TGIF: In which we salivate over potential playoff matchups

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Saturday: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

These two fierce in-state rivals also meet Sunday on NBC, and could very well meet in the first round of the playoffs. For that to happen, the Flyers would need to finish in a wild-card spot, just not the one that matches up with Boston. Other potential first-round matchups we wouldn’t mind seeing? How ’bout Leafs-Habs. Or Bruins-Habs. Or Bruins-Leafs. Or Bruins-Flyers. Or Pens-Wings. Or Jackets-Rangers. And that’s just in the East. In the West, we could see Kings-Ducks in the battle of Los Angeles. And it seems all but certain we’ll see Avs-Hawks. After Colorado took four of five from the defending champs in the regular season? Yeah, I’d probably watch that.

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

Big game for both teams. If I’m the Wild, I want to win this one badly, because I know what’s ahead. Consider: after Saturday, Minnesota will have 15 games left, including two versus Boston, two against St. Louis, one against Pittsburgh, one against Los Angeles, and one against Chicago. On top of that, most of the rest are against desperate teams like Detroit (twice), New Jersey, Vancouver, Phoenix, and Winnipeg. The Jackets, meanwhile, have a relatively easier schedule, but they don’t have a six-point cushion like the Wild. Theirs is only three, and could easily be just one by Saturday.

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

I mentioned this yesterday in PHT Extra, but I’ll say it again here. If I’m a potential wild-card team in the West, I’m hoping Anaheim holds on to first in the Pacific, and then I hope I match up with the Ducks in the first round. No disrespect to Anaheim, though I guess it’s hard to take it any other way.  Yes, I think the Ducks are a good team; I just don’t think they’re in the same class as St. Louis. Or, for that matter, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Jose. In fact, if Anaheim draws Dallas in the first round, I’d probably pick the Stars to win. (Note: I reserve the right to change/chicken out of this pick.)

Sunday: Vancouver at Florida (3 p.m. ET)

Roberto Luongo versus his old Canucks. I have to say, I kind of agreed with Don Cherry’s take on Luongo’s tweeting during Vancouver’s 6-1 drubbing in Dallas. Maybe it would’ve been best if old @strombone1 sat that one out. Not that the tweets weren’t funny, because they were definitely funny. And I don’t think he meant any malice whatsoever with them; most of his tweets are of the self-deprecating kind, and that’s a big reason why Vancouver fans fell back in love with him before he was traded away. But if there’s one guy — I mean, ONE GUY — who should know that words can come back to bite, isn’t it Roberto “Easy Save For Me” Luongo?

Sunday: Detroit at Chicago (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

If the Red Wings end up making the playoffs, Mike Babcock deserves serious consideration for coach of the year. Frankly, I thought he deserved a lot more consideration last year, when he only finished 10th in the voting, but there’s no sense complaining about that now. It just can’t be understated how badly the Wings have been banged up this year. Only two players — Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey — have appeared in all 65 Detroit games. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen — all three stars have missed big chunks of the season. According to Sports Club Stats, the Wings have a 39.6 percent chance of making the playoffs for a 23rd straight time. “We talked about it after the Olympic break that we have to win two of every three,” said Babcock after Tuesday’s costly loss in Columbus. “We got off to a good start with that and then we’ve lost two in a row. We have to bounce back.”

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams fade in shootout

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.