NHL Rink Wrap: Panthers clinch top spot in East, Power’s first goal, Copp’s big game

NHL Scores
Joel Auerbach, Getty Images

Top player in the NHL on Thursday

Andrew Copp, New York Rangers

The New York Rangers stayed how on Thursday night and secured home ice advantage in the First Round of the playoffs thanks to their 6-3 win over their crosstown rivals, the New York Islanders. Andrew Copp got things started for the Rangers with a natural hat trick in the first period to help give them an early 3-0 lead. He has been one of the best trade deadline acquisitions of the year since joining the Rangers and has now eclipsed the 20-goal mark for the season. The downside for the Rangers on Thursday: Copp ended up leaving the game with a lower-body injury and did not return. The team will have more information on Friday but this is definitely an injury situation to watch.

Highlights from around the NHL on Thursday

No. 1 overall pick Owen Power scored his first career goal for the Buffalo Sabres in their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres are definitely finishing the season on a high note and getting some production from Power is definitely an encouraging sign.

Jake Guentzel recorded his fifth career hat trick to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-0 shutout win over the Boston Bruins. Those three goals give Guentzel 40 goals on the season, the second 40-goal season of his career.

Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk now has 40 goals and 100 points on the season. He and Johnny Gaudreau have been as good as any other forward duo in the league this season.

Three takeaways from the NHL on Thursday

Stars miss an opportunity in playoff race

The Western Conference Playoff race is really getting interesting in the final weeks of the regular season. The Dallas Stars had a chance to add some cushion in the Wild Card race on Thursday but lost their third game in a row and fourth in their past five games. They now sit just two points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for the second Wild Card spot while the two teams still have a head-to-head meeting remaining. In the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings’ win over the Chicago Blackhawks gives them a five-point lead over the Golden Knights. That is huge for the Kings and is starting to make it look like Vegas’ best chance to make the playoffs is to catch the Stars.

Panthers winning streak reaches 12 consecutive games

The Florida Panthers just keep winning. They extended their current winning streak to 12 consecutive games on Thursday night with a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. That win also clinched the Atlantic Division crown for the Panthers and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, giving them home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They also temporarily move two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Robert Thomas point streak at 15 games, while Blues-Wild playoff matchup is set

We know at least one playoff matchup at this point, and it is going to be the Minnesota Wild vs. the St. Louis Blues in the 2-3 matchup of the Central Division bracket. The only thing left to be decided is which team gets home-ice advantage. Both teams were winners on Thursday night, with the Wild getting a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks and the Blues beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1. Robert Thomas scored a goal for the Blues in their win, extending his current point streak to 15 consecutive games as his breakout season continues.

Friday’s big story

The Washington Capitals seem to be getting back on track and enter Friday’s game in Arizona with an 8-3-1 record in their past 12 games. They are fighting to avoid a Wild Card spot and trying to climb into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Now that they are mostly healthy they are starting to look like a formidable playoff opponent, but the big question is going to be if they get the goaltending they will need from either Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov. Also on Friday the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers face off in an intriguing matchup of superstars. The Avalanche are still playing for the Presidents’ Trophy while the Oilers are getting closer to wrapping up home-ice advantage in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thursday’s NHL Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Montreal Canadiens 3
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 2
Buffalo Sabres 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Boston Bruins 0
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Winnipeg Jets 2
New York Rangers 6, New York Islanders 3
Minnesota Wild 6, Vancouver Canucks 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 8, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Calgary Flames 4, Dallas Stars 2
Los Angeles Kings 4, Chicago Blackhawks 1
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 1

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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.