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The Buzzer: Final Hart pushes, glory in garbage time

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Six of eight playoff matchups resolved, all 16 teams determined

During the afternoon, the Flyers finalized the East’s eight by beating the Rangers, pulling the plug on Florida’s surge. Late on Saturday, the Avalanche swiped the final West spot by beating the Blues. Get the lowdown on the matchups that have been determined here and learn how Panthers – Bruins will impact the rest of the East situation in this post.

#FiredAV

Not long after the Rangers’ regular season ended, they announced that Alain Vigneault has been fired.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

Final Hart pushes

  • Heading into the 2018-19 season, Claude Giroux crossed the 90-point mark once (93 in 2011-12) and never reached 30 goals in a campaign. Giroux collected his first career hat trick in clinching a playoff spot for the Flyers on Saturday, pushing him to career-highs in goals (34), assists (68), points (102), and even plus/minus (+28). Giroux finished the regular season with a 10-game point streak, generating a ridiculous eight goals (all in the last five contests) and 11 assists for 19 points.

Giroux already courted some Hart buzz, but with this finish, he might just check all the boxes as far as being vital to his team’s success, getting the big numbers as one of the season’s 100-point scorers, and also coming up huge in key situations.

  • With two assists in Edmonton’s shootout victory, Connor McDavid finishes the season with 108 points. In this era, it’s pretty mind-blowing to see a player generate consecutive Art Ross victories and consecutive 100-point seasons. He won the Art Ross by a healthy margin, but the Oilers’ incompetence could very well cost him another Hart Trophy. That shouldn’t diminish another great season for number 97, even though he’s sure to be unhappy with the team results.

  • Nathan MacKinnon slowed down the stretch, so he probably won’t beat out a fierce group of Hart bidders. Still, he’s at least orbiting the discussion, and came through with a strong performance. MacKinnon collected the game-winning goal and an assist, finishing this season with 97 points. Remarkable stuff, especially since injuries limited him to 74 games played.
  • Alex Ovechkin fell just short of 50 goals in 2018-19, collecting two goals in Washington’s win to finish with 49. He’ll settle for yet another Maurice Richard Trophy, and a decent argument to be a Hart Trophy finalist.

Garbage time glory

(Yes, McDavid could fit in this category, too.)

  • With teams either punting on the season or, in many cases, resting players for the postseason, there were some weird results. The Flames bombarded the Golden Knights 7-1, and Mark Jankowski probably made someone big money in DFS, generating a random four-goal game. Wow.

  • Jamie Benn hasn’t had the greatest season, yet he finished it in a way that inspires hope for 2018-19. His natural hat trick helped the Stars spoil the Kings’ bid at improved seeding, and it’s the second hat trick in Benn’s past three games. Benn generated eight goals and two assists for 10 points in his last five games.
  • The Predators already locked up the Presidents’ Trophy, so they didn’t really need Filip Forsberg to generate a hat trick. Still, with nine points in his last five games, maybe he’ll come into the postseason on a high note after a solid but somewhat streaky season?

Highlights

If this is John Tavares‘ last goal and game with the Islanders, at least he’d be going out with style:

Too bad the Panthers didn’t roll with Nick Bjugstad alongside Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov a little sooner:

More factoids

Connor Hellebuyck‘s mark slips under the radar a bit, but might come in handy at the negotiating table (he’s a pending RFA):

Should they re-name it the Ovi Trophy?

Squandering Mathew Barzal‘s sensational rookie season has to sting.

Scores

Flyers 5, Rangers 0
Jets 4, Blackhawks 1
Bruins 5, Senators 2
Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2
Islanders 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)
Panthers 4, Sabres 3
Capitals 5, Devils 3
Hurricanes 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Predators 4, Blue Jackets 2
Ducks 3, Coyotes 0
Avalanche 5, Blues 2
Flames 7, Golden Knights 1
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Stars 4, Kings 2
Wild 6, Sharks 3

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.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Friday, as the Anaheim Ducks host the Dallas Stars at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINEUPS

STARS
Jamie BennTyler SeguinBrett Ritchie
Remi ElieRadek FaksaAlexander Radulov
Antoine RousselJason SpezzaMattias Janmark
Gemel SmithDevin ShoreTyler Pitlick

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotGreg Pateryn
Dan HamhuisJulius Honka

Starting goalie: Mike McKenna

[‘Resilient’ Ducks look to extend win streak vs. Stars]

WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET

DUCKS
Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry
Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase
Jason ChimeraDerek GrantJ.T. Brown

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour
Marcus PetterssonAndy Welinski

Starting goalie: Ryan Miller

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Hall of a night

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Players of the Night:

Taylor Hall: There are some great choices from Tuesday, but when you consider overall output and the importance of such production, Hall is up there. He extended his current point streak to nine games with a splendid two-goal, two-assist performance, greatly improving the Devils’ chances of making the playoffs.

Will Butcher was impressive in his own right, collecting two goals.

Also great scorers for teams in the hunt: Artemi Panarin scored one goal and two assists for the Columbus Blue Jackets, playing an integral role in their comeback win against Detroit. (Seth Jones also collected three assists). It’s only taken Panarin one season to set quite the milestone for the Blue Jackets franchise.

William Karlsson continues his sensational season for the Golden Knights, generating a goal and two assists of his own. He now has 43 goals and 78 points in 2017-18, and is heating up toward the postseason with an absurd 12 points in his last five contests.

Finally, Kyle Connor continues his fantastic work as a rookie for the Jets. Like Karlsson and Panarin, Connor collected a goal and two helpers, pushing his season total to 30. Maybe he can at least grab a slice of Patrik Laine‘s limelight?

Goalies impress: With 33 saves, Andrei Vasilevskiy collected his eighth shutout of 2017-18, tying Pekka Rinne for the NHL lead. Read more about his win with the Lightning here.

Roberto Luongo stopped 45 of 46 shots to keep Florida’s slim hopes alive tonight. Of course, some believe that he actually allowed two goals. That’s a whole thing. Finally, Antti Raanta continues his great work in “garbage time,” making 42 saves in Arizona’s win against Calgary.

(One guy who’s still absorbing being in “garbage time” who had a strong night was Jamie Benn. He generated a hat trick in the Stars’ rally against the Sharks.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Highlights

A day after the Sedins announced their retirement, they received a great ovation from Canucks fans. This is their second-to-last home game in Vancouver.

No surprise that other teams tip their caps to the Sedins.

Max Domi seems to be improving lately, and his mind games are on point.

Scores

Devils 5, Rangers 2
Islanders 5, Flyers 4
Blue Jackets 5, Red Wings 4 (OT)
Jets 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)
Lightning 4, Bruins 0
Panthers 2, Predators 1
Coyotes 4, Flames 1
Golden Knights 5, Canucks 4 (SO)
Stars 4, Sharks 2

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.

Oilers robbing Connor McDavid of another MVP award

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The 2018 Hart Trophy race is one of the most fascinating ones we have seen in recent years because there really isn’t anyone that stands out head and shoulders above the pack, while there are also probably eight or nine players that all have a compelling argument to win it. It’s also brought back that maddening debate as to what “value” actually means to a team because the league’s best — and arguably most valuable — player, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, is stuck on a dog excrement team that can’t do anything right when he is not on the ice, all but completely submarining his chances of winning the award for the second year in a row.

The Oilers opened the season with the second best Stanley Cup odds in the NHL and are already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and have, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated for at least half of the season.

That, in the eyes of many MVP voters, will disqualify McDavid from winning.

Maybe from even being a finalist.

Whether he wins the award or is a finalist or not, he is by any objective measure one of the most valuable players in the league this season. Maybe the most. If he played on a better team his performance would make him a slam dunk finalist. He might even win it. Given voting history, he probably would win it.

That is what is perhaps most maddening about this entire thing.

Teams that have players like him usually are better, and they should be better, and it’s a damning indictment on the Oilers organization that they are not better with a player like him on their roster. McDavid’s season presents such a firestorm of debate because we almost never see a season where a player this good, and this dominant, plays on a team this bad.

[Related: Connor McDavid may author one of NHL’s best wasted seasons]

With still four games remaining in the Oilers’ season McDavid has already scored 41 goals and recorded 103 points. He is almost certainly going to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, becoming the first player since Jaromir Jagr in the late 1990s to do so. He is also a back-to-back 100-point player in an era where 100-point seasons have all but disappeared. He has two in three years in the league. The rest of the league over that stretch has one.

Over the past 25 years there have been 36 teams that had at least one player hit the 40-goal, 100-point milestones. Out of that group, 32 of those teams made the playoffs. The only exceptions are McDavid’s Oilers, the 2005-06 Washington Capitals (Ovechkin’s rookie season on a clearly rebuilding team), the 1995-96 Anaheim Ducks (a third-year NHL franchise) with Paul Kariya, and the 1993-94 Philadelphia Flyers with Mark Recchi.

Nine of those teams with such a player went as far as the Conference Finals that year. Seven of them played in the Stanley Cup Final.

Only four Art Ross winners since 1980 have played on teams that missed the playoffs (Jamie Benn in 2014-15, Martin St. Louis in 2012-13, Jarome Iginla in 2001-02, and Mario Lemieux in 1987-88).

Iginla was the runner-up in his non-playoff Art Ross year. Lemieux won it in his year.

But McDavid doesn’t play on a better team. His team, independent of him, stinks.

Because hockey is a sport where the best and most impactful players (outside of the goalie) only play, at most, a third of the game there really isn’t an individual player, outside of maybe the occasional goalie (think Carey Price in 2014-15), that is going to single handedly drag a bad team to the playoffs.

Contrary to what you might have been told this season in other MVP arguments, there is no one really doing that for any of the bubble playoff teams, either.

Taylor Hall in New Jersey might be the player that is closest to doing that because even though the Devils have built a young, fast team that is on the rise, they’ve also been hammered by injuries and haven’t really had anything better than average goaltending. of course, average goaltending is better than whatever it is the Oilers are getting from a worn down and overworked Cam Talbot and their bad backups. The Devils, with a three-point lead over a Florida team that still has two games in hand on them, are also not a lock to make the playoffs.

Nathan MacKinnon’s breakthrough year is big reason the Colorado Avalanche have gone from being one of the worst teams the NHL has seen in decades a season ago to a potential playoff team this season. He has been absolutely amazing this season. But it is not just him behind that turnaround. The Avalanche also have another top-15 scorer on their roster in Mikko Rantanen and a goaltending duo that has combined for the ninth best save percentage in the NHL. The latter part being a pretty big development. The Avalanche, as of Friday morning, are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Pretty much any other MVP contender you can throw into the discussion plays on a team that has multiple impact players and better supporting casts around them. If you think that makes them more valuable than the league’s leading scorer and one of the most single dominant players in the game, more power to you.

I also disagree with you. Strongly.

When it comes to contributions to his team, creating wins, and, yes, adding value to his team, there may not be a better and more impactful player in the league than McDavid.

He has a point in 71 percent of the Oilers’ games.

He has contributed, by either scoring or assisting, on 46 percent of his team’s goals, which is just an obscene number.

His 13 three-point games this season are tied for the most in the league with MacKinnon.

Do you know the significance of a three-point game? When a team has a player record three points in a single game that team wins the game more than 90 percent of the time. It means his team has scored at least three goals, and in the NHL in 2017-18 three goals is more often than not enough to win a game on its own.

Somehow, in typical Oilers fashion, they have found a way to lose three of McDavid’s three-point games (a .769 winning percentage).

He has 30 games with at least two points (nearly 40 percent of the Oilers’ games), tied for most in the league with Kucherov

When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers are outscoring their opponents by 22 goals.

That is the level you see from playoff teams.

When he is not on the ice, the Oilers have been outscored by 30 goals. That is the level you see from lottery teams. That is also a 52-goal swing depending only on whether or not McDavid is on the ice. It is not uncommon for teams to be worse — or even slightly outscored — when their best player is not on the ice. It happens in most cases. It does not usually happen to this extreme.

The only three players and teams in the league that see anything close to that sort of swing is Taylor Hall and the Devils, Claude Giroux with the Philadelphia Flyers, and, shockingly, Mat Barzal with the New York Islanders.

When Hall is on the ice the Devils are outscoring their opponents by 17 goals. They get outscored by 23 without him (a 40-goal swing). The Flyers own a plus-22 goal differential with Giroux on the ice and have been outscored by 16 without him (a 38-goal swing). It’s a 37-goal difference for Barzal and the Islanders (plus-12 with him, minus-27 without him).

At the other end of that spectrum, the Lightning actually outscore their opponents by 23 goals when Nikita Kucherov is not on the ice (they are plus-21 with him). The Kings outscore their opponents by 18 goals when Kopitar is not on the ice (plus-13 with him).

When McDavid does not record a point in a game the Oilers’ points percentage on the season is only .181.

Want to see how that compares to the other top-20 scorers in the NHL at the moment?

They are 3-17-2 when he does not get on the scoresheet.

That means they are 31-20-6 when he does. That is actually a pretty good record!

Every single number you look at it it paints two crystal clear pictures. The first is that McDavid is probably the best and most impactful player in the league.

The second is that the Oilers organization around him is a raging tire fire that has squandered three years of the best and most impactful player in the league while that player was making peanuts against the salary cap.

As great as McDavid is and has been he is not so far above the rest of the pack that it should make him a slam dunk winner. Giroux has a great — and really underrated — argument. Hall and MacKinnon are in there, too. But if we are being honest none of them have really contributed to their teams what McDavid has or impacted the game the way McDavid has.

Nobody in the league has.

That is value. That is incredible value. It remains true no matter how bad the rest of McDavid’s team is.

The Oilers wasted it. By doing so they not only gave McDavid one less shot at a Stanley Cup in his career, they took away the chance for him to make some individual history as well.

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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.

Zach Parise notches pair, Wild down struggling Stars

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Four points separated the Minnesota Wild and two teams chasing them in the Central Division coming into Thursday’s action.

The Wild, who had lost two straight in overtime, weren’t in must-win mode by any means on Thursday. They’re holding down the third spot in the division and have for a while now. But the two points on the line would help them create some space between themselves and the idle St. Louis Blues (three points back, in the first wildcard) and the (also idle) Colorado Avalanche (four points behind, currently outside the playoff line).

So a 5-2 win against a division rival was just the thing the Wild needed against the Dallas Stars.

The Stars have lost nine of their past 10 games and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs at this point.

Basically, for the Stars to make it, everyone else fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference has to lose and the Stars need to win their last four games.

They’re five points back with four games to play. For Dallas, it appears to be all over except for the mathematical formality.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Stars began the game on the right foot, with Jamie Benn scoring a quick goal 2:51 into the first period for a 1-0 lead.

Instead of building off that momentum, however, they let Minnesota score late in the period to tie it shorthanded, a goal that began a series of three unanswered from the Wild.

Dumba’s power-play goal to make it 2-1 was pretty, a clean one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen with precision. Lehtonen struggled, allowing four goals on 21 shots.

Devin Shore brought the Stars back to 3-2 on a deft little top from the slot, the type of goal that could ignite a possible comeback.

But a late power play for Minnesota turned into a late marker for Jason Zucker, who made it 4-2 on a one-timer with 11 seconds left in the second period.

Devan Dubnyk made 29 of 31 saves for the win.

Parise scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal it for the Wild.


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