Brian Burke says Ron Wilson will be back to coach Maple Leafs next year

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Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke has always been loyal to the coaches he hires. Whether in Vancouver, Anaheim, or Toronto, Burke has never fired a coach he hired for the organization. He publically gave Mike Keenan the boot in Vancouver and installed Marc Crawford to guide the Canucks, but Keenan was already there when Burke arrived on the scene. Since then, he’s always kept his coaches around. He’s only had to replace one since—when Mike Babcock bolted from Anaheim to lead the Detroit Red Wings. Other than that, he’s always stood behind the men who stand behind the bench.

Despite the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs are desperately fighting for their playoff lives (and are likely to finish on the outside looking in), it looks like Ron Wilson’s job is safe for at least another summer. James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail had the scoop:

“I said back in the fall, we would not consider a change, even when all the hounds were baying,” Burke said. “I feel the same way now. Ron is coaching this team next year.”

(Re: Wilson’s contract that is up expires at the end of the season):

“I’m not worried about anything like that now,” the coach said. “I’m sure it will [take care of itself]. I’ve got a contract for next year, so beyond that doesn’t bother me.”

Given Burke’s track-record, this isn’t exactly the most surprising news. Yet hearing a coach is safe even though he’s missed the playoffs for three straight seasons under the heavy scrutiny that only the Toronto media can provide still comes as a bit of a surprise. Apparently fans in Canada will have to wait until October to start the “Fire Wilson” rumors back up again.

Now technically, Ron Wilson was not hired by Brian Burke. Wilson arrived in Toronto a few months before Burke arrived on the scene—but it’s long been speculated that the Wilson/Burke relationship would help bring the GM to the Maple Leafs. If you are inclined to believe that kind of conspiracy theory, then this is simply another case of Burke taking care of his own.

Regardless, when looking at all the two have been through together, there’s no questioning that Ron Wilson is Brian Burke’s man. He’s had ample opportunity to run Wilson out of town when the Leafs were at the bottom of the standings and when fans/media were crying for his head. Despite the pressure, Burke has always remained firm and stood confidently behind his coach.

For a guy who creates so much controversy, these kind of conservative takes on his coaches is down-right boring. After all, this isn’t how John Ferguson, Jr. would do it.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.