Evgeni Malkin, James Neal

Penguins clinch playoffs as Malkin, Neal overshadow Radulov’s return

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Thursday night was supposed to be all about Alexander Radulov’s return to the Nashville Predators, but it’s pretty tough to steal the Pittsburgh Penguins’ thunder – even when you score.

Radulov provided the Predators’ lone goal as the Penguins dominated the game, winning 5-1 – and thus becoming the East’s second team to clinch a playoff spot – thanks in large part to another outstanding performance from Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

Penguins pound Preds

Malkin scored his 44 and 45th goals of the season, giving him a stunning seven goals and four assists in his last five games. Malkin has nine games left to get the five tallies needed for 50, which would defy my (seemingly reasonable?) guess that Steven Stamkos would be this season’s only 50-goal guy. Geno now has a whopping 95 points in just 66 games, making it hard to deny the crowd’s logic in chanting “M-V-P!” tonight.

Neal wasn’t exactly chopped liver, either, collecting four assists for the game’s first star nod. Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist) and Kris Letang (two helpers) also played a big part in the win, with the only “bummer” being that Sidney Crosby went without a point.

(It looked like Crosby “finally” scored his first goal of his second return, but Kunitz received credit for the goal as the puck deflected off of a Predators’ skate instead.)

Radulov under review

Radulov did get his goal, but a -2 rating and just two shots on goal show that he didn’t have a super-busy return. He appeared in just under 16 minutes (15:54 time on ice), but it’ll probably be fairer to judge his work this weekend, when the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and start a three-game road trip by visiting the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (which you can watch on NBC Sports Network).

Atlantic race update

As I mentioned before, the Penguins are now guaranteed a playoff spot. Here’s what the Atlantic title battle looks like now:

Rangers: 99 points, 43 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Penguins: 98 points, 37 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Flyers: 94 points, 39 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

It’s likely that the Flyers (who beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout tonight, more on that soon) are out of the mix at this point, although they’ll face the Penguins two more times this season.

Honestly, one cannot help but wonder if it might all come down to an April 5 home game against the Rangers. New York holds tiebreaker advantages so the Penguins almost certainly need to finish with one more point to win the division, but that contest could represent the difference if the two teams remain neck-and-neck down the stretch.

Just ask the Predators how easy it is to stick with the Penguins.

Optimism won’t come as easily for Lightning after ugly loss to Canucks

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save in front of Alex Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on March 17, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t “figuring things out” after all.

They were able to find the bright side of recent troubles, but what do you really say after a 5-1 loss to the struggling Vancouver Canucks?

The Lightning have lost two straight, six of seven and seven of nine during a deeply worrisome run. While they did generate more shots on goal tonight, they’ve now given up at least 30 in all but three of their contests since the start of November.

If the playoffs began today, the Lightning would easily miss them.

“It’s time for us to step up here,” Ben Bishop said after a game in which he was pulled heading into the third period. “Nobody is going to feel bad for us.”

Blame it on injuries if you’d like, but Steven Stamkos isn’t coming back anytime soon. If they don’t get things back together, they won’t be playing for much once he can return.

Flyers wouldn’t give up in seventh straight win; Oilers couldn’t protect a lead

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 08:  Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates after scoring a second period goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Wells Fargo Center on December 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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One team just can’t be denied. At times, the other team just can’t seem to defend.

It was a pretty wild one between the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, with the ultimate result being a 6-5 win for the Flyers.

The ride was bumpy, dramatic and will probably provide Oilers head coach Todd McLellan with a lot of “teaching moments” (or, let’s be honest, reasons to yell really loud).

Things started promising enough for the Oilers, who built an early 2-0 lead thanks to a goal and an assist by Leon Draisaitl. You could then cue the horror music, as the Flyers scored three goals in a minute and 12 seconds to grab a brief 3-2 lead:

There might be some concern about a young team like the Oilers cratering from such a letdown, yet they bounced back … to an extent.

Edmonton rattled off three unanswered goals, giving them a 5-3 lead about five minutes into the third period. It seemed like it would be a redemptive moment after that three-goal blunder.

Then there was another three-goal blunder.

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl helped the Flyers rattling off another three unanswered goals, giving Philly a seventh consecutive win.

The Oilers? They didn’t even get what sometimes feels like a customary “charity point” by getting to overtime. Three isn’t a magical number for Edmonton lately, as they’ve now lost three in a row. It’s probably safe to say that this one will burn the most.

Avalanche beat Bruins, even as Pastrnak remains almost unstoppable

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 08: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche slides for the puck ahead of David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on December 8, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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David Pastrnak is scoring at an astounding pace. Sometimes it’s still not enough to earn a win for the Boston Bruins.

The 20-year-old wunderkind scored both of the Bruins’ goals on Thursday, giving him a patently absurd 18 in 23 games. Pastrnak now has five goals in his last three games (not to mention a five-game point streak with those five goals and two assists).

Calvin Pickard was perfect against Bruins not named Pastrnak, however, and the Colorado Avalanche beat Boston 4-2.

Perhaps part of the problem was that the Bruins “other” MVP wasn’t in action, then. Tuukka Rask has been right up there with the NHL’s best, but it was Anton Khudobin in net, and he gave up four goals on just 22 shots.

Rather than taking a step up the ladder, Pastrnak’s made leaps. Similarly, Rask is more than merely rebounding from what was – for his lofty standards – a disappointing campaign in 2015-16.

The Bruins need more from their supporting cast members, however, especially when one of these two players can’t suit up.

BREAKING: Carey Price’s composure

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Even the best goalie in the world – one who makes it look easy – can lose his cool sometimes.

(Heck, that used to be the domain of Patrick Roy, right?)

It was quite the sight on Thursday nonetheless: Carey Price absolutely lost his cool and went after Kyle Palmieri during the Montreal Canadiens’ game against the New Jersey Devils. You can watch that spectacle in the video above.

Palmieri received an interference penalty while Price received a roughing double-minor. Apparently fits of Price anger are rare:

By Hockey Reference’s numbers, Price has accrued 39 penalty minutes in 465 career regular season games and eight in 54 playoff contests before tonight’s outburst.

Perhaps it’s just one of those nights.