Rinne, Predators rebound to tie series vs. Jets

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Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators needed this one.

Game 4 wasn’t technically a must-win game for the Predators, but few teams are equipped to fight back from a 3-1 series deficit against the imposing Winnipeg Jets. Nashville avoided such a predicament by holding on to tie the series 2-2 instead thanks to a 2-1 win on Thursday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Patrik Laine finally broke a goal-scoring drought to keep Rinne from technically having a perfect night, yet the Vezina finalist was splendid nonetheless. Rinne stopped every shot he faced at even strength (29 out of 29), only allowing that Laine power-play marker with 51 seconds remaining in the third period. Rinne had turned aside some golden opportunities, including moving laterally well enough to stop a high-quality Mark Scheifele opportunity – before Laine made things interesting. Ultimately, Rinne made 32 out of 33 saves.

His most memorable one came when he somehow succeeded in desperately stopping a first-period chance with his stick. That was good enough to earn its own post.

One cannot help but wonder if Laine would have even scored if P.K. Subban was on the ice. Subban took a penalty late in the third to open up the chance for that power-play goal, which must have been agonizing for the elite defenseman.

Subban was splendid for much of the contest beyond that slip-up, putting up nice possession numbers in demanding situations, and scoring what would stand as the game-winning goal with a howitzer on the power play. This extends Subban’s goal streak to three games (and he pitched in an assist during that hot streak).

While it’s always easier on the nerves to cruise to victory, there were a lot of heartening signs for the Predators in tying this series at 2-2.

  • Again, Rinne was fantastic in this game.
  • While the last minute caused some serious nail-biting for Predators fans, the team did manage to protect a lead this time around. They did so by mostly slowing the Jets’ high-powered offense down, at least about as much as any team reasonably can. It wasn’t just about Rinne, even though he was brilliant.
  • Despite rambunctious players like Scott Hartnell and Ryan Hartman being in the lineup (and Kevin Fiala being a curious omission), the Predators learned from Game 3 and maintained sound discipline. Both teams scored on the power play in Game 4, but each squad only received two power-play opportunities. Maybe that comes down to officials choosing to “let them play” or other factors, yet on paper, that seems like a very promising development.
  • Hartman also added a goal, so Nashville continues to receive production from supporting cast members.

Through four contests, this second-round showdown is more or less what we expected. The two teams have flexed their muscles at times, and we’ve also seen some back-and-forth thrillers, nasty moments, and a double-overtime treat.

Now this series boils down to a best-of-three, continuing a theme of the second round (if the Bruins win Game 4 of their series, all four series will at some point be tied 2-2).

With each team getting one road and one home win so far, it’s unclear if this will matter, but the Predators would get two of the three contests in Nashville if the series goes the distance of seven games. For all we know, this matchup of two juggernauts could come down to smaller advantages, especially if the key figures are all peaking at the right time.

Few things seem to come easily for the Jets and Predators, which could make things for even more fun as the stakes rise.

Game 5 takes place on NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

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.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.