NHL Bubble Wrap: Flames advance, Maple Leafs collapse, top seed battles set

  • The Flames eliminated the Jets from the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
  • Another shocking collapse happened as the Blue Jackets rallied against the Maple Leafs.
  • The stage is set for a wild Friday of possible eliminations.
  • Also, Saturday will serve as games where the top seeds in the East and West will be determined with round-robin games.
  • NHL Scores from Thursday

    Canucks 3, Wild 0 (Vancouver leads series 2-1)

    After dropping Game 1 to Minnesota, the Canucks won the last two games in a row. In Game 3, Vancouver stayed focused during a physical game, enjoying a 27-save shutout from Jacob Markstrom. Big name players also scored for the Canucks, while Antoine Roussel also found the net and Alex Stalock‘s ire.

    Flyers 3, Capitals 1 — East Round Robin

    Once again, the Flyers remain on fire. They ended the regular season very hot, won their exhibition game, and now won two of three round-robin contests. Their excellence keeps things pretty simple: it will be Flyers vs. Lightning for the East’s top seed on Saturday. While those two joust for No. 1 (with the loser getting second), the Capitals must face the Bruins to see which team will rank third or fourth. Yes, the two division leaders will finish third and fourth. The Round Robin, and 2020, are both very odd.

    Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 — West Round Robin

    If the round-robin games are any indication, few leads will be safe against the Golden Knights. Vegas rallied to beat the Stars in their first contest, then did similar things against the Blues. In Thursday’s case, the Golden Knights scored three third-period goals to run away with this one. The Golden Knights face the Avalanche on Saturday to determine the West’s top seed, while the Blues and Stars battle for third.

    Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 [OT] (CBJ leads series 2-1)

    Like the Penguins and Oilers, the Maple Leafs coughed up a Game 3 lead and lost in a stunning fashion. Also like the Penguins and Oilers, the Maple Leafs rank among the teams who can get eliminated during Friday’s NHL games. The Maple Leafs built a 3-0 lead, only for Pierre-Luc Dubois, Elvis Merzlikins, and the rest of the Blue Jackets to roar back and force overtime. Dubois capped his hat trick by scoring the overtime game-winner. For better or worse, there’s a short turnaround for both teams to battle it out again in Game 4 on Friday.

    Flames 4, Jets 0 (CGY wins series 3-1)

    It sure seems like the Jets just ran out of gas or, erm, fuel. If there was going to be a big push, the Flames’ 2-0 first period likely deflated that. Then again, it might have just come down to Cam Talbot being on point. Talbot pitched a 31-save shutout, frustrating what remaining stars the Jets still had healthy. Calgary became the first West team to punch its ticket to the final 16, aka the formal start of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They don’t have any clue who they’ll face yet, though.


    Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

    Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
    Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
    Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
    Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

    Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
    Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
    Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
    Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

    NHL Three Stars for Wednesday, and the highlight of the night

    1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets

    Pierre-Luc Dubois didn’t just score the first Blue Jackets hat trick, and he didn’t just do so in a huge way, completing it with that stunning overtime game-winner. PLD also pulled it off with style, even throwing a bit of a Michael Jordan tongue-wag in during one of his goals. The Maple Leafs couldn’t seem to stop him as he barreled to the net and scored huge goals. They won’t have much time to find a better plan vs. PLD, either.

    We might as well get the highlight of the night over with, too, because Pierre-Luc Dubois provided that. Consider his hat trick as the overall highlight of the night.

    2. Cam Talbot, Flames

    Circling back, it’s easy to look at the Flames winning 4-0 and thinking Game 4 was a cakewalk. Especially if you ignore the two empty-net goals clouding such perceptions.

    But was it that easy even beyond that, or did the Flames eliminate the Jets in such a tidy fashion in large part because of Cam (sometimes Cameron) Talbot? Talbot pitched a 31-save shutout to close out one heck of a four-game performance. Talbot generated a strong .945 save percentage during the series, putting up the sort of gaudy numbers we were expecting from Connor Hellebuyck.

    If Talbot can stay on his game, then the Flames are the team the top four seeds might wish to avoid.

    3. Quinn Hughes, Canucks

    Let’s give the tiebreaker for some three-point games to one that factored into a 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with higher stakes than a round-robin game, shall we? Hughes figured into all three Canucks goals with two primary and one secondary assist in Game 3. Hughes gave the Canucks another beyond-his-years game, as the rookie logged 22:47 TOI in Game 3.

    Now, you might prefer Jacob Markstrom’s 27-save shutout from that game. That’s fine, too.


    • Pierre-Luc Dubois wasn’t just the first Blue Jackets player to score a postseason hat trick. He also became just the 10th player in the last 27 years to complete a playoff hat trick in OT, via NHL PR. Statscentre provides even more on PLD’s hat trick.
    • Nicholas Robertson became the third Maple Leafs player to score a playoff goal before turning 19.
    • Elliotte Friedman notes that this was the first time this season that the Blue Jackets came back from down three goals to tie a game, let alone win it. Ouch.


    Game 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (NYI leads 2-1)
    Game 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN (ARI leads 2-1)
    Game 4: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (MTL leads 2-1)
    Game 4: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN (CHI leads 2-1)
    Game 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN (CBJ leads 2-1)
    Game 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN (VAN leads 2-1)

    • 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

    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.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.