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The Buzzer: Avalanche land last spot in West

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Three Stars

1. Phil Kessel

This is actually a dual Penguins three-point scorer award, as both Kessel and Sidney Crosby (one goal, two assists) enjoyed three-point nights as Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot.

Kessel gets the edge for a couple reasons, though. For one thing, he had more goals than Crosby, as Kessel’s points came via two goals and one assist. One of the winger’s goals ended up standing as the game-winner, too.

With 82 points in 81 games, this ties Kessel’s 2011-12 as his second-best output, behind only last year’s 92. While Kessel seems to find his name mentioned far too often in trade rumors, the guy just keeps delivering. In particular, he probably deserves more credit for being “clutch,” as he’s been dynamite for the Penguins in postseason situations, and also important regular season moments like these.

Also, he once filled the Stanley Cup with hot dogs for trolling purposes. Pretty good final tiebreaker, actually.

2. Alexander Steen

As An Increasingly Old, I can relate to Steen slowing down, as the Blues forward has done at 35.

It’s nice to see strong outbursts like these from Steen, then, unless you’re a part of the Central Division jumble where three spots still haven’t been decided. Then you’d probably prefer the Blues to be a one-line team, thank you very much.

Steen scored two goals and one assist on Thursday, with one of those tallies coming shorthanded. His 27 points are more solid when you realize he’s been limited to 64 games played, so maybe he can heat up for the postseason?

3. Petr Mrazek

It was tempting to go for Jack Eichel (one goal and two assists, and you’ll see that one of those helpers ended up being special) or Jaroslav Halak, who pitched a 26-save shutout. There were other nice performances, too.

With the Sabres eliminated and the Bruins already locked in place, the Hurricanes “needed” more out of Mrazek, at least for a while. The complications of clinching scenarios called for some changes, but the bottom line is that Mrazek played well enough to make the process more straightforward for Carolina, as the clinched a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ending a decade-long postseason drought.

Highlights of the Night

Two moments of great passing really took the cake on Thursday. First, check out this sweet no-look pass by almost-third-star Jack Eichel to Sam Reinhart:

If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for fantastic breakout passes, and Dougie Hamilton provided exactly that to Warren Foegele:

Factoids

  • There will be greater detail on this later, but in the East, the Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division title, while the Penguins and Hurricanes locked down playoff berths. Out West, the Avalanche clinched their spot, punctuated by this goal from Nathan MacKinnon to Erik Johnson, thus knocking off the Coyotes. The West’s eight is set, while positioning is still to be determined in certain situations.

(Technically, this goal really secured the spot, but the Johnson goal was more fun.)

Scores

BUF 5 – OTT 2
TBL 3 – TOR 1
NYI 2 – FLA 1 (SO)
PIT 4 – DET 1
WSH 2 – MTL 1
CAR 3 – NJD 1
STL 7 – PHI 3
NSH 3 – VAN 2
BOS 3 – MIN 0
COL 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
SJS 3 – EDM 2
ARI 4 – VGK 1

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After defeating the Penguins 5-2 in LA on Saturday, Jan. 12, the Kings hit the road for a three-game trip to Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado. The Kings lost to the Wild 3-2 after a shootout but then beat the Stars 2-1. They entered Saturday with a chance to make it a four-game point streak, but lost 7-1 to Colorado, allowing six goals in the second period.

Saturday’s 7-1 loss at the Avs was the team’s worst this season, as they lost the game by six goals (worst differential this season) and allowed seven goals, tied for the most allowed this season.

St. Louis last played on Saturday, beating the Senators 3-2 to earn their fourth victory in their last six games (4-1-1 record). They will face the Kings on Monday before playing the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday. Then, like the Kings, will have the All-Star Break and their bye week before playing next on Saturday, Feb. 2 at Columbus. The Blues next home game is Saturday, Feb. 9 vs. Nashville.

The NHL’s hottest player – David Perron – missed Saturday’s win over Ottawa with an upper-body injury. Head coach Craig Berube called Perron day-to-day, but said he would likely not make the trip to California.

Entering Saturday, Perron had a point in 13 straight games (6G-10A), the NHL’s longest active point streak. He has 17 goals this year (had 16 in 70 games w/ VGK last season) and has 19 points (9G-10A) in the last 18 games after recording 16 points (8G-8A) in his first 27 games of the season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings
Where: Staples Center
When: Monday, Jan. 21, 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Kings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Pat MaroonRyan O'ReillyVladimir Tarasenko
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennAlexander Steen
Samuel Blais – Oskar SundqvistJordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevJordan Nolan

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

KINGS
Ilya KovalchukAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufPaul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues at the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Here’s something that is delightful about the NHL in 2018: even struggling teams tend to bring real talent to the table.

The St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings fall under that category. That much was expected (if not always embraced) in Detroit, while the ups and downs prove to be a sobering reality for St. Louis.

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

It must be frustrating for Ryan O'Reilly to watch the Sabres flourish with a 10-game winning streak during their first season without him, but you can’t blame ROR for Mike Yeo getting canned in favor of Craig Berube. O’Reilly has been more than just a great two-way forward; he’s been a star so far for the Blues. His 26 points lead all Blues, and by quite a bit, as also-great winger Vladimir Tarasenko has generated a mildly disappointing 18 points in 22 games.

With Alexander Steen back, the Blues are closer to 100 percent, even though Jaden Schwartz‘s frustrating health luck keeps him sidelined. If a Rob line (Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri with honorary Rob Brayden Schenn) can provide St. Louis with some extra oomph, the Blues might just be onto something.

The Red Wings may be in a rebuild mode, but they’re not the usual layup you’d expect from a team facing such an outlook.

Their top line is a big reason why. Anthony Mantha‘s been on fire lately, while Dylan Larkin continues to prove that he’s a viable first-line center in the NHL.

Both the Blues and Red Wings have enjoyed prouder days, but it wouldn’t be a big upset if this ended up being a fun game nonetheless. For St. Louis, it might be something to build on for the nearer future, while the Red Wings aim to build a new foundation.

[Read more about this game in this extended preview]

What: St. Louis Blues at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Wednesday, November 28th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLUES

Alexander Steen — Ryan O’Reilly — Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri — Brayden Schenn — Robert Thomas

David PerronTyler BozakPatrick Maroon

Zach SanfordIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Vince DunnAlex Pietrangelo

Joel EdmundsonColton Parayko

Jay BouwmeesterJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Chad Johnson

RED WINGS

Anthony Mantha — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Gustav NyquistFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Thomas VanekJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Trevor DaleyMike Green

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Blues find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division eneytering Wednesday’s meeting. Chicago took the first two meetings in overtime, but St. Louis got one back with a 7-3 victory on Oct. 27.

New Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is still looking for his first win since replacing Joel Quenneville. Chicago is 0-2-1 under Colliton, which has extended their losing streak to eight games. That loss to the Blues was the game that started this current slide. They’ve not had a nine-game losing streak since the 2011-12 NHL season.

“I believe we’re on the right track. I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players,” said Colliton. “When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

The dark clouds that were above the Blues earlier this season have brightened as they’ve won four of their last six. During that six-game stretch they’ve sliced their goals against per game from 4 to 2.5. Ryan O'Reilly is also excelling with eight goals and 17 points during a 10-game point streak.

Jake Allen‘s play was a factor in the Blues’ slow start, which opened the door for Chad Johnson, who’s played well in net for the last three games. He’s stopped 86 of the last 90 shots he’s faced and will get his chance to continue to shine during this current three-game road trip. Tonight, however, it’s Allen’s net versus the Blackhawks.

“He’s been our best player. You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win,” O’Reilly said about Johnson. “He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby FabbriTyler BozakAlexander Steen
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz
Joel EdmundsonJay Bouwmeester

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Nick SchmaltzJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz – Luke Johnson – Andreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning – Gustav Forling

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Blues GM confirms Kovalchuk interest, makes Jagr comparison

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PHT’s Adam Gretz placed the St. Louis Blues fifth in his power rankings for potential Ilya Kovalchuk destinations earlier week, citing the team’s need for a boost on offense (while highlighting the tantalizing potential of Kovalchuk with Vladimir Tarasenko).

It sounds like Blues GM Doug Armstrong is throwing his team’s name in the hat, if nothing else. He confirmed the Blues’ interest in Kovalchuk, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Always looking to improve our team,” Armstrong said. “We’re like all teams. He’s 35 years old, there’s risk involved with players of that age. But he could be Jaromir Jagr. He could start slowing down at 41. Or he could come back and hit the wall. You never know.”

Armstrong also mentioned that, unlike teams such as the Sharks and Kings, the Blues didn’t arrange a face-to-face meeting with Kovalchuk. It’s unclear if that fact indicates a lower level of interest from St. Louis and/or Kovalchuk.

The age comments are more than just pointing out the obvious, by the way.

Kovalchuk would count as a 35+ contract, and with his most recent ask being a manageable cap hit yet a deal that would ask for some term at three years, a team would need to be confident that signing him would be worth it in the future. Not just now.

Taking a look at the Blues’ Cap Friendly page, such a risk would be reasonable for St. Louis, yet they would need to mull over the ramifications.

Three especially noteworthy players currently have three years remaining on their contracts: Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Alexander Steen. It might surprise some to realize that Steen is already 34, but Schwartz and Allen are young enough that the Blues must acknowledge that raises could be coming.

(Personally, that seems most pressing for Schwartz, as Allen has his critics as an up-and-down No. 1 goalie.)

A couple other looming raises could make Kovalchuk’s hypothetical three-year deal a bigger burden, as such a deal would run concurrently with raises in 2020-21. Both Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million cap hit) and Brayden Schenn ($5.125M) stand to make a lot more money once their bargain deals expire after 2019-20.

Overall, the Blues are in a fantastic situation to make it all work.

They only have about $62M committed to 18 players heading into next season, and the only plus of Robby Fabbri‘s terrible injury luck for St. Louis is that the RFA is likely to sign a team-friendly contract. (Assuming that Fabbri gets a clean bill of health.)

The Blues stand as a dark horse candidate for John Tavares for the same sort of reasons that Kovalchuk would make sense. While last season’s failure to make the playoffs was a disappointment, they’ve generally been competitive. A big-time addition could really accelerate that improvement, and this team has money to burn (for now). St. Louis also boasts some prominent players in the thick of their primes.

And, sure, Tarasenko’s presence cannot hurt.

St. Louis isn’t exactly like the Ducks, a team that hasn’t drafted a Russian player since 2009. While Tarasenko is the most prominent countryman on the Blues roster, St. Louis also employs Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nikita Soshnikov. (Czech forward Vladimir Sobotka also isn’t far removed from a three-year sojourn in the KHL, for whatever that’s worth.)

Long story short, the Blues have plenty of reasons to legitimately pursue Kovalchuk, and there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis would be a good fit for him.

That said, they’ll need to get in line … and they may not be in the front of that queue when free agency begins in July.

MORE ON THE KOVALCHUK SWEEPSTAKES

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.