one else was able to do anything and the Leafs escaped Wells Fargo Center with a 3-2 win. Escaped is really the right word. The Leafs controlled the play for most of the game, but once they scored the go-ahead goal with 4:30 left in the final frame, the Flyers threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Maple Leafs. At the end of the day though, it was the first time the Flyers have lost back-to-back games since the end of December.

The Leafs continued their hot streak as of late. This was the ninth one-goal game in a row with Toronto earning points in all 9 games (6-0-3). Rookie netminder James Reimer played well once again helping the Leafs win another tight game as they make a surprising push for the playoffs.

Minnesota 3, NY Rangers 1

Don’t look now, but the Rangers are in a freefall. Thursday night’s loss is their 11th in their last 15 games, dropping them down to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Once again, they played well enough to win—but fell short on the scoreboard. They got 41 shots on net against the Wild, but Henrik Lundqvist was only able to make 16 saves as the Wild escaped Gotham with a much needed win.

The Wild will take wins any way they can get them—and tonight that included surviving a horrific first period. Even though the Rangers dominated the play in the opening frame, Minnesota kept it close and made enough big plays to earn the win. At this point, it doesn’t matter how they get them. A win is a win.

Carolina 3, Buffalo 2 (OT)

For all of the teams in the East trying to push into the playoffs, this was the worst possible result. A 3-point game between the 8th and 9th place teams is NOT the way to climb the ladder to make any headway.

Defenseman Jaime McBain was able to pot the game-ender for the Canes only 26 seconds into OT. With the overtime win, the Hurricanes are now 11-3-2 in their last 16 at the RBC Center. As Eric Staal said after the game, he could sense the confidence building within the team with youngsters and veterans alike. That’s exactly what Carolina will need if they want to make the playoffs in April.

The loss snaps the Sabres 4-game winning streak even though newcomer Brad Boyes was able to score his 2nd goal in as many games for Buffalo. As a team battling for the final playoff spot, they were at least able to earn the loser point.

Ottawa 3, Atlanta 1

Why in the world didn’t Bryan Murray trade for Craig Anderson months ago? The former Avs netminder played well yet again as his 42 saves led the Sens to their fourth win in his sixth game. Better than that, it was the fifth time he’s only allowed 1 or fewer goals in a game for the Sens.

The 11th place Thrashers lost ground on everyone they were chasing as they lost their 7th game in their last 8. They have one game left on their current 5-game homestand that has seen them go 1-2-1. The loss drops them seven points out of the final playoff spot. Needless to say, this wasn’t the time to lose to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal 4, Florida 0

Unfortunately, the Panthers are going to have to play the rest of the season. After trading three defensemen and four forwards, the Panthers looked completely overmatched as the Habs jumped all over them in the 1st period. The final score was 4-0, but it seemed much worse than that. Maybe it had to do with the sellout crowd of Habs fans making the BankAtlantic Center their own. Maybe it was Tomas Vokoun getting pulled 9 minutes into the game.

The Canadiens must have been happy with their effort. Two first period goals and a 30 save shutout for Carey Price helped solidify their sixth place standing. Even Hal Gill scored a goal! That pretty much sums it up.

Mario Lemieux is ‘fine’ with Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66

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Believe it or not, many people have an issue with Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66, but it sounds like former Penguins great Mario Lemieux isn’t one of them.

On Thursday, Lemieux made it clear that Ho-Sang using his number wasn’t an issue.

“I’m fine with it,” Lemieux said via a spokesperson, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s just a number. Number 4 and number 9 were worn by great players (Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, respectively), and they are not retired forever. Players can choose whatever number they want.”

 Unlike the number 99, the NHL hasn’t retired 66, which means any player can still use it.

Some see it as a sign of disrespect, but Ho-Sang has made it clear that that’s the last thing on his mind when he decided he wanted to wear Lemieux’s old number.

“It’s honoring [Lemieux] and just, I think a lot more people remember who he is now because they’re yelling at me about wearing the number, right? I think that’s cool too,” he told Newsday earlier this month. “There’s a lot of light being shined on an amazing player. By no means am I trying to be better than or trying to prove anything. For me, it’s definitely a tribute to a great player. If he asked me not to wear it, I’d definitely consider it, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls or anything. So for now I’m gonna wear it.”

Even though Lemieux has now given his blessing, don’t be surprised if Penguins fan are all over Ho-Sang during Friday’s game between the two teams at PPG Paints Arena.

PHT Morning Skate: Matt Duchene helps fan land a prom date

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Matt Duchene may be having a tough season, but he picked up a terrific assist on Thursday night, as he flipped a puck to a fan and helped her get a prom date in the process. (Top)

–Sportsnet breaks down the five longest individual playoff streaks. Henrik Zetteberg has the longest active streak, but that’s about to come to an end in the next few weeks. After the Red Wings are officially eliminated from the playoffs, Sharks defenseman Paul Martin will own the longest streak. (Sportsnet)

–As you may have seen, yesterday was National Puppy Day. Several NHL players shared pictures of themselves with their dogs. BarDown has accumulated some of the best ones. (BarDown)

–The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell thinks the NHL could improve the World Cup by taking some ideas from the World Baseball Classic. Campbell writes: “Not only was the World Cup in one country, heck it was in one city, in one arena. The World Baseball Classic, on the other hand, was played in four countries – South Korea, Japan, Mexico and USA, with three different American cities hosting games. If you want to capitalize on the unique passion that many European fans have for the game, you have to bring it to them and make them feel a part of the experience.” (The Hockey News)

Al Montoya is the first Cuban-American player to make it to the NHL, and he spoke to the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan about his heritage. “I’m a first-generation Cuban-American. You don’t really hear that a lot. A lot of these (Cuban) people have been here for a while, so it’s something that’s special to me. Where my grandparents came from … they passed away a few years ago, but for me it was always a sense of pride the way that my grandparents carried themselves. The traditions that we had during the holidays … whatever it might be. (Montreal Gazette)

–The Vegas Golden Knights and Cirque du Soleil have become strategic entertainment partners. This partnership should make in-game entertainment pretty interesting. “Cirque du Soleil has had a significant presence in Las Vegas since 1992 and continues to be one of the most popular entertainment options in town. We are always looking for creative ways to enhance the overall fan experience at our home games and this partnership certainly helps advance that objective.” (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”