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.

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

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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)

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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

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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