NHL Rink Wrap: Capitals, Avalanche roll; Stars grind out another win

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• The Washington Capitals stun the Florida Panthers to take a 2-1 series lead.

• The Pittsburgh Penguins let a three-goal lead slip away but still get the win over the New York Rangers to take a 2-1 series lead.

• The Colorado Avalanche take a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators and have a chance for the sweep on Monday. 

Game 3: Washington Capitals 6, Florida Panthers 1 (WSH leads series 2-1)

The Washington Capitals did not get the memo that they are supposed to have no chance against the high-scoring, Presidents’ Trophy winning Florida Panthers. Outside of one period in Game 2, the Capitals have looked like the better team this entire series and now have a 2-1 lead after a very convincing 6-1 win on Saturday. Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal, Anthony Mantha had two assists, and Ilya Samsonov played his best game of the season in his first start of the series to help lead the Capitals to the win.

Game 3: Colorado Avalanche 6, Nashville Predators 3 (COL leads series 3-0)

The big concern here for the Avalanche is the status of starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper after he had to leave Saturday’s game due to a stick to the eye. Assuming it is not a long-term injury the Avalanche should be okay because they now have a commanding 3-0 lead over an overmatched Predators team. The big turning point in this game was a failed coaches challenge by Nashville late in the second period. Shortly after the Predators tied the game, 3-3, Gabriel Landeskog quickly answered with a go-ahead goal to put the Avalanche back ahead. Nashville thought Arturi Lehkonen interfered with goalie Connor Ingram and challenged for goalie interference. The call was upheld, the Predators were penalized for delay of game, and Colorado quickly scored on the power play to take a two-goal lead. Devon Toews added a third period goal for Colorado.

Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins 7, New York Rangers 4 (PIT leads series 2-1)

The Pittsburgh Penguins scored four goals in the first period, chased New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, allowed a three-goal lead to slip away, then still ended up getting the win thanks to three third period goals to take a 2-1 series lead. Evan Rodrigues and Jeff Carter both scored two goals while Louis Domingue stopped 32 out of 36 shots to get the win.

Game 3: Dallas Stars 4, Calgary Flames 2 (DAL leads series 2-1)

Joe Pavelski scored two more goals and the Dallas Stars were able to grind out another win to take a surprising 2-1 lead against the Calgary Flames. The past two times we saw the Stars in the Stanley Cup Playoffs they ended up making surprising runs deep into the postseason, and they are trying their best to play spoilers again. Their top line has been great and Jake Oettinger is giving them outstanding play in goal and all of it has them ahead of the Flames in a tight, defensive series where everybody seems to hate each other.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

Three Stars in NHL for Saturday (Sixth day of playoffs)

1. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals

Goaltending is the big question mark for the Capitals and they decided to change things for Game 3 by going to Ilya Samsonov instead of Vitek Vanecek. Things looked grim early when Jonathan Huberdeau beat Samsonov for an early goal, but that would be the only shot to beat Samsonov all day. He stopped 29 out of 30 shots and gave the Capitals a spark to take the series lead. The pressure now really shifts to the Panthers in this series.

2. Evan Rodrigues, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have needed their secondary players to start providing some offense and they got that in a big way on Saturday. Rodrigues only played nine minutes in the game but he made the most of them, scoring two goals, adding an assist, and recording a game-high five shots on goal.

3. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

After scoring the game-winning goal in Game 2, Makar had three assists on Saturday to help the Avalanche to another dominant showing in their Game 3 win over the Predators. He now has two goals, five assists, seven total points, and 17 shots on goal in the first three games of the series while also completely controlling the pace of the game when he is on the ice. He is unmatched in the NHL right now.

SUNDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes, 12:30 p.m. ET — ESPN (CAR leads 2-1)
Game 4: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild, 4:30 p.m. ET — TBS (MIN leads 2-1)
Game 4: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET — TBS (TOR leads 2-1)
Game 4: Edmonton Oilers at  Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET — TBS (EDM leads 2-1)

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Blues vs. Wild
• Avalanche vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
• NHL Draft Lottery set: Canadiens have best odds for top pick
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

 

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.