The Buzzer: MacKinnon fight in Rantanen return; Coyotes end Golden Knights’ streak

The Buzzer: MacKinnon fight in Rantanen return; Coyotes end Golden Knights' streak
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3 Stars for Friday in the NHL

1. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens

Not that long ago, the Canadiens were looking over their shoulders at the Flames for the fourth spot in the all-Canadian North Division. Now, with Winnipeg sinking on a six-game losing streak, the Canadiens are instead breathing down the Jets’ necks for third in the North. Montreal beating Winnipeg in one of Friday’s bigger NHL games certainly helped — especially since the W came in regulation.

For about half of that game, it sure didn’t look like that would be the story. The Jets built leads of 2-0 and 3-1 by the midway point of the contest. Ultimately, the Canadiens scored four unanswered goals to win, and give themselves a chance at third (while leaving the Flames fading in their rearview mirror).

Nick Suzuki was the biggest driving force for that comeback.

Suzuki scored two goals (including the game-winner) and also notched an assist for that key Montreal win. The sophomore skater extended his point streak to four games (4G, 2A) and now sits at 33 points in 49 games in 2020-21. That would translate to a 55-point pace over an 82-game season.

Tyler Toffoli (1G, 1A) was another big performer for the Habs. Meanwhile, the Jets lost despite a rare two-goal game from Trevor Lewis.

If you’re the Maple Leafs, would you rather face the Canadiens, or watch the Jets sink to fourth for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

2. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

Despite being out since April 14, Mikko Rantanen’s remained in the Maurice Richard race — or at least the race for second place, assuming Auston Matthews can stay healthy. That’s pretty impressive stuff, and underscores that, for as great as Nathan MacKinnon is, he’s that much deadlier with a winger of Rantanen’s gifts.

You could absolutely make an argument for Rantanen over Nick Suzuki as the top star for Friday in the NHL. In Rantanen’s case, he scored two goals and one assist as the Avalanche blanked the Sharks. In doing so, Rantanen resumed his personal point streak, extending it to seven games (6G, 6A for 12 points). While MacKinnon’s hands made bigger waves with his fight, Gabriel Landeskog played well, too, scoring a goal and an assist.

Speaking of Avs returning from COVID protocol, Philipp Grubauer made his own case to be one of the top NHL stars from Friday, pitching a 21-save shutout. (Colorado will deal with it, as they’re likely just relieved to see Grubauer in net. And they might want to invest in some bubble wrap.)

3. Adin Hill, Arizona Coyotes

Look, the odds are massively against the Coyotes as they try to catch the Blues for the fourth playoff spot in the West Division. The Blues have more points (52-49) and have played three fewer games than the Coyotes. That’s not a hill to climb; it’s a mountain.

But credit the Coyotes for battling on Friday to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, and end the Golden Knights’ winning streak at 10, the best run of the 2020-21 NHL season.

Beyond the Blues heating up, the Coyotes made matters worse by sputtering lately. It’s difficult to pin much of that on Adin Hill, though, especially lately.

In his previous two starts, Adin Hill only allowed one goal in each contest, yet lost both games. Perhaps he decided he’d take matters even more in his hands in this case, as he stopped all 25 Golden Knights shots to shut them out, and end their winning streak.

MacKinnon fight: Avs star drops gloves with Labanc after Girard injury scare

The Avalanche won because of the return of players they haven’t seen often (Grubauer, Rantanen), but the most noteworthy moment was something you don’t see often at all: a Nathan MacKinnon fight. Following an injury scare involving Sam Girard, MacKinnon did not hesitate to go after Sharks forward Kevin Labanc. Don’t blame Avalanche fans if they were rooting for MacKinnon to avoid injury, more than anything else:

Speaking of injuries, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar indicated that Girard avoided one. Bednar wasn’t happy with the Labanc play, but no injury for Girard (and MacKinnon) ultimately trumps those beefs.

Via Hockey Fights, this marks the sixth fight of Nathan MacKinnon’s NHL career (including a fight with Trevor Lewis in a preseason game). It’s the first MacKinnon fight since 2017-18, when he must have been in a testy mood, as he fought three times.

While investigating MacKinnon’s fight history, an interesting nugget emerged. Back in 2012, Nathan MacKinnon fought a different Girard (Sean Girard).

Yes, MacKinnon is a fiery competitor, but the Avalanche must flinch any time he decides to fight. At least this didn’t seem to backfire, though, right?

Top highlight for Friday in the NHL

At this point, the Kings beating the Ducks during the waning moments of regulation might actually be a win (and thus a highlight?) for Anaheim. In a circular sort of way. Regardless, pretty nice stuff from Anze Kopitar to score this GWG:

Stat of the night

Sportsnet captured the Jets’ slippage, which could help the Canadiens jump to fourth in the North Division.

Friday’s NHL scores

Canadiens 5, Jets 3
Avalanche 3, Sharks 0
Coyotes 3, Golden Knights 0
Kings 2, Ducks 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.

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    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

    Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

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    ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

    General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

    Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

    The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

    Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.