The Buzzer: Blues clinch, Lightning – Panthers series set, Hurricanes win Central title

The Buzzer: Blues clinch, Lightning - Panthers series set, Hurricanes win Central title
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3 Stars for Friday in the NHL

1. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

Wednesday’s Stars – Lightning game wasn’t technically a must-win, but it hurt Dallas’ playoff chances quite a bit to lose 6-2 to Tampa Bay. On Friday, the Stars kept their playoff hopes alive by flipping that script against the Lightning, and clinched the NHL Central Division title for the Hurricanes in the process.

Now, a lot has to go right for the Stars to eventually complete a playoff rally for the final Central Division spot. (And, for a Stars playoff push to matter, much must go wrong for the Predators.)

But on Friday, the Stars reminded the NHL how powerful they can be when their backs are against the wall. Joe Pavelski stood out the most, scoring two goals and two assists for four points.

On the way to scoring four points, Pavelski fired four shots on goal, won five faceoffs, managed a +5 rating, and also blocked one shot and delivered a hit. Roope Hintz wasn’t far behind Pavelski with a goal and two assists of his own. Speaking of players delivering during desperate moments for Dallas, Joel Kiviranta scored a goal and an assist.

Pavelski continues quite a 2020-21 season, as he now has 24 goals and 50 points in 54 games.

2. Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes

Cale Makar and the Avalanche overwhelmed the Kings, while the Blues squeezed out a “charity point” against the Golden Knights. With that, the Blues clinched a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, for Conor Garland and the Coyotes, it’s time to play out the string.

Now, it’s probably wishful thinking to imply that the Coyotes might have had a better chance to hold off the Blues in pursuit of a playoff spot if Garland didn’t miss time.

But it’s reasonable to state that Garland ranks as one of the players the Coyotes should be happiest about. The 25-year-old’s scored at least one point in his three games back from injury. In Friday’s case, Garland scored a goal and two assists with three shots on goal in a bit more than 18 minutes of ice time.

With that, he’s now at 38 points in 48 games played this season. That 2019-20 breakthrough wasn’t a fluke.

3. Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

From the expected (Cale Makar: 1G, 1A, created a hail of chances) to the not especially well-known (Wade Allison, 2G on as many SOG), Friday’s NHL action featured several two-point producers. If it makes you sore to see Kaprizov in this spot, just imagine that the Stars grabbed two positions, as Roope Hintz generated that three-point night.

Anyway, Kaprizov continues to be a remarkable difference-maker for the Wild. Along with an assist, Kaprizov scored the overtime game-winner, as you can watch as the top highlight for Friday in the NHL. Kaprizov’s now on a five-game point streak, and has scored at least one goal in three straight.

He’s not far off of a point-per-game in his Calder Trophy-worthy season, as Kaprizov now has 49 points in 53 games.

Blues clinch playoff spot; Hurricanes lock down Central Division title

Again, the Blues are headed to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, wrapping up the West Division’s top four. The Golden Knights currently have the edge to earn the top spot, but haven’t clinched. The Wild and Avalanche are battling for home-ice, although Colorado (in particular) has a shot to move up.

Friday’s NHL action was key for the Central Division, too — even for teams that weren’t active.

  • Again, the Stars kept their playoff hopes alive, so the Predators will need to wait to clinch. If they can manage that.
  • The Stars also did the Hurricanes a favor by beating the Lightning in regulation. Despite being idle, the Carolina Hurricanes are your Central Division champions, and will face either the Stars or Predators in Round 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Playoff series official: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers in Round 1

While home-ice advantage is up for grabs, it’s official. The NHL’s getting a Battle of Florida as the Lightning and Panthers will face off in Round 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As that league graphic notes, the Panthers and Lightning face off twice in the regular season before they begin their Round 1 series in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wild. Yes, this will be the first-ever playoff series between the Panthers and the Lightning.

Top highlight for Friday in the NHL

Again, it’s going to be strenuous for anyone to argue that Kirill Kaprizov isn’t the Calder Trophy winner.

Friday’s NHL scores

Flyers 4, Capitals 2
Red Wings 5, Blue Jackets 2
Stars 5, Lightning 2
Wild 4, Ducks 3 (OT)
Golden Knights 4, Blues 3 (OT)
Avalanche 3, Kings 2
Coyotes 5, Sharks 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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