NHL Rink Wrap: Barkov leads Panthers rally; Ritchie suspended

NHL Scores
Andy Marlin, Getty Images

Top player in the NHL on Saturday

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

There is not a team in the league with a better offense this season than the Florida Panthers, and when they are on their game there is not anybody even close to them. They also are never out of a game because of that offense. We saw all of that on Saturday afternoon as they erased a four-goal third period deficit to rally for a 7-6 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils. Aleksander Barkov scored the Panthers’ fifth and sixth goals in the final five minutes to send the game to overtime, continuing his sensational season. Jonathan Huberdeau gets all of the MVP talk here, but Barkov is the guy that really makes this team run. The Panthers are averaging well over four goals per game this season, the highest single season mark by any team since the 1995-96 season, and have now scored at least seven goals in a game seven times this season. They have scored at least six goals 14 different times and at least five goals 27 different times. Just an unbelievable offensive hockey team here.

Highlights from around the NHL on Saturday

Nathan Walker‘s goal puts the the St. Louis Blues ahead of the Calgary Flames for the game-winning goal in their 6-4 win.

Jason Robertson beats the buzzer to continue his magnificent season to help the Dallas Stars built a 4-1 lead through the first period against the San Jose Sharks.

Nick Suzuki helps the Montreal Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the shootout.

Three takeaways from the NHL on Saturday

Penguins-Avalanche was incredible

If by some chance we can see this matchup as a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup Final the hockey world should be very, very, very happy. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche played a thrilling game on Saturday afternoon that saw the Avalanche get a 3-2 win thanks to a late Devon Toews goal that came just 26 seconds after the Penguins tied the game. This game was played at an incredible pace with outstanding goaltending, great scoring chances at both ends of the ice, and an elite level of skill. The two teams play again on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Nick Ritchie suspended one game for slashing

Arizona Coyotes forward Jay Beagle avoided suspension for his cross-check and fight at the end of Friday’s game that angered Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks. It all stemmed from Zegras’ lacrosse-style goal and his attempt to poke at a loose puck around the crease late in the game. But Beagle’s teammate, Nick Ritchie, did get a one-game suspension on Saturday for slashing Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk during that game.

Another big win for Stars in playoff race

The Dallas Stars extended their current winning streak to four games thanks to a 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks, helping to solidify their playoff positioning in the Western Conference Wild Card race. They have a lead over the Vegas Golden Knights while still having three games in hand. Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings were 3-2 winners over the Winnipeg Jets to solidify their position as a top-three team in the Pacific Division.

Sunday’s big story

All about that Western Conference playoff race as the Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, and Vegas Golden Knights all play on Sunday. All three teams are separated by just three points in the standings while all three have winning streaks of at least three games or more (Vegas and Edmonton have both won three games in a row; Dallas has won four games in a row). A Vegas win (against Vancouver) and Dallas loss in regulation (to Seattle) would temporarily jump the Golden Knights back into a playoff spot (while Dallas will still have those important three games in hand), while a Vegas Win and Edmonton loss in regulation (to Anaheim) would close that gap to just one point for third place in the Pacific Division (while Edmonton would have one game in hand).

Saturday’s NHL Scores

Florida Panthers 7, New Jersey Devils 6 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2
Los Angeles Kings 3, Winnipeg Jets 2
Boston Bruins 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Montreal Canadiens 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (SO)
Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Minnesota Wild 3, Carolina Hurricanes 1
St. Louis Blues 6, Calgary Flames 4
Dallas Stars 5, San Jose Sharks 4

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.