Around the rink – March 8; Habs-Bruins, Sabres-Pens highlight busy night

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh

Playoff position jockeying begins in earnest as the Sabres can jump to seventh in the East with a win over the Penguins. Meanwhile, a Penguins win paired with a Flyers regulation loss puts them in a tie with Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division. And some people say regular season hockey doesn’t have any bite to it. Silly people. Making life tougher for the Sabres is they’ll be without Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta tonight. Mark Parrish and Luke Adam get the call from the minors to help out. We’re figuring the Penguins won’t really miss dealing with Kaleta.

Ottawa @ New Jersey

Seems almost unfair that the Devils get to try and continue their winning ways against a Senators team decimated by injuries. Hey, at least they’ve got Craig Anderson in goal which means it’ll probably just be another 2-1 game. The Devils are just seven points out of eighth place and going up against the NHL’s worst team figures to be a good way to keep the good times rolling.

Toronto @ NY Islanders

The Leafs would like to keep up with the slumping Jones’ at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race and finding a way to beat the much improved Islanders would go a long way towards that. Having these two teams playing better hockey late in the season makes us nostalgic for the early part of the 2000s when these teams would play some legendary-ish games in the spring. Having some nostalgia break out on the ice tonight would make us feel at home. The Leafs are four points back of Carolina for the eighth spot in the East.

Edmonton @ Philadelphia

All right so the Flyers have lost four in a row and they’ve got what would appear to be an easy game with one of the NHL’s worst teams in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup finals from the 1980s these are not. Of course, the Oilers are winners of seven of their last ten games. We’re not going to call this a trap game, but we’re thinking that if Peter Laviolette’s reasoning for the Flyers recent slump is just a matter of fatigue, then things should return to normal for Philly.

7:30 p.m.

Boston @ Montreal

When last we left these two teams, they were putting on the foil in Boston in a big, old fashioned way in an 8-6 Bruins win featuring line brawls all over the place all night long. If we see more of that tonight in Montreal, we’d be surprised. We don’t think the Habs will be seeking revenge with their fists but would rather try to narrow the gap in the standings between themselves and the Bruins. Montreal trails Boston by five points and if they want to win the division wins are more important than payback. A Boston win and a Philly loss in regulation moves the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Chicago @ Florida

Panthers GM Dale Tallon gets to meet up with his former team in Sunrise tonight. With how hot the Blackhawks have been of late, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have a tough time dealing with the trade reduced Panthers, especially with a motivated Michal Frolik looking to beat his former team. Chicago could pull within four points of Detroit for the Central Division lead with a win.

8:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Minnesota

If the Wild are hoping to get in the mix for the playoffs, beating a downtrodden Avalanche team would go a long way towards that. Andrew Brunette may be out with illness and Guillaume Latendresse might suit up tonight. So much intrigue for the Wild! As for the Avs, they’ve lost 17 of their last 19 games including their last five. That’s stunningly awful. No pressure here Minnesota, but if you want to be taken serious as a potential playoff team you’d better beat the Avs.

9:00 p.m.

Vancouver @ Phoenix

A game with some bite to it out West as the Canucks look to keep flexing their muscles on the rest of the conference. After winning against L.A. and Anaheim the Canucks appear to have turned things around after going mild for a stretch just winning and losing on alternating nights. Phoenix may have turned around their fortunes with their comeback win in the shootout over Detroit on Saturday night. They had lost five in a row up until that point. The Coyotes could use a rally for a few different reasons and knocking off the front running Canucks would be another feather in their cap.

10:30 p.m.

Nashville @ San Jose

San Jose continues to be on fire while the Predators have slipped up of late. The Sharks did lose their last time out against Dallas, but they’d won eight in a row prior to that. Nashville’s lost six of their last eight and have fallen out of the top eight for the playoffs for the moment. They need to get consistent again and getting their offense together would go a long way toward that. Meanwhile, San Jose has a three point lead on the resurgent Stars in the Pacific Division. Keeping distance on them should be a priority for the Sharks.

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

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.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams fade in shootout

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The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

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.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

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: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

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.