NHL Playoff Buzzer: MacKinnon mania, double OT, more from Wednesday

NHL Playoff Buzzer: MacKinnon mania, double OT, more from Wednesday
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  • So, OT in every Bruins – Capitals playoff game so far wasn’t enough for you? “Fine,” the Bruins and Capitals said, “We’ll do DOUBLE OT in Game 3.”
  • Despite receiving seven power-play opportunities, the Predators couldn’t score a single goal against the Hurricanes in Game 2. Ouch.
  • The Jets and Oilers kicked off their series with a close Game 1 that didn’t look close. (You’ll see if you scroll a bit.)
  • Game 2 of Avalanche – Blues, though? Not too close, then scandalous and close. Then empty-netters.
  • Get ready for four more NHL playoff games on Thursday.
  • Game 3: Bruins 3, Capitals 2 [2 OT] (BOS leads series 2-1)

    Apparently it can’t ever be easy between the Bruins and Capitals. A single OT wasn’t enough in Game 3, as Craig Smith scored a double OT goal to give the Bruins a 2-1 series lead over the Capitals. Each team went 1-for-5 on the power play in a game that got testy, and as this series continues to be excruciatingly tight.

    Game 2: Hurricanes 3, Predators 0 (CAR leads series 2-0)

    Simply put, a pathetic performance from the Predators’ power play. They failed to score a single goal on seven power-play opportunities, while the Hurricanes went 1-for-3 on theirs. Honestly, Sebastian Aho arguably produced more chances during Predators power plays. It was that bad. Considering that letdown on special teams, the Predators were fortunate to be in most of Game 2 vs. the Hurricanes, but they couldn’t get the job done. They need to find some answers as that series shifts to Nashville.

    Game 1: Jets 4, Oilers 1 (WIN 1-0)

    Now, you might see that 4-1 score and question how Game 1 was close between the Jets and Oilers. Ah, young grasshopper, the answer is: empty-netters. The Jets piled two of them on to inflate the score. Credit Winnipeg for giving the dangerous Edmonton attack little time to add drama, but this was mostly a narrow win. That said, a shorthanded Jets team bottling Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (zero points apiece) is impressive no matter how you slice it.

    Game 2: Avalanche 6, Blues 3 (COL leads 2-0)

    If you turned off Game 2 of Avalanche – Blues after Colorado went up 3-0, then you missed quite a bit. St. Louis chipped away at that lead, making things interesting on a major power play opportunity after Nazem Kadri was ejected for a bad hit on Justin Faulk. Colorado limited the damage of that five-minute opportunity to a goal, but it was then 3-2. Then the two teams traded goals, the Avalanche added two empty-netters, and won. Things escalated to the point where it’s fair to wonder how the rest of that First Round series might go. But it seems clear that Nazem Kadri won’t play in Blues – Avalanche Game 3, and might sit even more games with another playoff suspension.

    [NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

    Three Stars for NHL playoff action on Wednesday

    1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

    It’s too early to etch Nathan MacKinnon’s name on the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy. Yet, if the Avalanche can justify their status as favorites and win their first Stanley Cup since the Joe Sakic – Peter Forsberg – Patrick Roy days, then MacKinnon might have some hardware to add.

    In Game 1, MacKinnon generated three points. He was even deadlier in Game 2, scoring four points vs. the Blues (MacKinnon had a hat trick and an assist).

    There are times when the Avalanche seem capable of scoring at will, and there were stretches where they seemed to slow down ever so slightly in Game 2 vs. the Blues. It kind of makes you wonder what Colorado’s capable of against an opponent truly equipped to trade chances.

    It’s unclear if the Blues have any real answer for MacKinnon. To be fair, who does?

    2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

    Maybe the Oilers would respond: the answer for Nathan MacKinnon is even more offense from Connor McDavid?

    Well, in Game 1 of Jets – Oilers, that wasn’t the case. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl couldn’t collect a single point, and Connor Hellebuyck played a prominent role in making it that way. For those who groan at “Connor vs. Connor,” well … that was kind of a story here.

    The Jets were able to sneak past the Oilers in Game 1 thanks largely to Hellebuyck and his 32 saves. No doubt, Winnipeg as a whole deserves credit for at least limiting the damage McDavid and Draisaitl could create.

    Doing that night-in, and night-out won’t be easy. It might not even be possible. But now the Jets merely need to win three of their next six games to advance beyond this First Round series. Most would bet that, if they do that, Hellebuyck would play a featured role.

    That said, it’s difficult to say if Hellebuyck + the Jets had a better night than …

    3. Alex Nedeljkovic and the Carolina Hurricanes penalty kill

    For the first time in his NHL career, Alex Nedeljkovic generated a playoff shutout. He earned it, too, making 32 saves to get that shutout.

    That said, it’s important to give the Hurricanes credit as a team — especially on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes scored a goal on one of three power plays, while the Predators received seven power-play opportunities in Game 2.

    It was a joint effort: the Hurricanes kept the Predators from getting many dangerous chances in Game 2, and Nedeljkovic did the rest.

    Aho scored two goals on the night, but one was an empty-netter, so he falls short of being one of Wednesday’s three stars from playoff action.


    Stats of the night for Wednesday in the NHL

    • Alex Nedeljkovic became the second rookie Hurricanes goalie to collect a playoff hat trick.
    • This marked Nathan MacKinnon’s first playoff hat trick, but he’s generated 3+ points in playoff games on nine occasions. Sportsnet stats notes that MacKinnon’s nine leaves him second since 2014, behind only Nikita Kucherov (12). Not too shabby, being that this was MacKinnon’s 42 playoff game during that span (and for his career).

    2021 NHL Draft Lottery set; some 2021 NHL Awards official

    • Check out the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds (Buffalo Sabres have the best chance at the top pick).
    • With the 2020-21 regular season officially over, the Art Ross goes to Connor McDavid, while Auston Matthews won the Maurice Richard Trophy. As obvious as that is, this post provides some interesting context regarding their accomplishments.


    Game 3: Panthers at Lightning (TB leads 2-0), 6:30 p.m. ET – CNBC (livestream)
    Game 3: Penguins at Islanders (Series tied 1-1), 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
    Game 1: Canadiens at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
    Game 3: Golden Knights at Wild (Series tied 1-1), 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

    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.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.