Western playoff picture: Predators magic number 1, Stars gain ground on 8th place Blackhawks

Western Conference playoff race

z – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts
y – 2. San Jose – 103 pts
y – 3. Detroit – 102 pts
4. Nashville – 97 pts
5. Phoenix – 96 pts
6. Los Angeles – 96 pts
7. Anaheim – 93 pts
8. Chicago – 93 pts
9. Dallas – 91 pts
10. Calgary – 91 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Dallas 3, Columbus 0

The Stars are at the point in their season where every game is a must-win. On Tuesday night, not only did they do their part by blanking the Blue Jackets 3-0, but they got a little help when the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks in overtime. Of course, the Stars and their fans would have preferred a Habs win in regulation, but Dallas still managed to gain a point in the standings with their win. It was a good team effort as Steve Ott scored the first goal (eventual game winner) and Kari Lehtonen only needed 23 saves for his third shutout of the season. Not only did the win pull them to within two points of the 8th place Blackhawks, but they’re also only two points behind the Anaheim Ducks. At this point, no one in Big D cares which team they catch.

On a more somber note, Jackets’ defenseman Kris Russell broke his ankle in one of the uglier injuries hockey fans will see. Tough to see a good player go down in a game when the season is, for all intents and purposes, over for his team.

St. Louis 3, Colorado 1

The good news for the Blues is that they were finally able to beat the Colorado Avalanche. After they’d lost seven straight games dating back to the 2008-09 season, the Blues finally picked up a win by beating the Avs 3-1 in St. Louis. David Backes scored his 30th goal of the year, Andy McDonald scored his 20th, and Kevin Shattenkirk picked up his 41st and 42nd points of the year. Not bad for a rookie defenseman who was traded halfway through his freshman campaign.
Of course, the bad news is that this game meant absolutely nothing to the Blues. On the other hand, the loss for Colorado just solidified that top 3 pick in next year’s draft. So yet again, the Avs actually won the night against the Blues.

Nashville 6, Atlanta 3

Going into the night, the Predators were able to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Thrashers and a Stars loss to the Blue Jackets. Nashville took care of their business early by scoring three 1st period goals, but they didn’t get any help from Columbus. Mathematically, the Predators’ magic number is down to 1. Practically, the win helped solidify the Preds playoff spot and launched them all the way to the 4th seed. Interesting how with only three games left in the season, the 4th seed in the Western Conference still isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot.

Montreal 2, Chicago 1 (OT)

From a Blackhawks perspective, it would be nice if they could start scoring some goals. However, they were able to fire 42 shots on Carey Price and if it weren’t for stellar goaltending from the Montreal netminder, they probably would have scored enough to win. Captain Jonathan Toews was upset after the game for a tripping call that went against him in OT:

“I don’t really know what to say right now. We worked our butts off and you don’t want to blame it on one little thing and say it comes down to a call but that’s obviously what happened. You can argue the call, especially when you feel there are a lot of stick penalties that don’t get called against you out there. And then the game’s decided on something like that, it’s pretty damn frustrating.”

The fact remains that the single point pulls them into a 7th place tie with the Anaheim Ducks with three games remaining. They may be frustrated tonight, but the reality stays the same: if they win the rest of their games, they’re in.

Edmonton 2, Vancouver 0

If people thought the Blues/Avs game was meaningless, they had no idea the Canucks and Oilers were renewing pleasantries. The best team in the league that has already wrapped up the President’s Trophy (and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs) battling the last place team in the league that has almost locked up the top spot for the draft lottery isn’t the type of match-up to get hockey fans in a frenzy. The Oilers were able to best the high flying Canucks for the second time in as many games between the teams—which is great inside the Edmonton locker room. Unfortunately, that’s the only place in the world that it matters.

The game was given a little more juice when Raffi Torres decided to push the limits of the NHL’s headshot tolerance on Jordan Eberle. He received a 5-minute elbowing major and a game misconduct for his transgressions. But unless the league goes “Matt Cooke suspension” on Torres, the worst thing that could happen is that he gets a few unpaid days off before the playoffs.

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.