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.

PHT Morning Skate: This season’s top five breakout performers

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Jake Allen wore a special U.S. Navy tribute mask during last night’s game against the Coyotes. It’s really a gorgeous mask. “The blue and yellow complements our colors well, and it’s a great tribute to the Blue Angel pilots who have the honor of flying and performing across the country.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–With every NHL season, there are surprises and disappointments. Rather than focus on the negatives, The Hockey News breaks down the top five breakout seasons in 2016-17. At the top of the list is Panthers forward Jonathan Marchesault, who is shockingly closing in on a 30-goal season. Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Boston’s David Pastrnak have also made names for themselves. (The Hockey News)

–It’s no secret that NHLers are forced to travel a lot, but each team makes the most of their road trips in different ways. For example, Kevin Shattenkirk and the Capitals enjoy fine dining when they’re away from home.  “It’s so easy to go to the top names or the ones that you hear of all the time, but when you go to a lot of these cities, the food scenes everywhere now are really starting to improve. A lot of my friends naturally are foodies. They bring me to some of their places. Even just a simple Google, most of the times, the first two things that come up are Yelp or TripAdvisor, and I usually go a couple down and look at a local newspaper, if they have the best spots to eat in 2017. I like to focus on those.” (Washington Post)

–The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in lasts night’s game against Chicago, but they were able to battle back and win in a thrilling overtime period. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Tonight will mark the first time that Jordie and Jamie Benn play against each other since the trade that saw the older Benn head to Montreal. The Canadiens took the opportunity to ask their Benn some questions about what it was like growing up with his brother. Here’s a sample question: “Of the two of you, which one is Peyton and who is Eli?” (NHL.com/Canadiens)

–This year’s rookie class with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner and Matt Murray is one of the best in recent memory, but which other freshmen classes stand out? BarDown takes a look at the top five rookie classes since 2000. (BarDown)

–Capitals forward Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had some fun during picture day. The two players showed up to the rink with some pretty poofy hair. There’s no point in me trying to explain it when you can see the pictures for yourself. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.