NHL Rink Wrap: Flames burn Golden Knights; Bad news for Bruins

nhl push for the playoffs
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Top players from Wednesday in the NHL

Mikael Backlund, Flames

One night after the Golden Knights shut out the Oilers, Vegas got smoked by the Calgary Flames. By beating the Golden Knights 6-0, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak, and have also won seven of nine. Calgary’s scored at least four goals in six of those seven victories.

So apparently this Darryl Sutter-coached team can score, not just defend.

Mikael Backlund played a substantial role in that blowout, scoring a goal and three assists for four points.

Quietly, Backlund was a gem for the Flames, peaking with 53 points in 2016-17, and scoring at least 45 points from 2015-16 through 2019-20. All while being a strong two-way player.

Perhaps he’s slipped slightly at 32 (19 points in 43 games, even after this outburst), but don’t be surprised if Backlund is the sort of supporting cast member who could make a difference in a potential Calgary playoff run.

Wednesday NHL highlights

Some players go for “The Michigan.” Connor McDavid seemingly scores a coast-to-coast goal per month. Matthew Tkachuk? He’s the master of between-the-legs goals:

On the same day that his former Bruins crease-mate Tuukka Rask retired (more on that soon), Jaroslav Halak allowed three goals in 31 seconds against the Islanders, a team he once played for.

If you’ve followed hockey analysis at all, you know that people often get irritated when a player is called “underrated.” Sometimes that’s fair because Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have been called underrated for, what, half of a decade? It used to happen all the time with Lou Eriksson, before his main descriptor became “overpaid.”

So, maybe Roope Hintz isn’t underrated (though he’s definitely underpaid). Allow me to appease the hyper-nerds, then by merely calling Hintz “under-mentioned.” Plays like these should shine a bit more of the spotlight on a great player with a great name.

Wednesday NHL Takeaways

Tuukka Rask retires from NHL; Marchand suspended six games

There was plenty of big Boston Bruins news, and none of it was particularly good.

After a late in-season return to the Bruins following hip surgery, things just weren’t feeling right for Tuukka Rask. Sadly, Rask decided to retire at age 34. Perhaps, as time passes, Bruins fans will come to realize how great Rask was for that team. (Often, Rask would take unfair blame during cold streaks and playoff losses.)

Maybe some of the reluctance to realize Rask was so good comes down to his effectiveness being relatively subtle?

The Bruins did their part to honor Rask with a nice video:

A bummer to see him hang them up, but hopefully he’ll at least be comfortable during his day-to-day life.

Speaking of uncomfortable, Bruins miscreant-superstar Brad Marchand received a six-game suspension for “roughing and high-sticking” Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. We’re all certain that Marchand will learn his lesson this time (runs out of fingers trying to count every Marchand incident).

Anyway, click here for more on the latest bit of Brad Marchandary.

Canadiens fire Ducharme, hire Martin St. Louis

Beyond the Bruins, there was more big NHL news on Wednesday. It seemed like Dominique Ducharme would keep the seat warm until new Montreal Canadiens management could pick their coach in the offseason. Instead, the Habs have hobbled so badly lately that the Canadiens made an in-season coaching change, switching to Martin St. Louis.

This deep into a shockingly lost season, there’s a real “arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” vibe to making Martin St. Louis interim Canadiens head coach. At least it’s a more fun game of musical chairs, though. There’s something sort of quaint and charming about seeing St. Louis sprout up as a head coach already.

Maybe it’s a matter of feeling like he retired while having at least some gas left in the tank?

Still, it’s hard to tell what there is to “accomplish.” Although getting Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki back on track for next season would be swell.

Blues sign Craig Berube to contract extension

Speaking of NHL coaching news, there was more on Wednesday, as the Blues signed head coach Craig Berube to a contract extension.

Overall, the Blues seem like a team somewhere in the middle. But this feels like a warmer, cozier middle than the puck purgatory of “too good for a lottery pick, too bad for a playoff spot.” They may actually have a decent shot at (another) sneaky playoff run, considering their general competence and +32 goal differential.

Is Berube that great of a coach? He seems like he’s somewhere in the middle, too. So that seems like a fair deal for all involved. Much like some of the older parts of that Blues roster, we’ll see how this feeling ages, though.

Scary moment for Duncan Keith

Oilers defenseman Duncan Keith needed help leaving the ice after this awkward crash into the boards.

Remember when people downgraded Phil Kessel as being terrible defensively, possibly to the point that his offense wasn’t enough? That was often unfair. Nowadays, Kessel lives up to that criticism. Yet, as a selfish blogger and seeker of entertainment, I still kinda want to see one more Kessel playoff run (at least). What about you? Come on, someone should make it happen. Hey, the Oilers could use some goodwill …

Thursday’s big story

Possible 2022 Stanley Cup Final preview between Avalanche and Lightning?

On one side, you have the repeat defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. In the opposite corner, you have the explosive Colorado Avalanche. More and more, the Avalanche feel like the Stanley Cup favorites, but can you really count out the proven, prolific Lightning?

On paper, the Lightning seem like they’d face a tougher road to make this more than just an imaginary Stanley Cup Final series vs. the Avalanche. Wading through one or both of the Panthers and Maple Leafs seems harrowing. None of the East wild-card teams seem like the easiest outs, either.

(Although this is a tough time for the Bruins.)

Granted, the Central could put up quite a fight, too. It’s the playoffs … who really knows?

Even if that dream match never becomes a reality, Avalanche vs. Lightning should at least be a game to watch.

NHL scores from Wednesday

Red Wings 6, Flyers 3
Blackhawks 4, Oilers 1
Stars 4, Predators 3
Flames 6, Golden Knights 0
Coyotes 5, Kraken 2
Islanders 6, Canucks 3

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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