The Buzzer: Jets clinch playoff spot; Not yet for Blues, Predators (NHL on Wednesday)

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3 Stars for Wednesday in the NHL

1. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

T.J. Oshie returned to NHL action for the Capitals on Wednesday, his first game back since the passing of his father, Tim. Oshie delivered a hat trick in what must have been an enormously emotional performance for the winger.

(Tensions were already high, naturally, as the Rangers and Capitals engaged in a rematch after the Tom Wilson incident.)

With two power-play goals and one empty-netter, Oshie collected the fifth hat trick of his NHL career. That hat trick pushed Oshie to 21 goals and 42 points on the season. He’s now authored three seasons in a row with at least 20 goals, and reached 20+ in five of his last six campaigns. (Oshie’s fallen just short of 20 goals on multiple occasions, too.)

Beyond all of the Tom Wilson drama, the Capitals needed to win this game to give themselves a leg up in the skin-tight race for the East Division crown.

Dmitry Orlov ranked as another Capitals player with a trio of points, collecting three assists in that important win.

2. Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets

File the Capitals and Lowry’s Jets under the smaller-than-maybe-expected list of NHL teams who got things done, playoff-implications-wise, on Wednesday. In the case of the Jets, Lowry and Winnipeg’s other skaters helped the team finally clinch a playoff spot. By winning, they also snapped a seven-game losing streak that still leaves them vulnerable to slipping to fourth in the North Division behind the Canadiens.

With two goals and one assist, Lowry ranks as one of the top challengers for Oshie’s spot as the top NHL star for Wednesday. (Obviously, Lowry also grabbed three points.)

One of Lowry’s goals was a shorthanded tally. It was a solid peripheral night for Lowry, who went +3, registered three shots on goal, won five draws, threw two hits, and blocked one shot.

If Lowry doesn’t strike your fancy, you could always go with the player most responsible for the Jets clinching their playoff spot. That would be Connor Hellebuyck, who pitched a 32-save shutout.

3. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Every now and then, the most interesting storylines can serve as tiebreakers. In Wednesday’s case, they separate the NHL three stars of the night from the honorable mentions. (At least no one’s losing bonus money from this, eh?)

You might quibble with Oshie and his hat trick and Bjorkstrand’s three-point night making it over other three-point nights (or Hellebuyck’s shutout). Especially since both Oshie and Bjorkstrand benefited from empty-net points.

But Oshie generating a hat trick in his first game back following his father’s passing? That’s quite the story, especially in tandem with a high-profile, violence-often-chosen Capitals – Rangers game.

In Bjorkstrand’s case, his three-point game ranked as one of the biggest spoilers in a night where teams (other than the Jets) were unable to clinch playoff spots. In Bjorkstrand’s case, his trio of points helped the Blue Jackets keep the Predators from clinching a playoff spot, at least for Wednesday in the NHL. The Predators still have a leg up on the Stars — thanks in part to Dallas also losing. But Wednesday did not determine another team that was eliminated, nor one that punched their ticket once NHL playoff time rolls around.

Maybe you can call Bjorkstrand the MVP of casual and hardcore interests, as things aren’t stone at least yet. The odds are still against the Stars thanks to that Predators OT win, and Dallas’ general slide.

Honorable mentions

  • The Sharks didn’t do much, beyond helping their rivals from Vegas, in rallying to beat the Avs. Even so, both Tomas Hertl (2G, 1A) and Evander Kane (3A) made their cases to rank among the top three stars for the NHL on Wednesday.
  • Erik Brannstrom notched three assists (albeit only one primary apple) as the Senators spited the Canadiens.

Tom Wilson part of fight-filled Capitals – Rangers game

In case you were looking for more details on a fight-filled Capitals – Rangers game, one where Tom Wilson left with an injury, here’s a montage of the more violent early moments:

Click here for more of the rough stuff, while this post digs into Oshie’s hat trick and the Caps win.

Blues fans applaud David Backes in possibly his last game in St. Louis

Sometimes, it’s also appropriate to give out a sentimental first star of the game. That happened here with David Backes:

Backes’ Ducks (honestly still weird to contemplate) helped keep the Blues from increasing their odds of clinching a playoff spot. Like with many teams, it feels like only a matter of time before that happens. But still …

Top highlight for Wednesday in the NHL

Watch as T.J. Oshie honors his father with a hat trick:

Stat of the night

Anze Kopitar collected his 1,000th career point:

Wednesday’s NHL scores

Capitals 4, Rangers 2
Blue Jackets 4, Predators 2
Lightning 6, Stars 2
Senators 5, Canadiens 1
Ducks 3, Blues 2 (SO)
Golden Knights 3, Wild 2 (OT)
Jets 4, Flames 0
Sharks 3, Avalanche 2
Kings 4, Coyotes 2

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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