The Buzzer: Wild clinch playoff spot; Golden Knights red-hot (Saturday in NHL)

The Buzzer: Wild clinch playoff spot; Golden Knights red-hot (Saturday in NHL)
Getty Images

3 Stars for Saturday in the NHL

1. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues

When you think of Ryan O’Reilly, you probably think of the sort of reliable player who, you know, wins Selke Trophies. Yet, from an offensive standpoint, ROR has been pretty explosive at times this season.

Take Saturday’s NHL action for example. After going three games without a point, Ryan O’Reilly exploded for a hat trick plus an assist, factoring into four of the Blues’ five goals in a key win against the Avalanche.

This marks O’Reilly’s second four-point game during the month of April, and his third four-point output since March 20.

Being that the Wild became the third team from the NHL’s West Division to clinch a playoff spot after winning their seventh game in a row on Saturday, there’s now just one spot left. Technically, the Blues trail the Coyotes (who also won their game), but St. Louis trails Arizona by a mere standings point (47 for Coyotes, 46 for Blues) with three games in hand.

With the Sharks and Kings dropping just about any facade of staying in the hunt, it’s almost certainly down to the Blues or Coyotes. O’Reilly is doing what he can to make that a short race, too.

Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche lost, but the speedy forward collected three points (1G, 2A).

2. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

Honestly, it boggles my mind that the Red Wings didn’t find a deal for Jonathan Bernier during the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. It’s unclear if there just wasn’t much of a market, or if the Red Wings wanted too much for Bernier. Either way, it feels like a waste, as he’s been pretty great at times on a mostly dreary Detroit team.

The Red Wings didn’t upset the Stars on Saturday, but Bernier left the NHL stunned with a 50-save performance.

Most absurdly, the Red Wings carried a 1-0 lead into the third period despite the Stars generating a 42-6 shots on goal advantage. Mark Pysyk became the unlikely Stars player to break that shutout bid, then Jamie Benn earned the win with an OTGWG.

But Bernier stole the show, and nearly a win.

3. MacKenzie Weegar, Florida Panthers

While the Wild clinched a playoff spot on Saturday, the Panthers made sure that the Hurricanes will need to keep an eye on NHL clinching scenarios for at least a bit longer.

Weegar and the Panthers were down 3-1 in the third period, but they would not be denied. He ended up scoring a goal and three assists, factoring into all four Florida goals in an OT victory. Weegar filled up the scoresheet with those four points, a +3 rating, four SOG, seven hits, and seven blocked shots. That’s an honest day of hockey work.

Honorable mentions

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three points (1G, 2A) in the Capitals’ win over the Islanders.
  • Chandler Stephenson continues to take advantage of the plum job as Vegas’ center between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. The speedy pivot generated two goals and one assist. With that, the Golden Knights have now won nine in a row, and stand a solid chance of winning the race for the West Division crown against the Avalanche. Apparently the Golden Knights set a new franchise record with nine straight wins.
  • Again, the Coyotes will need to work and probably catch some breaks to hold off the Blues. Getting a healthy Darcy Kuemper for this stretch wouldn’t hurt. He pitched a 26-save shutout in this case.

Highlights of the night for Saturday in the NHL

Enjoy Ryan O’Reilly putting on a clinic for the Blues vs. the Avalanche:

Aleksander Barkov stole MacKenzie Weegar’s thunder a bit with this diabolical no-look goal in overtime:

Stats of the Night: Old Jumbo Joe, Yandle Ironman

Saturday’s NHL scores

Penguins 4, Devils 2
Blues 5, Avalanche 3
Capitals 6, Islanders 3
Panthers 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Stars 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
Maple leafs 4, Jets 1
Flames 5, Canadiens 2
Wild 6, Sharks 3
Golden Knights 5, Ducks 1
Canucks 4, Senators 2
Coyotes 4, Kings 0

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.

Scroll Down For:

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

    Getty Images
    2 Comments

    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

    tampa bay lightning
    Scott Audette/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    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
    Julian Avram/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    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

    marc-andre fleury
    David Berding/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    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.