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Blue Jackets heating up at right time

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have been baffling for some time now, and they might have pushed John Tortorella to the edge recently, making him wonder if some of the team’s struggling players are daydreaming about the off-season.

One could almost picture Seth Jones responding with: “Don’t book any reservations just yet.”

The 23-year-old beefed up what’s already a career-best season with two goals on Friday as the Blue Jackets did what they had to do in edging the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. With that, the Blue Jackets have won four games in a row, giving themselves a real shot at either maintaining a wild card spot or advancing in the Metro if others stumble:

Metro top three:

Penguins: 82 points in 68 games, 37 ROW
Capitals: 81 points, 67 GP, 34 ROW
Flyers: 79 points, 68 GP, 32 ROW

Bubble:

Blue Jackets, first wild card: 77 points, 69 GP, 30 ROW
Devils, second WC: 76 points, 68 GP, 30 ROW

Panthers, biggest WC threat: 73 points, 65 GP, 31 ROW

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The Blue Jackets might feel a little anxious in seeing the Panthers with so many games in hand, but Columbus does get to impact its “own destiny” to some extent. They play one more game against the Flyers (March 15), Panthers (March 22), and Penguins (April 5). (Odd coincidence: all three of those games fall on Thursdays.) They don’t face the Devils or Capitals again during the 2017-18 regular season, however.

The possibility of another team or teams fading is one plus, regardless. The Devils, in particular, risk a slide for at least the near future:

Next six games for Devils

Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh

(The Devils’ schedule then closes out with six of eight games in Newark, though it must be noted that, on paper, even that closing stretch is fairly challenging opponents-wise.)

Between the Devils’ tough schedule and the Flyers’ up-and-down pattern this season, the Blue Jackets might just be able to fight their way into the playoffs by surviving a battle of attrition.

By committee

That’s not an elegant way to make the postseason, however, so the good news is that Columbus has some positive elements to build on.

For one thing, their top two defensemen are performing in ways that deliver on their hype. With tonight’s two goals, Seth Jones now has a career-high for goals (13) while also beefing up what was already a new career-high for points (46). With a whopping 231 shots on goal, Jones is firing the puck like never before; only Brent Burns has more SOG than Jones among NHL defensemen. Jones now has three goals and two assists for five points in his past two games.

Zach Werenski wasn’t able to score in Friday’s win against Detroit, but he’s been showing why Columbus boasts one of the NHL’s most fearsome one-two scoring punches on the blueline. Before tonight, the 20-year-old generated three goals and three assists for six points in five games. He’s at 14 goals on the season, giving the Blue Jackets a rare duo of defensemen with well over 10+ goals apiece.

Sergei Bobrovsky continues to be one of the NHL’s most reliable goalies, yet losing him for a spell actually managed to shine a light on an advantage Columbus holds over some of their bubble competitors.

While this hasn’t been a great season overall for the backup, Joonas Korpisalo came through with two straight wins while “Bob” was sidelined. That could serve as a significant confidence-booster for a goalie the Blue Jackets fought to keep from Vegas in the expansion draft.

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In summary, the Blue Jackets are getting contributions from a number of sources, which is a heartening sign, as Columbus needs to leverage its advantages if it wants to win what could be tight races for the East’s final playoff spots.

This four-game winning streak greatly improved their odds of crossing that finish line with their heads held high.

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.

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

“We’ve proven we can overcome losing one of our top players and we’re going to have to do it again,” Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters after the 5-2 loss. “Listen, teams throughout the League are handling injuries, and we’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part this season for injuries.”

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.