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.
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.
The Jets were 3 points shy of the North Division lead just 2 weeks ago.
Now they have a chance of slipping down to 4th pic.twitter.com/psSJwwDKqJ
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 1, 2021
Friday’s NHL scores
Canadiens 5, Jets 3
Avalanche 3, Sharks 0
Coyotes 3, Golden Knights 0
Kings 2, Ducks 1