The Buzzer: Big wins help Lightning, Panthers clinch playoff spots

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THREE STARS

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

A high-scoring affair saw Huberdeau record five points — including three in the third period — during Florida’s 7-4 win over the Predators. Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett also had productive nights with the captain scoring twice and adding an assist, while the newcomer from Calgary chipped in a trio of helpers. The win also meant the Panthers are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

2. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets / Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings

It was a goalie duel at Nationwide Arena as Merzlikins (41 saves) and Greiss (33 saves) stood on their heads through three periods, overtime and the shootout. In the end, it was Patrik Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand netting goals in the shootout to give Columbus a 1-0 win.

3. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes captain led the way with two goals and an assist during a big 5-1 win over the Stars. Staal’s 16 goals and 36 points are his highest since the 2017-18 NHL season. The two points puts Carolina in sole possession of first place in the Central Division with two games in-hand over the Panthers.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

Zdeno Chara came to the aid of a teammate and scrapped with Matt Martin, using his reach to his advantage:

• Lovely move and sweet finish by David Krejci to open the scoring in Pittsburgh:

Streeeeeeeetch it out, Anton Khudobin:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

• Including last season’s Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Panthers have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time in franchise history.

• Joining the Cats in the postseason from the Central Division will be the Lightning, who have reached the playoffs for the fourth straight season. They’ll attempt to become the ninth NHL franchise to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and first since the 2016/2017 Penguins.

SCORES
Devils 6, Flyers 4
Rangers 3, Sabres 1
Bruins 3, Penguins 1
Capitals 1, Islanders 0
Blue Jackets 1, Red Wings 0 (SO)
Panthers 7, Predators 4
Lightning 7, Blackhawks 4
Hurricanes 5, Stars 1

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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.

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

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    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

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    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

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