TGIF: Philly’s flying high, led by Giroux

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Saturday: St. Louis at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

Since finishing January with a 26-23-6 record, the Flyers are 11-2-1 and have scored at least four goals seven times in a single game. The same team that started the season with just 11 goals in its first eight games now ranks ninth in NHL offense. Leading the charge? Claude Giroux. Philly’s captain has 22 points in his last 14 games, and the 26-year-old who didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 9 now has 24 tallies on the season. In case you were wondering, this is the team that Paul Holmgren intended to build. A high-scoring, aggressive club that needs good, but not spectacular, goaltending to win. Now, how the Flyers fare in the playoffs is anyone’s guess. And while that may be true of a lot of teams, doesn’t it feel especially true with this one? Just a total wild card.

Saturday: Montreal at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Assuming James Reimer is traded this summer — and I think that’s a pretty good assumption at this point — where will he end up? The Islanders are one option, but given how hesitant Garth Snow has been to address his team’s most pressing concern, it’s hard to say how good an option. Other teams that may want to address their goaltending by adding a likeable 26-year-old with a .914 career save percentage include Calgary, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. May be worth noting that Flames general manager Brian Burke was a big believer in Reimer back in their Toronto days together.

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

Adam Oates said the Capitals needed to sweep their three-game trip to California. Karl Alzner said they could afford to lose one. Well, if they beat the Sharks, they’ll split the difference, with two wins and a shootout defeat. Granted, that won’t be easy, given San Jose’s 26-5-4 record at the Shark Tank. But the Caps have definitely shown some backbone lately, and that hasn’t always been something you associate with this team. The Kings racked up 50 hits against Washington Thursday, after which Oates said, “I’m proud of our guys and the way they stood up to it.” The playoffs are still somewhat of a long shot for Washington (18.2 percent, per Sports Club Stats), but there’s more hope today than there was a week ago.

Sunday: St. Louis at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

A “good wake-up call” is what Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks. “They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason. They know when to turn the temperature up. No matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, to even give (Chicago) a go, you’re going to have to dial it up. They’re getting ready and it’s up to us to get ready. That’s the task. They dialed it up and we didn’t play well.” You almost wonder if the ‘Hawks went into that game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. With all the talk about the Blues, and how this might finally be the year for St. Louis, the champs appeared pretty motivated to hold on to their crowns.

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

The second of a weekend back-to-back between these two teams. We all know about Detroit’s desperation to make the playoffs and extend its postseason-appearance streak to 23. But Minnesota isn’t exactly sitting safe and clear. The Wild are just 2-2-4 in their last eight, and neither Darcy Kuemper nor Ilya Bryzgalov are going to make fans feel totally secure in the goaltending down the stretch. Oh, and get a load of Minny’s remaining schedule:

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Gulp.

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.