James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Patrick Kane’s 700th point makes difference for Blackhawks vs. Predators

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Patrick Kane gave Nashville Predators fans a few more reasons to boo him on Thursday.

The slick Chicago Blackhawks winger scored the game-winning goal and also had an assist as the Blackhawks beat the Predators 3-2 in regulation.

That game-winner also happened to be the 700th point of his career, and he’s just a bit more than a month older than 28:

This continues a trend of milestone moments to close out 2016. Not long ago, Jaromir Jagr took sole possession of second place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal to hit the 800-point mark on Tuesday.

In case you’re wondering, Kane hit 700 points in the 696th regular season game of his outstanding NHL career. He also has 121 points in 123 career postseason games. Number 88 now has 37 points in 38 games this season.

New Year’s Eve showdown set: Blue Jackets win 14th in a row, Wild get 12th

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If you love sports, how could you root against this scenario?

It was slowly dawning on many in the hockey world that, with wins in their respective Thursday games, the Minnesota Wild could very well host the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game between teams on ridiculous winning streaks. Hockey fans will indeed enjoy that rare treat on New Year’s Eve.

The Blue Jackets draw the loudest headlines, and that seems fair since they’ve won more games (now 14 in a row) and they’ve often blown out their opponents to an almost shocking degree.

The Winnipeg Jets avoided getting blown out tonight, but with two different three-goal leads, Columbus clearly had the edge in an eventual 5-3 win.

With that, the Blue Jackets have won every game in December; their winning streak began on Nov. 29. You could say that Columbus is putting up some real eye-popping numbers.

Wild fans have been grumbling “What about us?” for a while, although they’re no longer under the radar by any stretch. They won their 12th game in a row by edging the New York Islanders in a pretty (cough) wild 6-4 win.

You usually need some bounces and plot twists to go your way to win 10+ wins; in today’s case, the Wild won in part thanks to scoring three goals in 80 seconds.

You don’t often see two teams this hot face off like this, and things fall into place nicely being that it’s happening on the weekend.

If you love the sport (or really even merely occasionally enjoy a little hockey, honestly), you’d be wise to work that game into your schedule on that holiday night. It could be a memorable evening, as two astounding, unexpected streaks will be on the line.

Matthews, Kadri keep dangerous Leafs rolling

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The wave of young players (led by Auston Matthews) and some underrated holdovers (including Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk) explains why the Toronto Maple Leafs are a dangerous team in the East.

It showed again on Thursday.

Matthews scored the opening goal and assisted on another Kadri overtime game-winner as the Maple Leafs edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in OT.

With that, the Maple Leafs won all four games of their just-concluded road trip. In doing so, they took a point from a Bolts squad that needs to make the most of their home dates.

Matthews’ goal was one of those displays that prompts people to wonder how, in the world, he’s only a rookie:

William Nylander factored into Kadri’s overtime-winner, too, continuing the theme of young and almost-as-young players coming through:

The Leafs edged the Lightning in shots on goal by a margin of 35-27, so it’s not like this was a matter of timely scoring alone.

This is a real confidence-boosting run for the Leafs with a challenging start to 2017 looming. They face the hype and distractions of the 2017 Centennial Classic as a “home game” and then follow that with four of five on the road.

That isn’t easy, but Toronto has immediate evidence that they can keep rolling even with a tough stretch of scheduling breaks. That’s the sort of confidence that can make you, well, dangerous.

Working out the Kinkaid: Devils steal one from Capitals via shootout

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Just about every number indicated that the Washington Capitals should have beaten the New Jersey Devils in a walk.

The Capitals dominated the shots on goal by a margin of 44-27. New Jersey had lost its last seven games against Washington. The Caps are in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race while the Devils are closer to being a cellar dweller.

Also, Taylor Hall was out and Keith Kinkaid was in net instead of Cory Schneider.

All logic would point to Washington winning, but instead, Kinkaid played one of his best games in the NHL and the Devils won 2-1 via a shootout on Thursday.

The Devils were 1-8-1 in their last 10 games coming into Thursday and only had four wins since Nov. 15, so this win must bring some serious relief (even if they probably got a little lucky).

Washington, meanwhile, must be feeling a little frustrated. It seemed like the Capitals were regaining their dominant form with a six-game winning streak from Dec. 5-16, but they’ve now lost four of their last five games (1-2-2).

The two teams meet again in New Jersey on New Year’s Eve, so we’ll see how their efforts compare in these two games.

Video: Al Montoya’s save of the year entry vs. the Panthers

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Al Montoya enjoyed some of the best moments of his career as an NHL backup with the Florida Panthers. Maybe facing his old team will help him turn things around after some early struggles with the Montreal Canadiens?

A highlight reel save won’t erase that 10-0 blowout from the Columbus Blue Jackets, yet it’s also true that Montoya’s enjoyed enough moments that he can redeem himself.

But, really, that’s a discussion for later on. For now, let’s gape in awe at Montoya’s sprawling save, which you can watch in the video above.

Update: To make things even sweeter, the Canadiens helped Montoya get the win with this overtime-clincher.