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

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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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    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.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.