TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

The resurgent Flyers have now won 10 straight at home, a streak that’s improved their record at Wells Fargo Center to 12-7-0. “I think they’re confident guys right now and they believe they can win,” head coach Craig Berube said after Philly’s latest conquest, 3-1 over the Habs on Wednesday. That being said, it’s still hard to feel 100-percent comfortable that the Flyers have finally figured it out. I’m not denying they’ve shown serious progress, but this team’s had a way of showing improvement, only to regress against better competition. Let’s see how they look later this month when they have to deal with this…

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Saturday: Colorado at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET)

If the only thing that matters is the final score, the Wild have been flawless in their last four games, all of them wins. But PHT readers are smart enough to know that’s a simple-minded way of looking at things. Given this is a team that lost six straight prior to its current streak, the fact Minnesota has been outshot 110-57 in its last three games combined suggests there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The biggest difference in the Wild’s last four games has been the play of Niklas Backstrom and, on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Darcy Kuemper. Great goaltending gives you a chance every night. Average goaltending is only good enough when you control the puck, and that’s something the Wild still aren’t doing enough.

Saturday: Detroit at Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET)

A Stanley Cup Final preview, according to my pre-season prediction. Yeah, I’m not feeling so good about that Red Wings pick right now. Though it should be noted that I included the caveat that “Stephen Weiss can’t be a free-agent bust.” Does that get me off the hook? Whatever, I’m standing by my pick. Detroit’s better than its record; a 1-7 mark in the “gimmick” is a big reason the Wings are barely hanging on to a wild-card spot. Besides, one team out of two wouldn’t be so bad, and the Kings are very much in the Cup conversation. “We’re playing good,” says coach Darryl Sutter, with no regard for the English language. “We’ve played good for six or seven games.”

Saturday: Boston at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

Without getting too technical, the Sharks have been kinda meh the last month or so. After starting the season 19-3-5, San Jose is just 9-8-1 in its last 18 games, with only five of those wins coming in regulation. Yeah, there have been some injuries, like the one to Logan Couture’s hand, but the Sharks are far from the only team that’s dealing with key absences. Meanwhile, the Bruins should be motivated for this one after dropping the first two of their three-game California trip, drawing some stern words from their coach.

Sunday: Philadelphia at NY Rangers (7 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Some of you may disagree, but as I wrote here, I really like the way the Rangers are playing lately. They hammered the Leafs, 7-1, on Saturday. The first few minutes of the third period they had against Columbus on Monday at MSG were absolutely dominant. And, of course, they beat the Blackhawks in Chicago two days later. If Henrik Lundqvist can play like the guy who earned that massive contract extension, they could go on a serious run before the Olympic break, with 10 of their 14 games at MSG and two at Yankee Stadium.

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.