NHL Rink Wrap: One playoff spot left; Matthews reaches 60 goals

NHL Rink Wrap: One playoff spot left; Matthews reaches 60 goals
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Tuesday’s top NHL players

Steven Stamkos, Lightning

For the first time in his storied NHL career, Steven Stamkos crossed the 100-point barrier. Actually, at the conclusion of a busy Tuesday in the NHL, Stamkos has 101 points in 79 games this season.

He scored two goals and two assists for four points to cross that 100-point threshold. While it’s been a tremendous season for Stamkos overall, he’s been absurdly hot lately. That four-point night on Tuesday continues one of the most impressive runs in the NHL: Stamkos has stacked up five straight games of at least 3 points (four in each of the last two). Going further, he’s on a seven-game multi-point streak.

The icing on the cake is that, frankly, few expected Stamkos to put up his best season (at least numerically) so late in his career.

Tuesday night presented other noteworthy performances around the NHL. Here are some of the most prolific ones:

  • Nikita Kucherov also had four points alongside Stamkos (in Kucherov’s case, 1G and 3A).
  • Tim Stützle matched Stamkos with a two-goal, two-assist game of his own. That leaves him with 57 points in 77 games this season.
  • On his way to reaching the 120-point mark, Connor McDavid also scored four points (1G, 3A).

Tuesday NHL highlights

Here’s Auston Matthews reaching 60 goals on the season:

Seriously, it’s surprising Stamkos took this long to score 100 points in a season. Sweet either way:

How can Connor McDavid score 120 points? Well, because he can do things like this.

So many twists and turns in the Stars’ important shootout win over the Golden Knights. Check the takeaways for more on that game and other NHL playoff updates.

This Jason Robertson goal warrants its own attention, though. With two in that game, he has 40 on the season.

Nice goal completed by Taylor Hall, but it’s Sergei Bobrovsky‘s limited reaction that really makes the highlight sing.

Matthew Tkachuk spoiled a would-be Predators win with a last-second goal. (He also pulled off some high-level trolling on Tuesday.)

Tuesday NHL Takeaways

Playoff clinching updates: last spot down to Stars/Golden Knights; Hurricanes win Metro; Kings, Predators are in

You won’t find many, if any, nights in the NHL season that were as important as Tuesday.

No doubt, the biggest game was the Stars’ narrow shootout win over the Golden Knights. In short, this confirms a few things.

  • The Golden Knights aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they have no margin for error. They need to win their two games, while the Stars would need to lose both of their games (against weak teams) in regulation.
  • So, yes, the Stars merely need one point to clinch the final West playoff spot. There’s room for them to climb above the Predators in the West wild-card positions.
  • Even so, the Predators clinched their NHL playoff spot after everything that happened on Tuesday.
  • The Kings clinched theirs while sitting on their couches and eating potato chips.*
* – Probably not eating potato chips. That said, pro athletes burn a ton of calories, so they could probably get away with it. Veterans like Anze Kopitar may not approve, though.

We saw the occasional seeding/division title/playoff matchup confirmed during Tuesday’s NHL games, too.

  • By beating the Rangers, the Hurricanes clinched the Metropolitan Division title.
  • The Maple Leafs will hold home-ice advantage for at least the first round, as they locked up the Atlantic Division’s second seed. Toronto’s most likely to face Tampa Bay, but Boston has a chance to sneak into the third spot. (A small one, though, to be clear.)
  • Similarly, the Oilers clinched the second seed in the Pacific. With that, we know another playoff matchup: the Oilers face the Kings in the Pacific’s 2/3 seed matchup.
  • By losing the Metropolitan Division title to the Hurricanes, the Rangers nabbed the second seed in the Metro. The Rangers’ opponent boils down to who wins the race between the Penguins and the Capitals.

Auston Matthews reaches 60 goals; Connor McDavid crosses 120 points

Auston Matthews became the first Maple Leafs player to reach 60 goals scored in a single season. You can watch that highlight above, and read about his accomplishment here.

Steven Stamkos was the last player to score 60 goals, doing so back in 2011-12. There’s some nice symmetry to Stamkos authoring his first 100-point season on the same day Matthews cracked 60. Matthews is also the first player to collect both 60+ goals and 100+ points since Alex Ovechkin pulled off that difficult feat in 2007-08.

The accolades really stacked up during the NHL action on Tuesday.

As mentioned earlier, Connor McDavid followed scoring 100+ points in a shortened 2020-21 season by reaching the rare 120-point mark. He’s comfortably beyond that, too, with 122 points in 79 games this season.

Look, I know both Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are young, but I’d rest each one of them if I had any say with the Maple Leafs/Oilers. These players carry huge workloads for their teams. Why not get them rest and limit their exposure to injuries?

That’s probably an easier argument to make to the Lightning with 32-year-old Steven Stamkos, but such discussions should be had for every team beyond the Golden Knights. (Yes, that’s right; I even think the Stars should consider resting key players as early as Wednesday’s game against the Coyotes.)

Costly injuries?

No doubt, playoff positioning can be important — most crucially clinching a spot, but also angling for home-ice advantage. Even so, teams need to weigh the risk of injuries vs. the reward of competing.

Tuesday’s NHL games provided additional examples of why it might just be better to rest key players. There’s no guarantee any of these players will miss time, but it’s also possible that they could play hurt and be far less effective than you’d expect.

  • Juuse Saros left the Predators’ loss to the Flames with what could be a lower-body (ankle?) injury. Saros powered the Predators’ playoff push by bringing the quantity of a workhorse (67 games played) with the quality of an elite goalie.

As great as Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, and others have been, a healthy Saros gives the Predators their best chance to upset a team like the Avalanche or Flames.

Perhaps the Predators would’ve been better off hoping for the best against the Flames on Tuesday, then play it by ear if the Golden Knights were hanging in there later this week? Oh well.

  • Look, I get that the Rangers wanted to beat out the Hurricanes for the Metro title. Still, this is a team that’s been looking stronger and stronger, and had at least some home-ice advantage locked up. Now they need to worry about possible injuries to both Andrew Copp and Artemi Panarin.

Considering the limited number of roster spots teams have to work with, there’s only so much “load management” possible in the NHL. A team that did everything right could still lose crucial players to injuries.

Still, teams should use injuries like these to overcome stubborn players who want to suit up for meaningless games.

Wednesday’s big NHL story

Stars can clinch a playoff spot, eliminate Golden Knights if they get one point vs. Coyotes

Really, the Dallas Stars shouldn’t need more than 60 minutes to beat the extremely weak Arizona Coyotes. Even if you were really impressed with the Coyotes upsetting the Wild, you’d likely admit that this is as close to a “tap-in” as you can ask for in 2021-22.

There’s not even really an issue of rest, as both the Stars and Coyotes were involved in the NHL action on Tuesday.

All of that said, it would be oddly fitting if the Stars clinched their playoff spot and eliminated the Golden Knights by going beyond regulation. Last season, the Stars missed the playoffs in part because they were so bad in overtime and shootouts. This season, it could end up being the difference for the Stars over the Golden Knights.

Stars: 45-30-5 (95 points in 80 games), 30 regulation wins, 40 regulation/OT wins, five shootout wins [two shootout losses]

Golden Knights: 42-31-7 (91 points in 80 games), 33 regulation wins, 38 ROW, four shootout wins [three shootout losses]

Yeah, the universe may just demand that the Stars clinch their playoff spot with an overtime win against the Coyotes. Maybe tie it together with Peter DeBoer saying one last odd thing about his goalies?

Tuesday NHL scores

Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3
Oilers 5, Penguins 1
Senators 5, Devils 4 (OT)
Lightning 4, Blue Jackets 1
Maple Leafs 3, Red Wings 0
Bruins 4, Panthers 2
Flames 5, Predators 4 (OT)
Islanders 4, Capitals 1
Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 (SO)
Coyotes 5, Wild 3
Avalanche 5, Blues 3
Canucks 5, Kraken 2
Ducks 5, Sharks 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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    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.

    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, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, 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 depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    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.