NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Penguins vs. Flyers; Blues vs. Ducks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season with a doubleheader of action of Wednesday night. It starts with the battle of Pennsylvania, as the Penguins travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

Last week, the Flyers were very much in the playoff hunt, but three straight losses later and their postseason odds have taken a significant hit.

Coming into tonight’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Flyers seven points behind the Islanders for the last Wild Card spot (yikes). Never say never, but making up that much ground and having to leap over four teams to do it is almost impossible.

They’ve had a few issues throughout the season, but their disappointing power play has been the biggest one of late. In Monday’s 5-3 loss to Columbus, they managed to go just 1-for-8 on the man-advantage.

“It could have been a lot different story if the power play had buckled down,” Brayden Schenn told CSN Philly after the loss to the Blue Jackets. “Not good enough. How many chances we get? Seven, eight, nine?

“I don’t know. That could have won us the game. When you have that many chances, you have to capitalize and we haven’t.”

With 14 games remaining, you have to think that the Flyers need at least 11 or 12 wins to have a shot at making the playoffs.

The Penguins are in a different kind of battle. They know they’ll be playing playoff games, but they just don’t know who their opponent is going to be and if they’ll have home ice advantage.

At one point, it looked like the Capitals were going to pull away from the pack in the Metropolitan Division. Thanks to a four-game losing skid (they snapped it by beating Minnesota last night), the Pens have been able to catch up.

Pittsburgh is just two points behind the Caps with a game in hand. On the flip side, the Blue Jackets are just one point behind the Pens. Oh and the Rangers, who are in the top Wild Card spot, are five points behind, but they’ve played two more games.

A good streak could easily propel Pittsburgh into first place, while a couple of losses in a row could have them sitting in third place.

This will be the fifth game of a five-game road trip that has seen them collect seven of a possible eight points.

In the late game, the St. Louis Blues head to Anaheim to take on the Ducks at 10:00 p.m. ET. To watch that one online, click here

To say that the Blues have been streaky is a bit of an understatement. After dropping five consecutive games between Feb. 18-Mar. 3, St. Louis has now rattled off five straight victories over the Avalanche, Wild, Ducks, Islanders and Kings.

Those 10 points have given them a four-point cushion over the Kings in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The fact that Los Angeles dropped a 3-2 decision to the Coyotes last night definitely doesn’t hurt St. Louis’ chances.

Goalie Jake Allen has been as inconsistent as anyone on the Blues roster. He’s gone through some really ugly stretches but he’s come up huge during this winning streak, and that includes their last win over LA.

“Every game is huge, I think both teams understood the significance of this game tonight and it showed in the desperation from both teams,” head coach Mike Yeo said after the win over the Kings, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Obviously Jake (Allen) was outstanding tonight. From top to bottom we had a really strong team effort.”

The Ducks, like the Penguins, are battling for playoff positioning within their own division.

Currently, the Ducks find themselves in third place in the Pacific Division. There’s plenty of room to move up or down though. Anaheim is tied with Calgary for second place, but the Flames have more regulation/overtime wins. Edmonton, who are in the first Wild Card spot, are just a single point behind the Ducks.

Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf have gone through some difficult stretches this season, but it appears like they’re starting to get hot at the right time. They each had a three-point night in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals.

If that trio can stay hot to close out the year, watch out for the Ducks.

Another positive for the Anaheim has been the play of goalie Jonathan Bernier. While starter John Gibson has been out with a lower-body injury, Bernier has been lights out. He’s been so good, that he was selected as the NHL’s second star for his performances last week.

“Goaltending in the league is based upon everybody wants to have two that they can rely on,” Randy Carlyle said, per the OC Register. “And we have two that we can rely on. He’s just further deepened our trust in what he brings to the game night in and night out.

“He’s a professional. Not a real flashy guy but he comes in and he works. And he’s a great teammate.”

Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

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TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

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.