NHL Rink Wrap: Lightning end Panthers’ streak; Emotional home games

NHL Rink Wrap: Surging Lightning end Panthers' streak; Emotional home games
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Sunday’s top NHL players

Nikita Kucherov helps Lightning end Panthers’ winning streak at 13 games

As defending repeat champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t likely to be dismissed by any would-be playoff opponents. Yet, with the Panthers already clinching the East (and thus the Atlantic Division), and the Maple Leafs secure in the second spot, there was a slight chance the Lightning would fall into a wild-card spot. Maybe at least one team breathed a sigh of relief that the Lightning may be running out of steam?

That notion seems a lot less sound lately, including after the NHL action on Sunday.

The Lightning ended the Panthers’ franchise-record winning streak at 13 games, and they did it in a big way. Tampa Bay doubled Florida up 8-4, and Nikita Kucherov played a starring role.

Kucherov collected a whopping five points on two goals and three assists. That big night pushes Kucherov to 23 goals and 62 points in just 44 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to 115 or 116 points. Kucherov’s reached the 100+ point mark twice in his career, so it’s fair to argue that he’s been about as potent as he’s ever been. (OK, maybe not at the level of his 128-point masterpiece in 2018-19, but that was also the year he got suspended in the playoffs and the Lightning were swept.)

Kucherov, Stamkos, Lightning have been on a resounding run

In a season where teams keep making history, and stack up huge winning streak, a three-game run should be nothing too notable.

However, with the playoffs so close, the Lightning’s three-game winning streak gets intriguing. Especially once you realize who the Lightning beat, and how lopsided those games were.

  • On Thursday, the Lightning walloped the Maple Leafs by a jarring score of 8-1.
  • A Predators team with more on the line couldn’t contain the Lightning, who won 6-2 on Saturday.
  • Apparently a back-to-back set couldn’t slow the Lightning offense. During the NHL action on Sunday, the Lightning handed that 8-4 beating the to the Panthers.

With that, the Lightning outscored three likely (two guaranteed) playoff opponents by a combined score of 22-7.

In what’s already been a season of rejuvenation, Steven Stamkos is getting on an even bigger role as the playoffs approach. His four points from that Sunday game almost got him NHL player of the night, and was impressive on its own. Remarkably, it pushed Stamkos to a streak of four straight games with at least three points (4G, 9A). Going further, he’s on a six-game multi-point streak (5G, 12A).

While I’d still consider resting Lightning players during this last week — I’ve been beating that drum, often to no avail, including with the Bolts for a while now — it’s understandable to allow Stamkos to chase a milestone. That four-point night leaves Stamkos in range of a 100 points this season (he’s at 97 in 78 games). Remarkably, he’s a point shy of tying his career-high of 98 points, so that would be his first 100-point campaign.

Perhaps you can just rest other high-mileage Lightning players, then?

Either way, it seems like this team may indeed reach the playoffs on a roll.

Sunday NHL highlights

This shorthanded goal could’ve been a highlight reel based on the Brandon Hagel pass alone. Then Nick Paul pulled off a ridiculous between-the-legs move to make it possibly the best shorthanded goal of the season:

Kevin Fiala scored a beautiful goal against his former team, putting together dazzling moves. The Wild should probably try to sign that fella.

The Golden Knights blew it against the Sharks as a last-second goal helped derail them:

One more Ryan Getzlaf Ducks highlight during a home game.

Sunday NHL Takeaways

Canadiens honor Guy Lafleur in first home game since his death

The Montreal Canadiens honored Guy Lafleur’s memory in their first home game since he died at age 70.

Watch the great ovation and tribute for Guy Lafleur in the video below:

This was an especially nice touch from the Canadiens and their advertisers:

Ryan Getzlaf plays final game for the Ducks

Being that Ryan Getzlaf decided to retire after this season, Sunday’s game against the Blues represented his last home game with the Ducks. While it’s tough not to wonder what Getzlaf might have brought to a contender in a trade deadline move, it clearly meant a lot for him to play for just the Ducks.

Here’s video of that ceremony:

This quirky gift from Teemu Selanne was probably the off-beat highlight of the whole thing.

Alex Ovechkin leaves Capitals’ loss to Maple Leafs with an injury

So far, it’s too early to tell if an upper-body injury will cost Alex Ovechkin much time. What we do know is that Ovechkin was not able to return to the Capitals’ shootout loss to the Maple Leafs after that injury.

Here’s footage of the awkward fall.

T.J. Oshie seemed optimistic, if vague about the Ovechkin injury situation. Perhaps we’ll learn more in the coming days?

Hurricanes have another goalie injury to watch in Raanta

With the Hurricanes already concerned about Frederik Andersen, their goalie situation could get shaky fast. Antti Raanta left the Hurricanes’ win over the Islanders with an injury and did not return.

It’s not yet clear how much time Raanta and Andersen may miss. This is tough timing, for sure, as the list of Hurricanes goalies is pretty scary.

Golden Knights suffer painful, squandered lead

Less than seven minutes into the third period, Nicolas Roy gave the Golden Knights what they hoped would be a commanding 4-2 lead over the Sharks. It was not the commanding lead Vegas hoped for.

After emptying their net, the Sharks scored with about two minutes left to make it 4-3. Then, Timo Meier stunningly tied things up with a second remaining.

Following that squandered lead, and a failed overtime power play, it sure felt like the Golden Knights might lose another should-win game and really doom their season. And indeed, they did. The Sharks ended up winning in a shootout 5-4.

How does Vegas’ playoff hopes look now?

There’s also a path where the Golden Knights could make the playoffs if the Predators lose out, all in regulation.

Many things have made life worse for Vegas in this painful season, but failing to beat teams far outside of the playoff picture may end up being more agonizing than all of those injuries.

A big story for Monday

Blackhawks – Flyers mainly about draft lottery positioning

Following the NHL games on Sunday, the Flyers boast the fourth-fewest points in the NHL (61 points with three games remaining), while the Blackhawks rank sixth (63 points, also three games left). With the Senators sitting at 69 points, the Blackhawks aren’t likely to go any lower than sixth. The most likely areas where a team may move is from that sixth spot to as low as third (Kraken: 58 points, but with four games left they could go as high as 66 standings points).

Under certain circumstances, we might gain reminders of home fans cheering for their own team to lose, like that Sabres – Coyotes game of infamy.

Being that the Flyers visit the Blackhawks, this one might have a different flavor.

  • Due to the Seth Jones trade, it’s unclear if the Blackhawks 2022 first-round pick will go to Chicago or the Columbus Blue Jackets. If the Blackhawks’ pick ends up being in the top 2 after the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery, it would go to Chicago, with the Blue Jackets receiving the Blackhawks’ 2023 first-rounder instead. So … there’s not the same clarity to root for a team to tank.
  • On the Flyers’ end, tanking and an “aggressive retool” might not mix, at least in some ways. Would Philly be bold enough to trade such a high pick in hopes of a quicker turnaround?
  • Then there’s the usual flavor: as much as any team may want to tank, the players on the ice want to bolster their hockey futures. So they’re unlikely to mail it in … at least not completely.

As Monday’s only game, Flyers – Blackhawks lacks much in the way of immediate stakes. It’s not unlike a Monday game between the Jets and the Canadiens. Don’t be surprised if fans of teams with draft lottery interest may at least keep an eye on it.

(Plus, most prefer some low-importance hockey to no hockey at all, right?)

Sunday NHL scores

Red Wings 3, Devils 0
Hurricanes 5, Islanders 2
Blue Jackets 5, Oilers 2
Flyers 4, Penguins 1
Lightning 8, Panthers 4
Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 3 (SO)
Jets 4, Avalanche 1
Bruins 5, Canadiens 3
Wild 5, Predators 4 (OT)
Blues 6, Ducks 3
Sharks 5, Golden Knights 4 (SO)

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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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    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.