NHL Power Rankings: Kaprizov, Zuccarello helping Wild make big climb

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Lightning reclaim the top spot, the Canucks hit bottom, and the Wild make a big climb into the top 10.

The Wild are the intriguing story this week thanks to a six-game winning streak. Forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov are leading the way on this recent surge. Zuccarello has been outstanding since making his season debut with 11 points in his first seven games, while Kaprizov has been worth the hype as one of the league’s top rookies. They still have the defense, they are getting the goaltending, and now they have a potential star forward to make plays with the puck.

The West Division has three strong contenders in Colorado, Vegas, and a health St. Louis team at the top. But that fourth playoff spot has always been wide open given the rest of the division. Minnesota is looking to take advantage of it and grab it.

This week the Wild are in the No. 8 spot of our NHL Power Rankings.

Where does your team sit?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. No Nikita Kucherov and they still have one of the best records in the league. In four games this week against Carolina and Dallas they went 4-0-0 and outscored those two teams by a 15-3 margin.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs. The clear favorite in the North Division, and the gap seems to be widening every game.

3. Vegas Golden Knights. The Marc-Andre Fleury redemption tour rolls on for Vegas. Hard to argue that the job is not once again his.

4. Colorado Avalanche. Philipp Grubauer does not get a lot of attention given the talent elsewhere on the roster, but he has been outstanding this season in net.

5. Carolina Hurricanes. Tough week against Tampa, but the Hurricanes are still playing fantastic hockey this season overall. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

6. Florida Panthers. Goalie Chris Driedger and offseason pickups Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe are really driving this great start.

7. Boston Bruins. There is no slowing down David Pastrnak right now, and Charlie McAvoy is emerging as a Norris Trophy front runner right now.

8. Minnesota Wild. Kirill Kaprizov has completely changed the entire dynamic of this team.

9. Philadelphia Flyers. They had a dominant weekend against Buffalo and are finally starting to get some of their top players back.

10. Washington Capitals. If Conor Sheary could only play games against teams that traded him (Buffalo and Pittsburgh) he would be unstoppable.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

11. Winnipeg Jets. They are using the recipe they need to use in order to win: Great goaltending and relying on their top forwards to to carry the offense.

12. New York Islanders. They played 12 games in February. They went 2-2-2 against Pittsburgh. They went 6-0-0 against everybody else.

13. Edmonton Oilers. They are exciting. They play in the right division to make a run in the playoffs. But does that make them a true Cup contender?

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. They keep collecting points, but they only have four regulation wins this season. Special teams are also a major problem.

15. Chicago Blackhawks. They are exceeding expectations, but we are about to find out if they are for real with the schedule they have ahead.

16. Los Angeles Kings. They future is extremely bright, but the veterans on the roster are eyeing another trip to the playoffs this season.

17. St. Louis Blues. Their biggest problem right now is injuries, but they are getting closer to getting a significant player back in Vladimir Tarasenko.

18. Calgary Flames. They have hit a little bit of a slump here, so it is a perfect time to get a stretch of four consecutive games against the Senators.

19. Montreal Canadiens. It is crazy what a difference a month makes. The Habs started the season look like the biggest surprise story in the NHL. Now they fired their coach and can not seem to get a win.

[Related: What the Canadiens need to fix]

20. Nashville Predators. They feasted on Columbus this week to try and get back into the playoff race. Still seems like changes are on the horizon.

21. Arizona Coyotes. Overcoming back-to-back three-goal deficits to win games is good, but it also means you were trailing back-to-back games by three goals. Probably not great.

22. Dallas Stars. They have won just two out of their past 12 games after starting the season with a four-game winning streak.

23. New York Rangers. Not much is going right for them this season, but Mika Zibanejad‘s slump is quite a surprise.

24. New Jersey Devils. Mackenzie Blackwood is going to keep them in almost every game he plays.

25. San Jose Sharks. No offense, aging stars on defense, and no goaltending. It is a bad combination.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets. Patrik Laine has scored a lot of goals, but nobody else has. They are also not winning.

27. Anaheim Ducks. When you lose back-to-back games when you hold a three-goal lead, against the same team, that is never a good sign.

28. Buffalo Sabres. What. A. Mess.

29. Detroit Red Wings. They would probably like to see more progress from some of the younger players on the roster.

30. Ottawa Senators. A lot of their young players are showing some progress.

31. Vancouver Canucks. They are 3-0 against Ottawa. They are 5-14-2 against everybody else in the division. It is not like the rest of the division is loaded with Stanley Cup contenders.

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.

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.