The Buzzer: A night of milestones; Playoff race out West gets interesting

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Players of the Night

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Not only did he score career goal No. 600, but he was also the best and most dominant player on the ice. He finished with two goals in a 3-2 overtime win and attempted 15 shots, including eight that were on goal. He was everywhere.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: Fleury was great once again for the Golden Knights on Monday stopping 38 of 40 shots in a 3-2 win. That performance helped him earn win No. 400 in his career.

Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators: Matt Duchene helped the Ottawa Senators try to play spoiler on Monday night by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner, their 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers. The trade for Duchene has not really helped the Senators in the standings, and with only one year remaining on his contract who knows how long he will remain with the team, but he has really picked up the production the past couple of months and is up 17 goals in 53 games with the Senators.

Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers: The New York Rangers are not going to the playoffs but they did their part to make sure the Carolina Hurricanes will not be going either. The Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Monday night was highlighted by Jimmy Vesey’s first career hat trick.

It was also a big night for Vesey’s teammate, Mats Zuccarello, who recorded his 100th career goal in the NHL by scoring a pair in the win.

The Blues are hanging around

Even though they had won just two of their past 11 games, traded one of their top forwards, and recently lost two more key players to injury the St. Louis Blues are still, somehow, hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race. They picked up a huge two points on Monday night with a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks to win their second game in a row on their west coast road trip. They have now scored 11 goals in their past two games after scoring just 14 goals in the 10 games prior to that.

So here is where things stand in the Western Conference playoff race after Monday:

  • The Kings win over the Vancouver Canucks moves them into third place in the Pacific Division, moving them one point ahead of the Ducks after their loss to the Blues.
  • The Ducks, for the time being, fall out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Colorado Avalanche with 80 points in the standings, but with the Avalanche having played in two fewer games (as well as having five more regulation and overtime wins) they maintain the second wild card spot. For now.
  • The Blues sit one point behind both the Avalanche and Ducks. The Blues still have a game in hand on the Ducks.

For a look at how things are shaping up in the Eastern Conference playoff race after Monday’s games, click here.

Laine scores again

It came in a losing effort, but Patrik Laine score another goal for the Jets to continue on what has been a ridiculous hot streak. He has now scored at least one goal in 11 of his past 12 games (16 total goals) and is just one goal behind Ovechkin for the league lead. Remember, he is still only 19 years old.

Zetterberg moving up the Red Wings’ rankings

We said it was a night for milestones and accomplishments, so what is one more to add to the list? Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Detroit Red Wings to move into sole possession of fifth place on the team’s all-time goal scoring list, moving ahead of Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. Zetterberg’s 336 goals trail only Gordie Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692), Alex Delvecchio (456) and Sergei Fedorov (400) in franchise history.

Highlight of the Night 

It has been a brutal season for the Montreal Canadiens and a disappointing one for Jonathan Drouin, but he still has a ton of talent. Check out this move on the breakaway on Monday night.

The Canadiens were still three goals short but that is a nice move.

Factoid of the Night

Seth Jones did not play in the third period of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens but he still ended up scoring the game-winning goal. For the third game in a row.

Scores

New York Rangers 6, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Vegas Golden Knights 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Washington Capitals 3, Winnipeg Jets 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Ottawa Senators 5, Florida Panthers 3

St. Louis Blues 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

San Jose Sharks 5, Detroit Red Wings 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, Vancouver Canucks 0

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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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.