Five Thoughts: Wrapping up on Vancouver-Nashville

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Fare thee well Nashville, you put on a good show to prove that yes, hockey is part of the sports fabric in Tennessee. After some tough seasons the fans there showed well enough that they love them some Predators hockey. As for five thoughts…

1. It’s remarkable that the Canucks were able to win a playoff series without getting major contributions from Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. The twins combined for two goals and five assists in the series and weren’t exactly dominating forces the way they normally are in most other games.

Their absence was made up for by Ryan Kesler alone (five goals, six assists) but as we’ve been stressing all along, if the Canucks are going to win the Stanley Cup they need them both to be on their game and producing offense. A slump in the next round out of the twins would almost certainly mean a failure in the conference finals. Getting nothing from them against San Jose or Detroit will result in another Cup-less season in Vancouver.

2. As huge as Kesler was against Nashville, and let’s face it the Canucks basically get no offense if it isn’t for him, Roberto Luongo’s performance was the real story here. Six games, six starts (crazy to have to stress this after the first round nonsense) a 1.63 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He gave up six fewer goals to Nashville than he did to Chicago despite essentially playing the same number of games. If Luongo can keep this kind of play up, he’s going to silence a lot of his critics. It’s hard to believe that a guy as good as Luongo brings naysayers out as much as he does, but they’re there (yours truly included).

Luongo is a big name, big money goalie and we haven’t seen one of those win a Stanley Cup in a while. If the Canucks do go on to win it all, it wouldn’t be outlandish to give his backup Cory Schneider a lot of credit in helping to keep Luongo fresh by giving him a solid reliever. Luongo hasn’t really had a capable guy like that backing him up in his tenure in Vancouver leading to Luongo starting 70 games a year and running out of gas in the postseason.

3. In a postseason that’s been loaded with role players going above and beyond the call of duty, the Canucks haven’t really had a player like that emerge yet. They’ve gotten some good offense from their blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler, but up front it’s been the usual suspects doing their part. There’s always time for a secret hero to emerge and if there’s a guy to keep your eye on right now, it might be Chris Higgins.

Higgins has been playing well in the playoffs and with three goals and an assist through two rounds, some of those chances will improve. We’re not expected Conn Smythe-like play here really, just someone out of the woodwork to help spur a team on. Higgins is in that position to be that guy if he continues to play tough and inspired hockey. After bouncing around the last few seasons, he’s carved out a good place for himself in the playoffs with the Canucks.

4. We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about the Predators here and what’s impressed us the most through these playoffs for them is the fans in Nashville. From the tossing of giant catfish on the ice, to the chants that make us think we’re at a college hockey game, to the volume of the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Not to mention the country music celebrity appeal going on and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a vibrant and bustling hockey market. It’s incredible to think that this city was in a lot of trouble years ago with maintaining this franchise, but a deeper-than-usual playoff run has sealed it up that this is a tremendous market for the game.

5. We know that Barry Trotz’s system isn’t the most exciting thing on earth, but the one thing that really hurt the Predators in this series was the lack of a game-breaking player. Without that sort of offensive force, the Predators had to try and grind things down and even use the occasional sneaky trick shot to score goals. Playing that brand of hockey is physically demanding and when the puck just isn’t going in the net times get frustrating. Having a guy that can fit into that system and plug 30-40 goals would do the Predators wonders. Unfortunately players like that don’t just fall out of the sky.

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

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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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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.