Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

Edmonton 4, Columbus 2

The Edmonton Oilers might not be a very good team in the standings, but they sure can be fun to watch. When they’re on their game, they show tons of potential for the future and play an exciting brand of hockey. Lead by Taylor Hall’s Gordie Howe hat trick, the Oilers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, chased Jackets’ goaltender Steve Mason, and held on for the win. They may be reduced to the spoiler role—but they’re playing it well. Unfortunately, they may be doing it without Hall pending the results of his MRI on Friday.

The Blue Jackets came into Edmonton needing points if they wanted to keep pace in the playoff hunt. Inexplicitly, they came out flat and never really deserved to win a game they could have used. Jackets coach Scott Arniel summed it up best:

“We didn’t come to compete. We didn’t win many one-on-one battles, our power-play (0-of-5) stunk. We did a lot of ugly things tonight, really out of character of what we’ve been doing the last month and a half.”

Nashville 3, Vancouver 0

The two best defenses in the Western Conference got together and through 40 minutes no one could score a goal. But in the 3rd period, the Predators broke loose, scored three unanswered, and beat the best team in the league in their own barn. Blake Geoffrion scored his 2nd career goal two minutes into the final period which proved to be enough. Patrick Hornqvist had a sweet goal and an empty netter sealed the deal. The game had the look and feel of a playoff game with the two teams playing such a tight brand of hockey. No doubt it’s a good sign for fans in Nashville that the Preds were able to go into a hostile environment and play their style of game.

San Jose 3, Detroit 1

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that people were wondering what was wrong with the San Jose Sharks? Those complaints seem like a distant memory nowadays. With their exciting win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Sharks have now won eight straight and are leading the hotly contested Pacific Division. Over the stretch, the Sharks are only giving up 1.63 goals per game. Of course, when Dany Heatley scores a pair of goals and Patrick Marleau has a goal and an assist, it’s a little easier to win a few.

Detroit finished their 3-games-in-4-nights California stretch with a 1-1-1 record. Joey MacDonald gave his team a chance to win, but the Wings simply couldn’t score enough to earn the win. There’s a reason why back-to-backs are so difficult for NHL teams.

Los Angeles 1, Phoenix 0

The Kings and Coyotes gave fans at Staples Center a taste of what playoff hockey will look like next month. Both teams had to fight for every inch of ice until the Kings were able to take advantage of a power play to score the only goal of the game. If you like low-scoring games that are heavily influenced by special teams, then this was right up your alley.

With the win, Los Angeles is 12-2-3 in their last 17 games. Jonathan Bernier earned his 2nd shutout of the year. They started the game in 8th place; one Jarret Stoll goal later and the Kings are in 5th place. If they lost, they would have been in 9th. Needless to say, the Dustin Penner era is off to a pretty good start.

Who says the playoffs don’t start until April?

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    The Buzzer: Schwartz the hero, Gibson blanks Flames, Bruins clinch

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    Players of the Night:

    Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed a win on Wednesday. They’ll need a few more still if they’re to push for the playoffs, but Schwartz scored a third-period equalizer and then the overtime winner 30 seconds into the extra frame to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks (who won) for the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

    John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson posted his third shutout in his past seven starts — and fourth of the season — saving all 29 shots that came his way in a 4-0 triumph of the Calgary Flames.

    Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin continued his pursuit of the Hart Trophy, netting a goal and adding an assist for his 41st goal (three back of Alex Ovechkin) and 91st point (three back of Nikita Kucherov).

    Highlights of the Night:

    Sidney Crosby did a thing – a very nice thing:

    Jaden Schwartz, end-to-end to end the game:


    Factoids of the Night:


    Penguins 5, Canadiens 3

    Coyotes 4, Buffalo 1

    Blues 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

    Ducks 4, Flames 0

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch


    Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

    In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

    The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

    The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

    That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

    The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

    The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

    And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

    Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

    By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

    On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

    Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

    Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

    NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

    AT&T Sportsnet

    Oh, Sidney.

    Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

    Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

    Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

    And another angle:

    Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

    Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

    Remember this from John Tavares?

    It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

    Getty Images

    Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

    No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

    The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

    Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

    With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

    Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

    “This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

    Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

    “I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

    Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

    “Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

    “He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

    Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

    “There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

    That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

    “That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

    It’s burned brightly ever since.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck