NHL Rink Wrap: Hope for Canucks, despair for Golden Knights

NHL Rink Wrap: Hope for Canucks, despair for Golden Knights
Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Monday’s top NHL players

Andrew Hammond, Devils

Remember when Andrew Hammond dragged the Senators to a playoff berth, and himself to all sorts of free McDonald’s food? Frankly, it was always a bit surprising that “The Hamburglar” didn’t receive longer NHL looks after that run, Cinderella or not.

Well, if this represents Andrew Hammond’s last real stretch of NHL opportunities, he may have made an impact on another playoff run. This time, it meant hurting someone’s chance to make it, not spurring a rise.

Hammond made an impressive 42 saves to help the Devils upset the desperate Golden Knights in regulation. While Andrew Hammond frustrated the Golden Knights, Peter DeBoer seemed disappointed with Robin Lehner‘s play.

The Golden Knights are notorious for making big, sometimes almost reckless offseason changes. In the increasingly likely scenario where Vegas misses the playoffs, could something odd happen with Robin Lehner? With typical teams, you’d say “C’mon.” With the Golden Knights? Who knows.

Monday NHL highlights

Johnny Gaudreau reached 600 career points in a very stylish way. The Blackhawks won’t enjoy watching this one in various Gaudreau retrospectives:

Great execution as Elias Pettersson set up Brock Boeser for a pretty 2-on-1 finish:

Tricky stuff from Jesper Boqvist:

Monday NHL Takeaways

Brutal loss for the Golden Knights; Canucks keep hopes alive by beating Stars

Not going to deny it: I didn’t think the Canucks really had any chance of making a playoff push.

After the NHL action on Tuesday, the Canucks aren’t exactly frontrunners. Yet, with a win against a wild-card team in the Stars, and the Golden Knights dropping a painful one to the Devils, things look as bright as one could expect. Really, things do tend to look brighter when you’ve rattled off six straight wins.

No doubt, there’s some relevance to the Canucks beating the Stars, a current wild card team, especially in regulation. Yet, a lot like the Golden Knights, the clearest playoff route for the Canucks is through the Kings and the third spot in the Pacific Division.

For a deeper look at the standings, stay tuned for “The Push for the Playoffs.” But here’s a quick rundown after a big Canucks win and a jarring Golden Knights loss.

Kings, third in Pacific: 90 points in 77 games played (36 regulation/overtime wins)

Predators, first wild card: 91 points in 76 GP (41 ROW)
Stars, second wild card: 91 points in 76 GP (39 ROW)

Golden Knights, outside West playoffs: 87 points in 77 GP (37 ROW)
Canucks, outside West playoffs: 86 points in 76 GP (35 ROW)

[Check out PHT’s latest Power Rankings]

Of course, the Kings would’ve preferred both the Golden Knights and Canucks to lose, preferably in regulation. Still, if they only had one choice, this was the way Los Angeles likely would’ve picked it. The Golden Knights lost to a long-ago eliminated team, in regulation, squandering a precious game in hand and remaining three points behind the Kings.

The Canucks turn around and face the Coyotes on Tuesday. Winning would leave them two points behind the Kings. That’s a bigger gap that it may sound to some, but there’s a key point: the Canucks have a game left against the Kings. Theoretically, the Canucks could win that April 28 contest (in Vancouver) without giving Los Angeles a point, making this close to a “tie.”

Then they’d need to execute, and maybe get a little luck. Not impossible, at least.

Technically, the Golden Knights aren’t totally hopeless, either. But this sure felt like the sort of night you point to when you miss the playoffs, and maybe make some painful offseason decisions.


Capitals end Avalanche’s winning streak at 9 games, gain on Penguins

Both the Capitals and Avalanche clinched playoff spots, so their game on Tuesday was about NHL playoff positioning.

With the Avalanche, it’s about winning the Presidents’ Trophy, as they already clinched home-ice advantage in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Capitals hope to jump out of the wild card and ahead of the Penguins for the Metro’s third spot.

So, to quality teams with something to play for. Maybe that’s the formula for some Tom Wilson physicality, and some intrigue. The Capitals ended up beating the Avalanche, ending Colorado’s winning streak at nine games.

Intriguing stuff, as it opens the door for the Panthers to take a slight advantage over the Avalanche in the Presidents’ Trophy race. (The Capitals merely care about chasing the Penguins, who are one point ahead of them, but Washington has a game in hand.)

Either way, though, these teams won’t necessarily enjoy easy hauls. The East is pretty stacked, and the Capitals are likely to face a tough opponent right off the bat. The Avalanche can’t change the Central Division bracket, which means they’re readying to face one of two hot teams in the Blues or Wild if Colorado can get to the second round.

So, yeah, there were stakes here. Both teams should really just get ready and try to stay healthy for the playoffs most of all.

Johnny Gaudreau reaches 600 points, and matches a Jagr milestone

Johnny Gaudreau already passed 100 points for the season for the first time in his already-impressive career. As noted in the highlights section, Gaudreau also passed 600 points for his career during the NHL action on Tuesday.

That 600-point milestone might not be his most impressive of the night. Johnny Gaudreau is now the first player to record at least 85 even-strength points since Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.

It’s a pretty lofty list of 85+ even-strength point seasons, as Johnny Gaudreau is just the 18th player to pull this off in NHL history.

This season is so jam-packed full of outstanding play, it’s not even clear if Gaudreau should be a Hart finalist. It’s clear that he should be in the conversation, though.

He’s also clearly pushing his potential earning power through the roof.

By the way, fellow Flames free agent Matthew Tkachuk is closing in on his own 100-point season, as he’s at 98.

A big story for Tuesday

Another big day in the West playoff races with Canucks, Kings, Predators in action

After the Monday NHL games, several West teams know they need to take care of business on Tuesday.

  • The Predators face the toughest challenge, on paper. They don’t want to loosen their (currently strong-looking) grip on a wild-card spot, so beating the Flames would be a real stress-reducer. If nothing else, Nashville gets the rest advantage.
  • From there, we have two games where playoff hopefuls are heavily favored. First, the Canucks aim for a seventh consecutive win against the Senators. Closing a back-to-back set off rarely counts as easy, but they need this.
  • The Ducks also linger as one of those teams you’re supposed to beat. One of their all-too-rare wins happened against the lowly Blue Jackets. That said, it’s interesting that the Ducks took both the Panthers and Lightning to overtime before that win against Columbus. As sparse as motivation might be right now for the Ducks, they’d also love to spoil things for the nearby Kings. It won’t be the only chance for the Ducks to spite the Kings, as the two teams also meet on Saturday (making it two matchups in the Kings’ next three games).

Monday NHL scores

Flames 5, Blackhawks 2
Capitals 3, Avalanche 2
Kraken 4, Senators 2
Hurricanes 5, Coyotes 3
Devils 3, Golden Knights 2
Canucks 6, Stars 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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    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

    Getty Images

    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”