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The Buzzer: Blues keep rolling, a surprising hat trick, Ducks miss chance

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Players of the Night

Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: One of the more underrated trade deadline acquisitions has been Columbus’ pickup of Thomas Vanek from the Vancouver Canucks. He is averaging more than a point per game with the team and recorded a hat trick in their come-from-behind win on Tuesday night. The Blue Jackets fell behind by three goals in the first 10 minutes then scored seven consecutive goals to rout the Oilers.

Brandon Tanev, Winnipeg Jets: Entering play on Tuesday night Brandon Tanev had scored just four goals in 55 games for the Winnipeg Jets this season. He had not recorded a point in 12 consecutive games and had just two in his past 20. All he did on Tuesday night in a 5-4 overtime win against the Boston Bruins was score three goals for his first career hat trick. Is that the most random, unexpected hat trick in the NHL this season? It almost certainly has to be.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: As improbable as it seemed a little over a month ago, the St. Louis Blues now occupy the top wild card spot in the Western Conference. Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Tuesday night to lift the Blues to a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks, extending their current winning streak to seven games. They have also won eight out of their past nine and are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games. A stunning turnaround given the trade of Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and the number of injuries the team is currently dealing with.

Staal gets No. 40

The Minnesota Wild were losers in a shootout in Nashville on Tuesday night, but Eric Staal scored the lone goal for the Wild in the loss and in the process recorded the 40th goal of the season. He now has three 40-goal seasons in his career, making him one of just six active players in the league this season to have three of them. The others are Alex Ovechkin (nine), Steven Stamkos (four), Marian Gaborik (three), Evgeni Malkin (three), and Rick Nash (three).

Ducks let two points slip away

The Anaheim Ducks entered the night in the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division and a game against one of the NHL’s worst teams, the Vancouver Canucks. Seemed like a good opportunity to pick up two points and gain some ground in the playoff race, right?

Wrong.

They ended up scoring just a single goal and losing 4-1.

They remain one of three teams in the West tied with 91 points, joining the Blues and Kings.  They are just one point up on the Colorado Avalanche, the first team on the outside of the playoff picture. If the Kings get a point on Thursday night, and if Colorado beats the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, the Ducks could find themselves back on the outside of playoff picture this week. It is going to be an incredibly tight right between these four teams for those three spots.

The Panthers didn’t get any help

The Florida Panthers had the night off on Tuesday (they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday) but it was still a tough night for them as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils all gained points. The Blue Jackets and Devils were winners, while the Flyers picked up a point by losing in overtime to the Dallas Stars.

The Panthers still have several games in hand but they are now three points back of the Devils, five points back of the Flyers, and six points back of the Blue Jackets.

Their schedule the rest of the way is not easy with three games against the Boston Bruins, as well as games against the Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators.

Highlight of the Night

It may end up being too little, too late, but the Dallas Stars finally snapped their eight-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a 3-2 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was Alexander Radulov getting the winner on a 2-on-0 rush with Tyler Seguin.

Factoid of the Night

The New York Islanders are not going to the playoffs, they might lose John Tavares after the season, but they have another cornerstone building block in Mathew Barzal who is having an absolutely unbelievable rookie season. He continued it on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators in their 4-3 win.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 3

Detroit Red Wings 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2

Nashville Predators 2, Minnesota Wild 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Dallas Stars 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Edmonton Oilers 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, Anaheim Ducks 1

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

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.