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The Buzzer: Blue Jackets’ top line dominates; Hurricanes bring back Storm Surge

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Three Stars

1. Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets. They get to share the No. 1 star on Saturday for absolutely dominating the Nashville Predators. Panarin recorded four assists in the Blue Jackets’ 5-2 win, including three in the first period alone, while Atkinson scored two goals to give him 41 on the season. Atkinson is now just the second Blue Jackets player to ever score 40 goals in a season, joining Rick Nash. His 41st goal of the season also tied him for the franchise single season lead. We also should not forget big trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene in this one as he also recorded a pair of assists in the win.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He just keeps making history. His two goals on Saturday night in the Capitals’ 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning give him 51 on the season, the eighth 50-goal season of his career. That is second most in league history behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Among the other accomplishments for him on Saturday: He is just the fourth player in league history to score 50 goals after celebrating his 33rd birthday (read all about that here), while his power play goal was the 247th of his career, moving him into a tie for fourth-place on the NHL’s all-time list with Luc Robitaille. Overall, he finished the night with 13 total shot attempts, eight shots on goal, four hits, two goals, and a plus-three rating. Overall it was a pretty dominant night for him.

3. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. No, Saturday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers did not really mean anything in the playoff race, and the Ducks’ win does not really help them in the standings or do anything for them except maybe hurt their draft lottery odds. But when you score three goals in one period the way Rickard Rakell did that is worthy of some attention. He is just the second Ducks player to ever record a natural hat trick in a one period, joining only Andrew Cogliano. He is now two goals away from his fourth consecutive 20-goal season in the NHL.

Highlights of the Night

The Montreal Canadiens’ power play has been a mess all season but it came through early on Saturday night to help set the tone in a huge win over the Winnipeg Jets thanks to this tic-tac-toe passing play.

Look at this incredible individual effort from St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas as part of their 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils. With the win, the Blues are now just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division.

One more time for Alex Ovechkin as he scores his 50th goal of the season.

The Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, but Alex DeBrincat continued his remarkable sophomore season with his 41st goal of the season, keeping him among the NHL’s league leaders.

They said the Storm Surge was finished, but the Carolina Hurricanes went back to the one that started it all on Saturday following their big win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Factoids

  • The New York Islanders completely dominated the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night to officially clinch a playoff spot. [New York Islanders]
  • Brent Burns‘ overtime goal snapped the San Jose Sharks’ seven-game losing streak and secured home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Burns’ goal is his 14th career regular season overtime goal, moving him into first place on the NHL’s all-time list for defenders, passing Scott Niedermayer. [NHL PR]
  • Patrick Marleau played in his 1,653rd career game on Saturday night, passing Mark Recchi for sole possession of fifth place in the NHL’s all-time games played list. As for the game itself, the Maple Leafs were on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision against the Ottawa Senators. [Leafs PR]
  • The Washington Capitals have seven 20-goal scorers this season for the seventh-time in franchise history and the first time since the 2009-10 season. The other instances came in 1982-83, 1983-84, and 1991-92. The latter three were when goal-scoring across the NHL was significantly higher. [Capitals PR]
  • Nicklas Backstrom became just the second active player to record at least four consecutive seasons with at least 20 goals and 50 assists. San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton is the only other active player to do it. [NHL PR]
  • Only one team in the NHL has more wins than the Carolina Hurricanes’ 27 since January 1. The Tampa Bay Lightning, with 28 wins, are the only team in the NHL with more wins since then. Their win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday officially eliminated the Flyers from playoff contention this season. [NHL PR]

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.

The Buzzer: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

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.

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.