Scoring first is key for the Coyotes

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If there’s one thing the Phoenix Coyotes excel at, it’s turning 1-0 leads into victories. They had a staggering 33-4-6 record in the regular season when scoring first and that trend has continued into the playoffs.

“Well, I think if you’ve seen the way our team has played, not just in the playoffs but all year, a lead is valuable for us,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippet told reporters in his post-game press conference. “It’s just one of the traits of our team, probably like a lot of teams in the league, you get a lead, you feel you can push the game along. That’s exactly what happened tonight.”

Obviously, a lead is very valuable to any team, but not every squad defends it as well as the Coyotes. The flipside of it is that not many teams struggle as much as the Coyotes when it came to overcoming early deficits.

In the regular season, only three teams had a worse winning percentage than Phoenix after falling behind 1-0.

In other words, if the Coyotes don’t come out strong in Game 5, they’ll have a very tough time forcing a Game 6.

Push for the Playoffs: The time is now for the Columbus Blue Jackets

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t playing like a team interested in making the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

In fact, they look like a rather sad bunch who’ve lost their way in a three-team battle for two spots in the postseason. A western road swing has been a disaster for the Blue Jackets, who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Calgary Flames before putting in a worse effort against the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them 4-1.

So Columbus, who spent big at the trade deadline, find themselves three points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the second and final wildcard in the Eastern Conference. Sure, they have a game in hand, but that, alone, won’t do it. If this team is going to avoid all the embarrassment that comes with being the biggest spenders at the end of February and having nothing to show for it, they need to essentially win out at this point.

That begins with a test against the Vancouver Canucks, a team that has nothing to play for other than pride and who were on a three-game heater before getting beat 3-1 by the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

Despite the three-point gap, the game in hand on Montreal and an uber-important matchup between themselves and the Habs this coming Thursday means Columbus still holds their destiny in their own hands. Columbus will be hoping the Carolina Hurricanes do them a solid and beat the Canadiens in regulation on Sunday.

That all might be a small consolation given the week that lays ahead. After Sunday’s game in Vancouver, they’ll fly across the continent home for two games on Tuesday and then again Thursday against Montreal. From there, they’ll head to Nashville on Saturday night and play back to back 22 hours later on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The fun times don’t end there, either.

They then head home for one game against Boston, get two days rest, and then finish the season with games against the New York Rangers on Friday and the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Yes, a back-to-back to close out the regular season where they might need wins in both to make the playoffs.

It’s a brutal haul, and they have no choice but to find success or polish up the Taylor Mades.

The good news is Sergei Bobrovsky could play Sunday after a nagging injury has kept him out of action. They need his heroics, and they’ll need more from the rest of their lineup, too.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

Lightning vs. Canadiens
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Flyers vs. Capitals (12:30 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBC)
Coyotes vs. Islanders (3 p.m. ET)
Canadiens vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Avalanche vs. Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)
Blue Jackets vs. Canucks (10 p.m. ET)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 99.7 percent
Penguins — 99.8 percent
Islanders — 99.3 percent
Hurricanes — 96 percent
Canadiens — 62.1 percent
Blue Jackets — 42.8 percent
Flyers — 0.3 percent
Panthers — Out
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 100 percent
Stars — 86 percent
Avalanche — 59.2 percent
Coyotes — 32.4 percent
Wild — 19.1 percent
Blackhawks — 1.8 percent
Oilers — 0.9 percent
Canucks — 0.6 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Canucks — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets — 1 percent**

(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)
(**OTT owns CBJ’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 120 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 102 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 95 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 40 goals


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

The Buzzer: Moves like Bobby Orr

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Clinching playoffs

  • The Jets clinched a playoff spot, and in doing so, greatly improved their chances of winning the Central Division.
  • The Bruins became the second team in the East to stamp their ticket, and it sure looks like they’ll have home-ice advantage against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Saturday was very kind to the Bruins.

The latest Hurricanes celebration

For people with no sense of humor, this is just madness.

Three Stars

1. Kyle Connor, and the Jets, really

You could probably give three stars to three different Winnipeg Jets and call it a night, but that would be a disservice to a busy day in the NHL. So let’s consolidate their great performances into the number category, starting with Connor.

The soon-to-be-rich winger generated a hat trick and an assist on Saturday, helping Winnipeg dominate the Predators. Connor hit a new career-high with 32 goals thanks to this game, while his 61 points also represent a career-high. He’s now a two-time 30+ goal scorer, and pretty much two-for-two in that regard, as he only played 20 games in 2016-17.

Kevin Hayes was the other Jets player who generated four points during this game, in his case getting there with one goal and three assists. Hayes now has 52 points in 2018-19, the first time he’s crossed the 50-point barrier during his already-solid NHL career. He now has 10 points in 13 games with Winnipeg, and while he’s different stylistically from Paul Stastny, it’s possible – and scary for the rest of the NHL – that the Jets once again made a big upgrade at 2C via the trade deadline.

Hayes would jostle with Connor Hellebuyck for second star consideration, if I hadn’t copped out made the decision to consolidate the Jets into one star position.

Hellebuyck pitched a 33-save shutout against the Predators on Saturday. If you exclude a relief appearance on March 21 (where he allowed two goals on 20 shots on goal, and didn’t get a win or loss), he’s won four games in a row, and has two shutouts in consecutive starts. This hasn’t been the easiest season for Hellebuyck, yet with a .932 save percentage in March, it seems like he’s heating up at the perfect time.

2. Brendan Gallagher

Of course, by opening things up, it now means splitting hairs between other players who enjoyed great nights.

Gallagher feels like a nice catch-all, Kyle Connor-style, for the Canadiens who scored seven goals to help them earn a big win against the Minnesota Wild. Gallagher generated two goals and one assist, while both Tomas Tatar and Max Domi enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Another player who generated a noteworthy one-goal, two-assist night was Teuvo Teravainen, who helped the Hurricanes win against the Wild. thus opening up the opportunity for Carolina to roll out its “March Madness” victory celebration.

Gallagher gets the edge against those other three-pointers by managing such a volume of hard work (nine SOG) and getting the game-winning goal.

3. Alexandar Georgiev

For the second time this season, Georgiev won against the Maple Leafs while making at least 40 saves. On Feb. 10, he stopped 55 shots and only allowed one goal to beat Toronto. On Saturday. Georgiev turned aside 44 of 45 shots as the Rangers beat Toronto in overtime.

With tensions high for many regarding the Maple Leafs, losing to the Rangers will only add to the strain. But, really, the Maple Leafs played well enough. Sometimes you run into a goalie who has your number, which is maybe the case with Georgiev and the Buds.

Highlights

There were a lot of great moments during Saturday’s games, even by the standards of what is typically the busiest night of the hockey week. For the sake of your browsers, here are three that stood out, whether by being great clips or just plain fun.

To start, a fun one: Blake Coleman did something of a Bobby Orr “impression” in scoring in a shootout. The stakes were obviously monumentally lower than a Stanley Cup-deciding goal, but hey, the Coyotes would argue that it was significant, as this deals a blow to Arizona’s playoff hopes.

(Artturi Lehkonen scored a great diving goal, too.)

From a great Connor goal (the one where he faked-out P.K. Subban and beat Pekka Rinne) to some fantastic saves by Rinne, Jets versus Predators provided enough highlights to be worthy of plunking the whole thing down.

With apologies to this great dish from Dylan Larkin to Anthony Mantha for an overtime-winner, this Jared McCann goal was the most unusual of the going-backward and/or no-look moments from Saturday, and it actually had more competition from Brayden Schenn.

Ugh, both the Schenn and Mantha goals were so good, it’s tough not to have second thoughts.

Factoids

Scores

NJD 2 – ARI 1 (SO)
NYI 4 – PHI 2
COL 4 – CHI 2
OTT 4 – EDM 3 (OT)
NYR 2 – TOR 1 (OT)
MTL 7 – BUF 4
BOS 7 – FLA 3
CAR 5 – MIN 1
WPG 5 – NSH 0
STL 4 – TBL 3
PIT – DAL 2
CGY 3 – VAN 1
DET 3 – VGK 2 (OT)
LAK 4 – ANA 3 (SO)

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.

Everything comes up Bruins on Saturday

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Honestly, Zdeno Chara signing another team-friendly contract would have been enough to make Saturday great for the Boston Bruins, alone. But the good times didn’t stop there.

Nope, the Bruins carried those positive vibes to the ice, as they pummeled the Florida Panthers by a score of 7-3. In managing that lopsided win, the Bruins became the second team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A clinched spot and a big win to go with that Chara extension … that’s it, right? Nope, more fun stuff came when you zoomed into the specifics of the game.

For one thing, Chara celebrated his extended stay with the Bruins by scoring the 200th goal of his splendid NHL career, and it was a pretty nice one. (You can watch that milestone tally in the video above this post’s headline.)

Chara also had an assist in that win, so quite an all-around Saturday for “The Big Z.”

He wasn’t the only Bruins player to have a memorable evening, as Noel Acciari scored a goal and also threw punches at a gatling-gun-rhythm in quite the fight with MacKenzie Weegar:

*Infomercial voice* But wait, there’s more …

The Maple Leafs only managed a point against the struggling Rangers on Saturday, so now the Bruins hold a seven-point edge for the Atlantic’s second seed, and home-ice advantage in that looming first-round series.

While Toronto would be a tough opponent – warts and all – it must be tantalizing for the Bruins to picture what they might be capable of. After all, the B’s are starting to get healthier following a season of injury headaches, and they’re heating up considering their four-game winning streak.

They’re also an impressive 28-7-3 at home this season, so home ice could be pretty significant.

Yes, life was good for the Bruins on Saturday, and they aim to carry that over to most nights in April, and beyond.

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.

March Madness is theme of Hurricanes’ latest win celebration

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When you think of March Madness, it won’t take long for the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels to come to your mind, especially if you’re living in the Carolinas. That apparently isn’t lost on the Carolina Hurricanes.

The team’s latest celebration evoked the NCAA’s beloved college basketball tournament, as the Hurricanes distanced themselves from the East’s bubble teams by thoroughly defeating (the very much West-bubble-dwelling) Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Saturday.

It was a great performance, with Teuvo Teravainen playing the role of MVP via one goal and two assists.

If Teravainen was the star, then call Trevor van Riemsdyk “The Human Hockey Highlight Reel,” as he showed some solid ups with his dunk during this fun celebration:

The Hurricanes are only going deeper into the “prop” stage of these win celebrations, and let me tell you: I’m all for it, and not just because it annoys the crustiest of crusty old hockey men.

Carolina now holds the first East wild-card spot with 89 points in 74 games played. The Montreal Canadiens are behind them in the second WC spot (87 points in 75 GP), making things only tenser for the struggling Blue Jackets, who remain out of the top eight with 84 points in 74 games played.

More and more, it looks like the Hurricanes will avoid another trip to hockey’s NIT (which would be the golf course, or maybe the hockey championship tournament overseas?), as their grip tightens on a playoff spot.

If things go really well, maybe the Hurricanes could celebrate a big win by cutting down the nets?

via Getty Images

Hey, they might as well file away ideas if they keep winning at this pace.