The Wraparound: Maple Leafs look to advance for first time since 2004 playoffs

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The Maple Leafs look to eliminate the Canadiens and advance to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2004 playoffs. 

• The Predators need another big game from Juuse Saros to force a Game 7 against the Hurricanes.

• Want to catch up on Wednesday night’s action in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Read the NHL Playoff Buzzer.

April 20, 2004. That was the date when the Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup playoff game to advance to the Second Round.

In the 15 seasons that have been played since then, the Maple Leafs have tormented their fanbase with rebuilds, bad seasons, bad teams, and embarrassing postseason flameouts. They have lost three Game 7s in that time period (all to the same Boston Bruins team), including a series where they had a 3-2 lead and another where they had a 4-1 lead in the third period. As if all of that was not bad enough, they did not even make it to the First Round a year ago by losing in the qualifying round of the bubble in five games to the Blue Jackets.

On Thursday night they can end a lot of that postseason misery in Game 5 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) of their series with the Canadiens when this highly skilled, highly paid core has a chance to break through to the Second Round.

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

From the very beginning this season seemed like it was set up for the Maple Leafs to finally find postseason success.

The temporary divisional format put them into a group where they were clearly the best team in the division, where they should be favorites in any of their first two potential matchups. Along with that, they manage to avoid teams like Boston or Tampa Bay until at least the semifinals. There is no excuse for this team, with this roster, in this division to not make something happen in the playoffs. If it does not happen this year, you would have had to ask yourself when it would ever happen.

Well, you may not have to ask that question much longer because they are in complete control of this series with the Canadiens owning a 3-1 lead, even as they continue to play without captain John Tavares and getting only one goal from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Jack Campbell has been one of the biggest surprise stories in the league in the second half, winning 20 of his first 26 starts this season (including three of four in the playoffs) with a .928 save percentage.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

William Nylander has been great, entering Thursday with four goals and an assist in the first four games.

The depth forwards have also come through, as Alexander Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Alex Galchenyuk, and Joe Thornton have all made a positive impact.

Those are the kinds of contributions the Maple Leafs are going to need if they are going to get close to ending their Stanley Cup drought that goes all the way back to 1967 and the Original Six days. But before they can end that drought, they have to actually win at least one playoff series.

They can take that step on Thursday.

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 5: Canadiens at Maple Leafs (TOR leads 3-1), 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 6: Hurricanes at Predators (CAR leads 3-2), 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 7: Wild at Golden Knights (Tied 3-3), 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

PHT’s 2021 Stanley Cup previews
• Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens
• Hurricanes vs. Predators
Golden Knights vs. Wild

• Stanley Cup playoff predictions
• Why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup this season
• NHL odds: Division winners, 2021 Stanley Cup champion
 Which NHL playoff series has biggest upset potential?

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.

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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.