NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie

NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie
Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Saturday in the NHL

Tage Thompson, Sabres

So, uh, Tage Thompson, huh?

When a team is in a dire state, a borderline-breakthrough season can sometimes get lost. In a lot of cases, those breakthroughs end up being mirages. Yet, even then, fun tidbits can surface, some as a badge of fan torment honor. Did you know that Dick Tarnstrom led the Penguins in scoring?

Time will tell if Tage Thompson could be a part of the Sabres’ solution, or if we should call him Tage Tarnstrom. (Tarmpson?)

Either way, the extremely tall forward collected his first career hat trick during the Saturday NHL games. That pushed the towering 24-year-old to 19 goals and 37 points in 46 games played. In his previous 145 games, Tage Thompson only collected 35 points. You know, in case you were wondering if he set a new career-high, or ever played anywhere near this well before.

How much do we believe here? Again, unclear. It’s interesting to see Tage Thompson boost his underlying stats in xGAR, not just GAR, at Evolving Hockey:

Thompson xSPAR NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie
via Evolving Hockey

For some, he may only be tall Tage Thompson. Others might ding him for being in the Ryan O'Reilly trade. But a more positive-leaning Buffalo franchise may try to make the most of things. Let Jeff Skinner just play, bloated contract or not. Don’t let the ROR comparisons leave Thompson slouching in sadness.

Either way, kudos to Thompson for playing hard in a season where others might phone it in.

Saturday NHL highlights

Check out footage of that Tage Thompson hat trick:

At this point, it’s half-strange to type “Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk.” It feels like he’s been on the verge of being traded for ages. But don’t let that fool you into thinking DeBrusk lacks any talent. Judging from this goal, DeBrusk probably could be a decent contact hitter:

The Flames welcomed back Mark Giordano during the Saturday NHL games. Maybe the Kraken will trade Giordano to the Flames or someone else during the deadline? Would honestly almost be a bit weird if the Kraken didn’t … then again, sometimes Ron Francis is a little uh, slow to pull the trigger on trades.

David Pastrnak boomed a one-timer to earn an OT win for the Bruins:

Saturday NHL Takeaways

Oilers win fifth in a row under new coach Jay Woodcroft

The Edmonton Oilers stayed undefeated under new coach Jay Woodcroft by holding off the Winnipeg Jets. Midway through the game, the Oilers rode three Connor McDavid points (1G, 2A) to a 3-0 lead. Midway through the third period, it seemed like more of the same.

Then the Jets really started soaring, and Mikko Koskinen was tested. The Jets scored two goals, including a shorthanded tally after barely missing on an earlier SHG. It seemed like Edmonton would crater, but they got the stops, an empty-netter, and the Oilers’ streak is now at five.

“Our team didn’t flinch,” Jay Woodcroft said about the Jets’ push to rally from down 3-0 vs. the Oilers, according to Daniel Nugent-Bowman.

Here’s a recap of the Oilers’ five-game winning streak to start the Jay Woodcroft era.

Feb. 11: 3-1 win vs. Islanders
Feb. 14: 3-0 win at Sharks
Feb. 15: 5-2 win at Kings
Feb. 17: 7-3 win vs. Ducks
Feb. 19 (Saturday): 4-2 win vs. the Jets

With the Oilers on a five-game winning streak and the Golden Knights dropping three straight, could Edmonton go from possibly missing the playoffs to securing home-ice in a 2 vs. 3 series? Guess the toilet seat’s up lately? Or down? Which position is good? Should the nearest spouse be consulted here?

Maple Leafs clear future salary cap space in Nick Ritchie trade to Coyotes

When a contending team (Maple Leafs) comes together with a rebuilding team (Coyotes), sometimes you see creative trades. That’s what happened when the Maple Leafs made a trade with the Coyotes on Saturday that’s best laid out to give you time to process everything.

Maple Leafs receive: Ryan Dzingel, Ilya Lyubushkin

Coyotes receive: Nick Ritchie, choice of either a) Maple Leafs’ third-round pick 2023 or b) Maple Leafs’ second-rounder in 2025.

Quirky move, huh?

Why trade makes sense for the Maple Leafs

Most obviously for the Maple Leafs, they move Nick Ritchie off the books. While the 26-year-old isn’t breaking the bank at $1.375M, Ritchie also wasn’t working for Toronto. That $1.375M cap hit runs through the 2022-23 season, while Dzingel (29 years old, $1.1M) and Lyubushkin (27, $1.35M) both are on expiring contracts. More than anything else, the Maple Leafs shake loose marginal-yet-for-them-sometimes-precious salary cap space.

From an on-ice standpoint, maybe the Maple Leafs gain some defensive boosts in the Ritchie/Dzingel + Lyubushkin trade?

In reading about Dzingel, I was at first confused. Generally, my impression of Dzingel was all-offense. Well, it seems like he’s adapted his style over time. Based on these multi-season RAPM charts from Evolving Hockey (note: one season missing in between), Dzingel almost seems like a different player now vs. then.

So, those two players seem like only marginal improvements, if not lateral moves. Again, though, this trade gives the Maple Leafs some flexibility now, and next season.

Coyotes keep stockpiling for the future (and get at least one more player under contract)

After this trade, Nick Ritchie becomes something exceedingly rare for the Coyotes: a player under contract. Like, an actual hockey person expected to play hockey games, not just fill up cap space while being functionally retired.

Theoretically, the Coyotes may look at Nick Ritchie in a way that they glance at restoration projects like Shayne Gostisbehere. The Coyotes already received draft picks to trade for Gostisbehere and Ritchie’s contracts; what if the Coyotes could then flip one or both of them in a future trade for even more?

It’s not outrageous to think about. With the shallow pool of Coyotes’ NHL-ready options for the near future, Ritchie (and Gostisbehere) should get plenty of opportunities to put up some numbers. That may pump up their value.

With Ritchie, he’s a big body with experience, and he’s dirt-cheap. Get Ritchie going on a hot shooting percentage run, and who knows?

Also, it will be interesting to see which pick the Coyotes lean toward. Do they hope that the Maple Leafs of 2025 look a lot more like a rebuilding team, and hope that second-rounder is only a skip and a jump from the top 32?* It’s at least an intriguing thing to ponder.

* – You know, assuming the NHL doesn’t add another team by then.

Sunday’s big story

Golden Knights’ chances at early home-ice advantage starting to slip

If they had it their way, the Golden Knights would certainly prefer the easiest path to their hopeful Stanley Cup push. You don’t go all-in over and over again without also wanting the best odds.

That said, if the Flames end up ahead of the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division race, it’s not the end of the world. Yet, with three straight losses, the Golden Knights may need to stop looking up the ranks, and instead keep an eye on those objects approaching their rearview mirror.

As mentioned above, the Oilers are gaining on the Flames in a big way. Home-ice in the first round is no guarantee. While the Golden Knights remain comfortably projected to most likely make the playoffs, this recent slippage should at least raise an alarm or two.

While the Sharks would love to be a team breathing down the Golden Knights’ necks, they are instead clearly the type of team Vegas needs to beat. Otherwise, those alarms may blare louder and louder.

Saturday NHL scores

Avalanche 5, Sabres 3
Oilers 4, Jets 2
Bruins 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Blues 6, Maple Leafs 3
Kings 5, Coyotes 3
Ducks 7, Canucks 4
Flames 2, Kraken 1

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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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

    stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

    blackhawks athanasiou
    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.