NHL Rink Wrap: Entering playoffs after strange end to season

NHL Rink Wrap: Entering playoffs after strange end to season
Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Friday’s top NHL player

Steven Stamkos, Lightning

Yes, the Lightning had seeding on the line, and they succeeded in wrestling the third Atlantic Division seed away from the Bruins. Personally, I wouldn’t have played Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, or Andrei Vasilevskiy here. Not with all the mileage on these top players, and the injuries they’ve navigated.

But a lot of NHL teams stubbornly trotted out key players despite minimal gains, including some with literally nothing to gain on Friday. Aside from a few savvy teams like the Panthers, a lot of teams shrugged their shoulders and played most/all of their workhorses anyway.

At least this allowed Steven Stamkos to keep his absolutely absurd hot streak going.

Stamkos is now on an absolutely absurd nine-game multipoint streak after collecting a hat trick during the Friday NHL games. Over those nine games, Stamkos:

  • Generating four points twice.
  • Collected three points on four occasions.
  • Settled (ho hum) for two points three times.

Ludicrous, ludicrous stuff. That hat trick helped Stamkos cross the 40-goal barrier. He ended the season with 42 goals and 106 points in 81 games (his first-ever 100+ point season).

There were some other standout NHL performances on Friday, including a Cole Caufield hat trick, but Steven Stamkos took the cake on what was essentially the last night of the season.

(The Kraken and Jets play a make-up game on Sunday. No one emailed me back about calling it “The Irrelevant Bowl.”)

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Friday NHL highlights

Watch highlights from that stunning Coyotes comeback against the Predators.

Here’s Steven Stamkos notching that hat trick.

Is this a sign that Zdeno Chara will retire? It at least looked that way.

We’ll also need to wait and see if Keith Yandle‘s career is over. If so, could that mean that Phil Kessel may eventually pass Keith Yandle as the NHL’s all-time “ironman?”

Along with Stamkos, Cole Caufield also produced a hat trick, the first of the young winger’s career.

Pretty cool for Canadiens fans to break out a “Guy! Guy! Guy!” chant in honor of Guy Lafleur after Montreal scored a 10th goal.

Malcolm Subban, anthem singer, is just a delight.

Holy smokes, Dryden Hunt.

EBUG alert!

Thursday NHL Takeaways

All eight NHL series matchups for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Stunningly, the Predators squandered a 4-0 lead (which they notched less than seven minutes into the game) and lost to the lowly Coyotes 5-4 in regulation. The Coyotes almost spoiled things for the Stars, then they helped them move up to the higher wild-card.

Click here for a quick look at all eight NHL playoff series matchups in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but here are the nuts & bolts.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division bracket

Florida Panthers (ATL 1) vs. Washington Capitals (WC 2)
Toronto Maple Leafs (ATL 2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (ATL 3)

• Metropolitan Division bracket

Carolina Hurricanes (MET 1) vs. Boston Bruins (WC 1)
New York Rangers (MET 2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (MET 3)

Western Conference

• Central Division bracket

Colorado Avalanche (CEN 1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC 2)
Minnesota Wild (CEN 2) vs. St. Louis Blues (CEN 3)

• Pacific Division bracket

Calgary Flames (PAC 1) vs. Dallas Stars (WC 1)
Edmonton Oilers (PAC 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (PAC 3)

Want to plan, say, your next two weeks? Head here for the schedule for the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHLPA will search for Don Fehr successor

Boy, the NHLPA really loves their “Friday night news-dumps,” huh? Here’s the lowdown on the search for Fehr’s replacement.

Ducks bless us with one more regular season “EBUG”

Catch up on the Ducks pressing emergency backup goalie Tom Hodges into duty.

There’s technically one game left this regular season

The existence of Sunday’s Jets – Kraken game is odd and funny

If you’re desperate to watch two teams go through the motions this weekend, the Jets and Kraken face off on Sunday. People might think you’re a little odd, but so what? A game’s a game.

Friday NHL scores

Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 3
Sabres 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Maple Leafs 5, Bruins 2
Canadiens 10, Panthers 2
Red Wings 5, Devils 3
Rangers 3, Capitals 2
Senators 4, Flyers 2
Lightning 6, Islanders 4
Golden Knights 7, Blues 4
Wild 4, Avalanche 1
Jets 3, Flames 1
Stars 4, Ducks 2
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Kraken 3, Sharks 0
Coyotes 5, Predators 4

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

    Chase Agnello-Dean/Getty Images

    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

    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
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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

    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.”