NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning

NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning
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Monday’s top NHL players

Auston Matthews (and, to a lesser extent, Mitch Marner), Maple Leafs

Well, if you griped about Auston Matthews reaching 50 goals on an empty-netter,* he delivered his next goals in the satisfying form of an empathic hat trick.

Despite being limited to 64 games compared to 70 for Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews really strengthened his lead in the Maurice Richard Trophy race. While Draisaitl reached 50 goals on Sunday, Matthews pushed his season total to 54, and also collected an assist during the NHL action on Monday.

Matthews has a ways to go to get to 100 points, as he’s now at 92 (54G + 38A). It’s all the more astounding when you factor in Matthews’ near-Selke-level all-around play, including remarkable discipline. (Through 398 career regular-season games, Matthews has only generated 70 penalty minutes.)

* – Uh, maybe get some fresh air or something?

Later on in this post, we’ll focus more broadly on Matthews’ Maple Leafs being too much for the Lightning to handle. First, let’s dig through a few more tidbits about Auston Matthews at 54 goals:

  • Those 54 goals leave Matthews tied with Rick Vaive for the Maple Leafs’ single-season franchise record.
  • By reaching 54 goals, Matthews already has more goals than any other player in a decade. Steven Stamkos scored 60 in 2011-12; could Matthews surpass that total, too? The league notes that Matthews is on pace for 65 goals.

At the moment, Auston Matthews is on a six-game goal streak, and a 13-game point streak. Just illustrious, possibly Hart Trophy-worthy stuff.

Mitch Marner isn’t far behind Matthews. He scored a goal and two assist during that Maple Leafs win over the Lightning during the NHL games on Monday. Overall, Marner has produced 84 points in 60 games.

Monday NHL highlights

Watch that Auston Matthews hat trick:

Jake DeBrusk scored two goals for the Bruins, including the OT-winner vs. the Blue Jackets:

Johnny Gaudreau scored a mere 10 seconds into the Flames’ game against the Kings.

Monday NHL Takeaways

Maple Leafs pull away from Lightning on big night for Matthews, Marner

5:46 through the second period, a Jan Rutta goal tied things up 2-2 between the Maple Leafs and the Lightning. Toronto would end up scoring four unanswered goals to win 6-2. Matthews already scored a goal before that 2-2 tie, but he really dominated as the game went on, finishing with that hat trick and assist.

While the high-danger chance battle was fairly close (Toronto developed a 14-12 advantage at 5-on-5), the Maple Leafs really punished Andrei Vasilevskiy from the “prime real estate” of the ice. This Natural Stat Trick heat map tells some of the story:

NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning

Afterward, the Lightning didn’t sound happy about their performance against the Maple Leafs. Jon Cooper, among others, vented:

Speaking of where the Maple Leafs and Lightning (and, for that matter, the Bruins) are at, here’s the updated Atlantic Division standings from ranks 2-4:

Maple Leafs: 95 points in 69 games played, 43 regulation/OT wins
Bruins: 93 points in 69 GP, 42 ROW
Lightning: 93 points in 69 GP, 41 ROW

Even with this win, the Maple Leafs merely hold a small two-point lead over the Bruins and Lightning for the second Atlantic Division spot. (No one’s especially close to the Panthers, atop with 102.)

Remarkably, the Bruins hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Lightning after their Monday games in the NHL. Actually, about the Bruins …

Bruins grind out OT win powered in part by DeBrusk; end Monday ahead of Lightning

If you shot the Maple Leafs with truth serum, who would they prefer to face in the first round: the Bruins or the Lightning?

In one corner, you have the defending repeat champion Lightning. In the other corner, you have the historic rival Bruins, who happen to be 17-2-1 in their last 21 games.

Tough choice!

Like an alternate Evgenii Dadonov, it sure seems like a resurgent Jake DeBrusk makes the Bruins scarier. With two goals during the NHL action on Monday, DeBrusk is now on a five-game goal streak (6G, 2A). That’s after being limited to a single assist and zero goals in eight games from March 7-24.

This marks the second time DeBrusk’s reached the 20+ goal mark (21). It won’t be easy to match his career-high of 27 goals, but it’s far from implausible.

No doubt, it helps DeBrusk to line up alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Yet, if he can produce with those two stars, that allows the Bruins to diversify their attack by also lining up Taylor Hall with David Pastrnak.

Tuesday’s big story

Another night that could influence the race for the final Western Conference playoff spots

Teams like the Avalanche, Flames, Wild, and Blues feel like they’re mainly trying to improve already-good situations out West. Maybe you feel the same way about the Kings and Oilers.

But there is still significant room for movement in the West, particularly with the final two wild-card spots. The Predators hope to strengthen their hold over a spot against the Wild, while the Stars hope to avoid another letdown, this time against a spoiler threat in the Islanders. (If you don’t trust the Oilers yet, they’re in action against the Sharks.)

Beyond those more urgent games, there are some other treats in Maple Leafs – Panthers and Avalanche – Penguins. Overall, Tuesday looks like a true feast for fans.

Monday NHL scores

Maple Leafs 6, Lightning 2
Blues 5, Coyotes 1
Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 2 (OT)
Flames 3, Kings 2

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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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.