NHL Power Rankings: Watch out for the Bruins

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings the Vegas Golden Knights remain in the top spot, followed closely by Carolina, Colorado, and Tampa Bay.

All four of those teams should be considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, but there is another contender that is kind of lurking underneath the radar that should not be taken lightly.

That team is the Bruins.

They have been one of the league’s best teams since the trade deadline, putting together a 9-2-0 record since acquiring Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly. Those additions have helped solve some of the Bruins’ biggest concerns. Specifically, the addition of Hall and what it has done to their second line alongside David Krejci and Craig Smith. Since that line has been put together it has instantly become one of the league’s best trios, controlling the pace of games and outscoring teams by an 11-1 margin during 5-on-5 play. It has given Boston a much-needed second scoring line to complement the Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak line, and given the team some real balance.

Add in a Norris level defender in Charlie McAvoy and outstanding goaltending depth, and you have a team that is going to be a nightmare for anybody in a best-of-seven series.

They currently sit in the seventh spot in this week’s NHL Power Rankings, but are definitely on the rise.

Where does your team sit this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Vegas Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury is going to take over sole possession of third place on the all-time wins list. Patrick Roy in second spot is within sight.

2. Carolina Hurricanes. The play of Alex Nedeljkovic in goal has been a significant development this season.

3. Colorado Avalanche. The biggest question for them right now is getting a healthy lineup for the playoffs.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning. Giving Andrei Vasilevskiy some games off here at the end is smart. He has played a ton of hockey over the past year and they will need him in the playoffs.

[Related: In competitive Central, Lightning are not only heavyweight anymore]

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. Jeff Carter has proven to be an incredible fit so far.

6. Florida Panthers. Is it an overreaction to suggest that Sergei Bobrovsky might be the third best goalie on the roster going into the playoffs? Chris Driedger has been better for two years and Spencer Knight looks really good so far.

7. Boston Bruins. The rest of the East Division can not be happy that they were able to find a second scoring line.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs. They have three games against Montreal this week in what should be a fascinating first round preview.

9. Washington Capitals. The big question here is which goalie do they open the playoffs with. Would you have imagined at the start of the season that Vitek Vanecek could have been the answer to that question?

10. Minnesota Wild. They keep winning, so I feel like I am underrating them, but I also do not know how they stack up with the elite teams in the league. They are really good. But are they Stanley Cup good?

11. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid needs 13 points in six games to reach the 100-point mark in a 56-game season. He can do it.

12. New York Islanders. You never want to bet against a Barry Trotz team with great goaltending in the playoffs, but their struggles against the top-three teams in the division (only nine wins in 23 games against Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston) should be some concern.

13. Nashville Predators. They are in the driver’s seat for the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division and they have Juuse Saros to thank for it.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

14. St. Louis Blues. With nine out of a possible 10 points over their past five games they have finally taken control of the race for the fourth playoff spot in the West Division.

15. New York Rangers. A good young team with great talent that is stuck in the wrong division this season.

16. Dallas Stars. They are just 5-13 in games this season that go beyond regulation. Imagine how much different their season looks with just a little bit more luck in overtime and the shootout. If even just two of those games go a different way they would still be in control for a playoff spot.

17. Montreal Canadiens. Tyler Toffoli has been one of the best offseason pickups of the year. He might score 30 goals in a shortened season.

18. Winnipeg Jets. They have won just five of their past 14 games and enter the week on a six-game losing streak.

19. Calgary Flames. Curious to see what changes get made in Calgary after this season. Disappointing offense, big money in a goalie that has not entirely solved the problem.

20. Chicago Blackhawks. They have some interesting pieces at the top of the lineup, including some intriguing young players, but there are still a lot of holes here long-term.

21. Ottawa Senators. Their start was awful, winning just two of their first 15 games. Since then they have been a very respectable 17-15-4 in the 36 games that followed. There is young talent here. They have not quit on this season. You can see something building here.

22. Arizona Coyotes. They are only three points behind St. Louis, but the Coyotes only have three games remaining on their schedule. The Blues have six. Even if Arizona wins all three it would need St. Louis to go 1-5 the rest of the way. Probably not going to happen.

23. New Jersey Devils. They have some impressive young talent here and are swimming in salary cap space this offseason. Could be a team to watch here very shortly.

[Related: What went wrong this season for Devils]

24. Philadelphia Flyers. With a big addition on defense and a reset Carter Hart they could be really good next season.

25. Vancouver Canucks. Do not read too much into how they finish the season with this schedule. Do read into how top heavy the team is and how tight the salary cap situation is.

26. Los Angeles Kings. Quinton Byfield is going to be the player to watch the rest of the way. Nice glimpse of the Kings’ future.

27. San Jose Sharks. This team seems to be a long way from contending again.

28. Detroit Red Wings. Jakub Vrana has brought some excitement to the roster, but the rest of the roster still has some real weaknesses. They have four goals in their past five games.

[Related: Jakub Vrana adding excitement to Red Wings lineup]

29. Anaheim Ducks. Sending Ryan Miller out with a win in his final home start is a nice highlight for the season.

30. Buffalo Sabres. They are better since the coaching change, but still not very good.

31. Columbus Blue Jackets. Just two regulation wins in their most recent 27 games.

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.

Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

Mitch Marner
USA Today
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TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.