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Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 24

Pittsburgh 2, Philadelphia 1 (SO)

The Penguins may not have ever had the lead against the Flyers, but there’s no doubt they were the better team for all 65 minutes. Make that 65 minutes plus a shootout. In fact, Pittsburgh was never ahead on the scoreboard until Chris Kunitz buried a beautiful shootout goal to clinch the victory for the Pens.
The Pens held Philadelphia to only 20 shots for the game including a paltry five shots in the final frame of regulation. If it wasn’t for Sergei Bobrovsky standing on his head all night, the scoreboard wouldn’t have even been close. It wasn’t just the volume of saves, but the quality of saves kept the Flyers in the game. The team can thank their goaltender for single-handedly extending their point streak to 8 straight games.

With both teams earning points, the Flyers are sitting at 98 points with 9 games remaining, while the Penguins jump to 94 points with only 8 games left on their schedule. But it wasn’t all smiles for the victorious Penguins. Rookie forward Dustin Jeffrey went down with a lower-body injury (right leg or ankle) and will be re-evaluated on Friday. Aside from that, it was the perfect trip to Philly.

Ottawa 2, NY Rangers 1 (SO)

Looking at the standings, this was one the Rangers felt like they had to win. Win in regulation, win in overtime, or win in a shootout, it didn’t matter; they just had to win. Upon closer review, this game wasn’t the slam dunk people may have thought it was. With the shootout victory, Ottawa is 9-1-1 in their last 11 at Madison Square Garden. How streaks like that happen is another story, but the point is that the Senators have made it a habit of walking into MSG and taking what they want. Even with this sad version that is playing out the string, they still made it happen. Again, you can’t help but wonder where this team would be if they had Craig Anderson playing like this all season. Maybe they’d be a playoff team, maybe they wouldn’t. But they’d certainly be in the conversation.

Things weren’t all bad for the Rangers though. They did get the charity point for losing in a shootout and the team they are chasing (Montreal) was dominated so severely they should have been given TWO losses. The loser-point brings the Rangers to within 2 points of the Habs with 7 games to go. Sure, they have to make the playoffs first—but all the sudden the 6th seed is looking like a possibility.

Atlanta 2, NY Islanders 1

In a bit of symmetry, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares both scored their 27th goals of the season. Rob Schremp scored a power play goal in the 2nd period against his former team that turned out to be the eventual game winner. In the record books it’ll look like a booming slap shot or beautiful deke, but in reality it was a semi-screened wrister that Al Montoya would love to have back. The win improves the Thrashers recent record to 5-2-1 over their last eight games, but it might be too little too late. They’re still in 11th place in the Eastern Conference needing to make up seven points in their final nine games. At least they won the season series against the Islanders by taking 3 of 4.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’re going to need more than 15 shots if they’re going to want to win games. They’ve been playing well down the stretch, but there’s no way they should get outshot 34-15 to a team that has been one of the worst teams of 2011.

Boston 7, Montreal 0

The game that was supposed to be the bloodbath of the night never really fully delivered. To clarify, the game didn’t deliver line-brawls, goalie fights, or game misconducts. But what it did deliver was a crazy atmosphere in Boston and a rather large statement from the Boston Bruins to their Adams Northeast Division rival. 7-0 routes have a way of saying things that translate better than anything said in a sound byte or press clipping.

It was the first game between the two teams since Zdeno Chara’s questionable hit on Max Pacioretty in Montreal. Since the hit, Chara has handled the media storm well as he has 2 goals and 8 assists in his last 8 games and owns a +7 rating over the same time span. Against Montreal, he (and David Krejci) picked-up three assists as he did his part to chase Carey Price from the game in the 3rd period. After the game, Mark Recchi explained that his comments this week about Pacioretty embellishing his injury were designed to “take the heat off of Chara.” It must have worked.

St. Louis 4, Edmonton 0

In retrospect, this game will please both teams when they look back on it after the season. The Blues showed resolve and played well in a game that means nothing to them. They’re not going to make the playoffs—but wins like this can help a team grasp onto something to build for next year. TJ Oshie showed that he would have been a huge help if he was healthy all year. Chris Stewart continued to show fans in St. Louis that he can be their power forward of the future and Jaroslav Halak showed flashes of the goaltender they thought they were going to get. Playing with heart down the stretch means something—just ask the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On the flipside, the Oilers lost again on their way to the worst record in the league. Sure, it’s good to win games—but they’ve been looking at one of the top picks in the draft for a few months. No one said “Losing for Landeskog” was going to be easy.

Nashville 5, Anaheim 4

The game was supposed to be the triumphant return of the Ducks’ all-star goaltender in Nashville. Well, it was—for just over 11 minutes, the return of Jonas Hiller. After that, it was the Dan Ellis show as Hiller got the hook after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots. The Preds jumped all over the Ducks who were in the second game of a back-to-back situation. Considering Anaheim won an emotional game the night before and was trying to ease their goaltender back into the mix, Nashville couldn’t have started the game better by putting pucks on the net and putting the Ducks in a hole to start the game. Two goals from Sergei Kostitsyn helped Nashville jump out to a lead they’d never relinquish. The win was the fifth straight for the Predators; and also snapped the Ducks’ own four-game winning streak.

Things weren’t perfect in the Hockey Tonk as they nearly blew a 5-1 lead in the 3rd period. Coach Barry Trotz was happy with the win, but was clearly upset with his team letting the opposition off the hook. Whenever a coach compares a win to the previous year’s playoff loss, it’s never a good thing.

Toronto 4, Colorado 3

The Leafs are still alive. With 78 points and sitting only three points behind the final playoff spot, they’re most definitely alive. They can thank Nikolai Kulemin for his pair of goals. They can thank the rest of the Eastern Conference for making it easier to sneak into the 8th seed. They can thank James Reimer for being this year’s version of “Maple Leafs Savior of All-Time.” Whatever the reasoning, a win is a win and they’re still in the hunt. We’ll know a lot more after Tuesday night’s game when they face the Buffalo Sabres at the ACC. If they can win that game in regulation, fans in Toronto might have reason to plan for the playoffs. Note: plan for the playoffs, not plan a parade. There’s a difference.

Phoenix 3, Columbus 0

This was one of those games where one team needed the win to keep pace in a playoff race while the other is just playing out the string and waiting for April. Check out the score and you tell me which team is playoff bound and which one is heading to the golf course. If the score doesn’t do the trick, then the three goals the Coyotes scored should better tell the story. All three goals were the same: there was a Coyotes player in front of the net, all by himself with as much time to do whatever he wanted to beat Mathieu Garon. The effort was great for the Coyotes as they are 8-1-1 and have only given up 18 goals in their last 10 games. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots to earn his 7th shutout of the year and 21st of his career.

But in the other locker room, things weren’t quiet as cheery. RJ Umberger and Rick Nash called a players-only meeting to let their teammates know that they still need to have the attitude that these games mean something. Hopefully that translates into some goals since they’ve been shut out three times in their last five games.

Los Angeles 4, San Jose 3 (SO)

Any fans on the East Coast who chose to stay up past their bedtimes were treated to an amazing finish in Los Angeles. In a game that went back and forth, the Kings controlled the play in the first two periods as they outshot their No Cal rivals 27-13. In response, the Sharks came out attacking in the third period and controlled play just like the Kings controlled the first 40 minutes. The game was tied when Dustin Brown scored his second goal of the game with only 1:42 left in the 3rd period. Ordinarily, that would be enough for the victory—but not in the Western Conference this year. The unofficial “home of the 3-point game” lived up to its name as Patrick Marleau buried the game tying goal (his second of the game) with 4.1 seconds left in regulation. Both goaltenders made nice saves in the overtime session before Jonathan Quick improved his shootout record to an amazing 9-0. That’s the kind of crazy game it took to snap San Jose’s 4-game winning streak.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).