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The Buzzer: Panthers stay alive, Jackets and Devils clinch, Brown scores 4

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Player of the Night: Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

It was a big night for Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers.

Playing in his 1,000th NHL game, Luongo helped the Panthers keep their slim playoff hope alive by stopping 26 of the 28 shots he faced in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.

The final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is now down to just the Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. Given what needs to happen the Panthers are still probably a long shot at this point, but they needed a win on Thursday and got exactly that. Now they need the Flyers to lose to the New York Rangers in regulation on Saturday afternoon while the Panthers need to win their remaining two games — at home against Buffalo on Saturday night and then at Boston on Sunday in a makeup of a game that was postponed earlier this season. Buffalo has already secured the worst record in the league, but the Bruins could still be playing for the Atlantic Division title in that game.

Player of the Night Part Two: Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

For the past few years Dustin Brown looked like he was finished being a productive player, at least offensively. He has had a huge bounce back year in 2017-18 and will end up finishing with a career high in points after failing to record more than 36 points in each of the past five years. He played one of the best games of his career on Thursday by scoring four goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime, to help lead the Kings to a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild. He will not set a new career high in goals (33 is out of reach at this point) but the 28 he currently has would be tied for the second most in his career.

Players of the Night Part Three: Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Just because you could not have scripted that game any better. Daniel scored two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime, in their final home game with the Canucks. Read about it and see the goals here.

Blue Jackets, Devils are in

The reason the Eastern Conference playoff race is down to just two teams is because the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils officially clinched their spots in the playoffs on Thursday night.

Even though the Blue Jackets were on the losing end of a 5-4 overtime game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the point they gained was enough to get them in.

The Devils, meanwhile, clinched their first playoff berth since the 2011-12 season thanks to their 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The seeding remains up for grabs. The Penguins currently occupy the second spot in the Metropolitan Division with 98 points, while the Blue Jackets and Devils are just behind them at 97 points. That leaves a number of different potential first-round matchups still on the table.

We do know one first-round matchup

With the Nashville Predators officially wrapping up the Presidents’ Trophy, top spot in the Western Conference, and the Central Division we officially know at least one first-round matchup, and it will be the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Central Division where the Winnipeg Jets will take on the Minnesota Wild. That series will begin in Winnipeg.

Blues get some help

The St. Louis Blues had the night off but they were still big winners on Thursday night because the team they are chasing for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche, ended up losing to the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. The Blues remain just one point back of that spot while the two teams close out the regular season playing each other in Colorado. The win for the Sharks gave them 100 points in a season for the eighth time in franchise history.

Highlight of the Night

Phil Kessel scored two goals for the Penguins on Thursday night helping him to hit the 90-point mark for the first time in his career. Both goals were absolute lasers and the type of on-the-rush goals that few players in the league are capable of. His second of the game, which was also the game-winning goal in overtime, was the best of the bunch.

Highlight of the Night Part Two

The Sedins stole the show in Vancouver on Thursday night but this Brandon Leipsic goal to tie the game at three in the third period deserves some attention. Without this goal we do not get overtime for the Sedins to have their storybook ending on home ice.

Factoid of the Night

It has been an amazing season for the Winnipeg Jets, and finally getting some quality goaltending is a big reason why. Connor Hellebuyck won his 43rd game of the season in the Jets’ 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday, tying him with Tom Barrasso for most wins in a season by an American-born goalie. Of course it is in the shootout era so all asterisks that you want to use for goalie win totals in this era are in play, but it is still an incredible season for him.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

New York Islanders 2, New York Rangers 1

Philadelphia Flyer 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Nashville Predators 4, Washington Capitals 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 4

Montreal Canadiens 4, Detroit Red Wings 3

Florida Panthers 3, Boston Bruins 2

Winnipeg Jets 2, Calgary Flames 1

Edmonton Oilers 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

San Jose Sharks 4, Colorado Avalanche 2

Los Angeles Kings 5, Minnesota Wild 4

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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.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream

*Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]