Associated Press

Avalanche jump back into Wild Card spot with win over Oilers

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) Gabriel Landeskog came back at the right time for the Colorado Avalanche.

Landeskog had a goal and an assist in his return from a three-game suspension as the Avalanche beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Sunday night for their third straight win.

“I felt good. It’s tough watching,” Landeskog said. “I was hungry and ready to go. But the guys have done a great job throughout the road trip to make sure we’re in a great spot and I was just hungry to come out and help out.”

The Colorado captain’s offense was badly needed with his team currently without their two leading scorers, injured centers Matt Duchene and Nathan McKinnon, and in the midst of a heated playoff race.

Tyson Barrie and Blake Comeau also scored for the Avalanche, currently one point ahead of Minnesota for the second and final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Calvin Pickard had 26 saves.

“We played really well,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. “I thought we had a great start and our power play was outstanding. Our puck possession was outstanding, we were able to hold on to the puck in the O-zone and we had a lot of shots. I was very happy with the performance of the team.”

Matt Hendricks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for Edmonton, which snapped a two-game winning streak.

“Tonight was one of those games where it was a desperate team battling for the playoffs,” Oilers forward Mark Letestu said. “It really showed early on. Their pace was higher than ours.”

With the loss, the Oilers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for the 10th consecutive year.

“We may not be a playoff team, but we have playoff fans,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “At some point, we have to reward them.”

Landeskog and Barrie scored in the second period to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead.

Landeskog took a feed from Carl Soderberg in front and showed good patience before sending a backhand shot past sprawling goalie Laurent Brossoit at 1:19. Barrie;s point shot deflected off of defender Mark Fayne and into the Edmonton net with 8:29 left.

Hendricks got the Oilers on the scoreboard with his second goal in two games at 2:53 of the third. Mark Letestu battled hard in front to sweep a puck to Hendricks, who tapped his second goal in as many games into a wide-open net.

However, Comeau deflected Erik Johnson‘s shot to restore Colorado two-goal lead at 9:09.

Nugent-Hopkins closed the scoring as he converted a pass from Connor McDavid with just under 7.6 seconds remaining.

Brossoit finished with 22 saves to fall to 0-3-1 this season.

There was no scoring in the first period, with Colorado putting 12 shots on Brossoit and the Oilers taking eight shots on Pickard.

NOTES: It was the third and final game of the season between the two teams this season, with Colorado winning all three. … The Avalanche have suddenly been hit by the injury bug, with Matt Duchene (knee), Nathan MacKinnon (knee), Eric Gelinas (elbow), Brad Stuart (back) and Jesse Winchester (head) all out, although Landeskog did return after serving a three-game suspension. … The Oilers have been injured pretty much all year, currently without Oscar Klefbom (foot), Andrew Ference (hip), Brandon Davidson (knee), Benoit Pouliot (shoulder), Eric Gryba (knee) and Adam Pardy (hand).

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.