NHL Rink Wrap: Vladimir Tarasenko and the booming Blues

NHL Rink Wrap: Vladimir Tarasenko and the booming Blues
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Thursday’s top NHL players

Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues

For the first time since 2016-17, Vladimir Tarsenko crossed the 70-point barrier. Tarasenko also reached 30+ goals for the first time since 2018-19 while enjoying the best night of any NHL player on Thursday.

Overall, Tarasenko generated a hat trick plus two assists for an impressive five-point outburst. That leaves Vladimir Tarasenko with 72 points (31G, 41A) in 67 games played. The Blues have eight games remaining this season, giving Tarasenko a strong chance to set a new career-high (currently at 75). He may also be able to reach the 80+ point mark if he stays hot.

Blues teammate Robert Thomas was right there with Tarasenko, collecting five assists. We’ll have more on the red-hot Blues in the takeaways.

Other top NHL players from Thursday include:

Thursday NHL highlights

Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t just reach 30 goals on the season, he did it in style. And Tarasenko pulled that move off against Owen Power:

As you likely already know, Tarasenko generated five points in that game.

Circling back to Owen Power, he collected his first NHL point in his second career game:

Frederick Gaudreau scored the overtime game-winner as the Wild beat the Stars. Dallas can at least take solace in grabbing a standings point. Marc-Andre Fleury made amends for a shaky 2-2 goal by setting up that Gaudreau OT tally:

Two hits to watch from the NHL action on Thursday

First, Tom Wilson riled up the Maple Leafs after colliding with Jack Campbell. Campbell seemed OK, if a little shaken, by the hit. Something to keep an eye on, as players occasionally don’t realize the severity of an injury until later.

Brad Marchand was incensed that he received a penalty for a trip that sure seemed to have some leg-on-leg contact with Connor Brown:

Thursday NHL Takeaways

As the Western Conference playoff race turns …

For a deeply detailed look at the Western Conference (and East) playoff races, stay tuned later on Friday for “The Push for the Playoffs.” Here are some quick tidbits, instead:

  • A night after Colorado clobbered the Kings, the Golden Knights faced a different West force in the Flames. In what could be an important win, the Golden Knights beat the Flames handily. With that, the Kings hold the standings advantage (88 points to 87 for Vegas), but the Golden Knights hold a game in hand (VGK games remaining: 7; LAK GR: 6).

Most realistically, that battle for third in the Pacific Division will decide the fate of the Kings and Golden Knights. That said, there’s some room for movement if one of the two wild-card teams (both currently Central Division squads) fall hard. After the NHL games on Thursday, the Predators (89 points in 74 games played) and Stars (89 points in 74 GP) are only separated by Nashville’s two extra regulation/OT wins (40 to 38).

  • As you saw in the Thursday NHL Highlights, the Stars lost, but finagled a point by falling to the Wild in overtime.
  • Meanwhile, the Oilers distanced themselves from worrying too much about the wild-card races by beating the Predators 4-0.

So, the Kings and Golden Knights are extremely close. The Stars and Predators still have some breathing room, but that could go away quickly if one or both of them finish the season ice-cold.

Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL, and not just due to Tarasenko

When you think of NHL teams peaking at the right time, you’d likely think of the Panthers and Avalanche first. Those two teams are on big winning streaks, and seem headed for a close Presidents’ Trophy race. By crushing the Capitals during the NHL action on Thursday, the Maple Leafs are hot, too, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

The Blues are right in that mix, though. They’ve now won seven games in a row, and are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.

Tarasenko’s certainly been part of the Blues getting hot. That five-point night pushed Tarasenko’s point streak to four explosive games (6G, 5A). That said, this Blues run is about more than Tarasenko. This is a team that can throw a combination of scoring threats your way, and they’re enjoying the rise of Ville Husso.

Ultimately, it looks like this comes down to a battle for home-ice between the Blues and the Wild (who aren’t as hot, but aren’t far off).

Room for a Metro Division title race, but less room for more Eastern Conference playoff shuffling

If you need something to chew on out East, well, Thursday’s NHL games brought good news and bad news.

Good: there’s still room for some intrigue between the Hurricanes and Rangers in the race to win the Metropolitan Division title. By losing to the Red Wings, the Hurricanes’ lead for the Metro Division title remains at two points; both Carolina and the Rangers have seven games left. That includes a head-to-head game at Madison Square Garden on April 26.

Bad: Aside from being road-heavy, the Hurricanes have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way. Carolina’s won three more regulation/overtime games, so New York’s chances are kind of shaky. (Beating Carolina in regulation would help a lot, though.)

It’s increasingly looking like the rest of the East playoff movement stalled out. The Bruins now trail the Lightning by three points, with both teams having seven games left. With that, it looks like it will be Lightning – Maple Leafs in the unenviable 2/3 Atlantic Division match. It seems highly likely that the Panthers will face the Capitals in the first round.

Now, there’s some room for that to change. The Bruins’ loss to the Senators just makes it harder to believe they can climb enough with so little time left.

(Frankly, the Bruins would probably be better off resting veterans like Patrice Bergeron.)

Friday’s big story

Panthers may deal one of the final blows to any dream of a Jets’ playoff push

Do people think the Canucks and Jets really have a chance to make the playoffs? Or are they just playing coy to try to maintain at least a modicum of interest?

Such questions linger, yet they might not last much longer. The powerhouse Panthers present a real threat toward even a faint dream for the Jets. Florida’s currently on an eight-game winning streak, and the Panthers are chasing a Presidents’ Trophy.

Considering the firepower on both sides, this could be a fun one, even with the lopsided stakes.

If you’re the Panthers, this may not be the worst time to experiment. Want to see how Claude Giroux may fit with different linemates? This could be the game to do it. Prefer to rest a key piece or two down the stretch? That makes sense, too.

Thursday NHL scores

Senators 3, Bruins 2
Blues 6, Sabres 2
Maple Leafs 7, Capitals 3
Lightning 4, Ducks 3 (OT)
Penguins 6, Islanders 3
Red Wings 3, Hurricanes 0
Wild 3, Stars 2 (OT)
Oilers 4, Predators 0
Blackhawks 5, Sharks 4 (SO)
Avalanche 3, Devils 1
Golden Knights 6, Flames 1
Canucks 7, Coyotes 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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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    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

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    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

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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.”