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The Buzzer: Big night for Coyotes — and Kucherov

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov

Let’s keep this one pretty simple, because we went deep on where Kucherov’s 115 points ranks in recent history here.

Narrowing the focus to Kucherov scoring two goals and two assists for four points in Thursday’s game is impressive enough. Kucherov grabbed the game-winning goal in this one, his second GWG in his last three games (both of those decisive goals came against Detroit, by the way).

Kucherov had a +1 rating in that tight win against the Red Wings, firing five shots on goal and ending up with just under 21 minutes (20:58) in that game. Masterful work by the clear frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza

While he’s been streaky in 2018-19, nights like these provide useful reminders of why a lot of stats-minded people were excited about Hinostroza’s potential after he was traded from Chicago.

For the first time in his career, the 24-year-old generated a hat trick, and Hinostroza added the flourish of making it a natural hat trick. Despite a modest 13:43 in ice time in Arizona’s win against Anaheim, Hinostroza fired eight SOG on his way to that hat trick.

Hinostroza now has 15 goals and 34 points in 61 games this season, and four goals in his last two contests. With the Wild losing in regulation and the Coyotes winning big, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs suddenly look remarkably likely for Arizona.

They’re also only four points behind Vegas for third place in the Pacific, although that’s a big hurdle to leap with the Golden Knights also holding a game in hand.

3. Anders Nilsson

There were some very strong goalie performances beyond Nilsson on Thursday, with Darcy Kuemper stopping 37 out of 38 shots, Thomas Greiss making 33 out of 34 saves, and Casey DeSmith managing a 26-save shutout. There were also other worthy scoring performances, particularly by Brett Connolly (two goals, one assist) and Mark Scheifele (one goal, two assists).

But Nilsson managed an impressive 35-save shutout, boosting his 2018-19 save percentage from .908 to .915. He did so against a strong Blues team, too.

It doesn’t really do the lowly Senators a whole lot of good, but it might improve Nilsson’s chances of staying in the NHL in 2019-20, whether he remains with Ottawa or lands somewhere else.

Highlight of the Night

This got its own post, but it’s tough to top Zdeno Chara being strong enough to send Scheifele’s stick soaring, only for Scheifele to score a goal. Good times.

By the way, the lowlight was really a highlight, too, as Tyler Seguin was a good sport in absorbing grief for missing on an empty net. That got its own post as well.

Factoids

Scores

PIT 5 – BUF 0
NYI 2 – MTL 1
WAS 5 – PHI 2
OTT 2 – STL 0
TBL 5 – DET 4
DAL 4 – MIN 1
WIN 4 – BOS 3
ARI 6 – ANA 1
NSH 3 – LAK 1
FLA 4 – SJS 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.

Ben Bishop gets hurt right after setting Stars shutout streak record

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Through the lows and mostly highs of Ben Bishop‘s NHL career, it seems like injuries will just continue to dog the sizable Dallas Stars goalie. They were an issue with Tampa Bay, and don’t seem to be going away in Dallas.

His mixture of shaky health and fantastic goaltending has really carried over in 2018-19, and Thursday provides quite a snapshot of that.

Consider what happened:

  • Bishop carried a three-game shutout streak into Thursday’s match against the Minnesota Wild. Remarkably, before the triplet of goose eggs (March 5-12), he also only allowed one goal (29 of 30 saves) in a March 2 win against the Blues. His March save percentage heading into Thursday was … .992(!!) in four games.
  • The 32-year-old broke Ed Belfour’s franchise shutout streak by surpassing Belfour’s Stars record of 219:26. Bishop was at 224:20 by the end of the first period, and seemed to add 6:33 from the second period, only for …
  • … an injury to happen. The Stars announced that Bishop is questionable to return to the game thanks to a lower-body injury.
  • NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti reports that shared shutouts don’t count toward streaks, so even if Bishop manages to come back during Thursday’s game against the Wild, his shutout streak will end at three games.

Talk about a disappointing way to end a career-best, and franchise-record-breaking run, huh?

Of course, while Bishop laments the streak being cut off by yet another injury, the Stars are almost certainly more concerned about the long-term.

Will Bishop be healthy by the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which the Stars would qualify for if the postseason began at this moment? Again, Bishop’s been splendid, and possibly Vezina-worthy, when healthy. He carried an outstanding .932 save percentage into Thursday, topping an already-impressive career save percentage of .920.

Now, sure, Anton Khudobin has been almost as stellar (.924 save percentage, despite a 13-14-3 record heading into Thursday), so the Stars seem to be better prepared than most teams if they lose their starter.

With a razor-thin margin of error at times this season – they’ve only scored two more goals than they allowed – they’re basically counting on excellence from their netminders, so they have to really hope this is just a minor (albeit annoying) issue for Bishop.

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.

Bishop’s shutout streak for Stars enhancing Vezina Trophy case

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There are two big points on the line Thursday night in Minnesota when the Wild host the Dallas Stars. Both are pursuing playoff spots in the Western Conference, but the Wild will face a tall task in trying to score on Ben Bishop, who’s been unbeatable of late.

Bishop has shutouts in each of his last three starts and hasn’t surrendered a goal since late in the second period of the Stars’ March 2 win over the St. Louis Blues. His shutout streak is currently 204:20, the second-longest in franchise history behind Eddie Belfour’s 219:26, which was set in 2000. He’s also the third goaltender in franchise history to record three straight shutouts, joining Belfour’s 2000 run and Cesare Maniago who did it in 1967.

“It’s just one of those things,” Bishop said after Tuesday’s win Buffalo. “I’ll take it. The wins are what’s important. Obviously the shutouts are nice but it’s not why we play the game. The guys are doing a great job in front of me, big blocks at important times, big penalty kills, and then a couple of posts. Things are going my way right now, just try to ride the high as long you can.”

Bishop’s play has NBCSN’s own Brian Boucher, who owns the NHL record for longest shutout streak at 332:01, a little nervous:

What this run for Bishop has also done is move the 32-year-old netminder into the Vezina Trophy discussion. He’s now tied for second in the league with six shutouts, tied for first among goaltenders with 35 appearances with a .935 even strength save percentage, and tied for third among goaltenders with 1,500 minutes played with a .869 high-danger save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).

Another stat for Bishop’s Vezina resume? He’s third in the league with a plus-15.32 goals saved above average, which measures how many goals a goaltender has saved compared to a league-average netminder.

“There’s just a calmness to him, of when he’s stopping pucks and when he’s handling pucks, that you know when he’s really on top of his game,” said Stars head coach Jim Montgomery.

After falling short as a finalist in 2014 and 2016, could 2019 be Bishop’s year to take home hardware? At the moment, there are a good number of contenders with Frederik Andersen, Marc-Andre Fleury, Robin Lehner, and Andrei Vasilevskiy as some of the names in the mix. It will have to come down to who impressed the league’s 31 general managers the most when it’s time to vote.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Price passes Plante; hats off for Jenner, Gaudreau

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Three Stars

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames kept pace with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division race with a 9-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, featuring the NHL’s first six-point game since the 2013-14 season from Johnny Gaudreau. Read all about it here.

2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. The list of Hall of Famers and legendary goalies to play for the Montreal Canadiens organization is a lengthy and impressive one. It is a who’s who list of some of the greatest goalies in the history of the league, and Carey Price now officially has more wins than all of them. By stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, Price earned the 315th win of his career and moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Jacques Plante for sole possession of first place on the team’s all-time wins list.

3. Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ offense has gone cold in the games after the trade deadline and it has put them in a tough spot when it comes to making the playoffs, especially with a tough schedule still remaining down the stretch. The offense finally clicked on Tuesday night in a 7-4 win over the Boston Bruins — who have now lost two regulation games in a row after going 19 consecutive games without one — that was highlighted by a hat trick from Boone Jenner to give him 15 goals on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Joe Pavelski scored the game-winning goal for the San Jose Sharks with just 3.6 seconds remaining in their 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

The Pittsburgh Penguins stormed back for a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals thanks in part to a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby. The first of those two goals was a beauty.

Some highlights from Carey Price’s milestone night for the Montreal Canadiens.

This is not really a “highlight” in the traditional sense, but it is still worth watching as MacKenzie Blackwood’s water bottle did not cooperate.

Daniel Sprong has not always put it all together at the NHL level, but there is no denying his talent when he does. His goal on Tuesday was the game-winner for the Anaheim Ducks in their 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators.

Factoids

  • Believe it, the Arizona Coyotes are in a playoff spot thanks to their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, and Oliver-Ekman Larsson scored his 10th goal of the season. He is one of just four defenders, joining a list that includes Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and Mark Giordano, to score at least 10 goals in each of the past six seasons. [NHL PR]
  • Ben Bishop is on an incredible run for the Dallas Stars and quietly putting together a Vezina Trophy caliber season. He recorded his third consecutive shutout on Tuesday night, helping the Stars top the Buffalo Sabres. [NHL PR]
  • Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are the fourth pair of players to each record 1,000 points after being selected No. 1 and 2 overall in an NHL draft year. Malking recorded his 1,000th point on Tuesday night, while Ovechkin recorded his 1,200th point in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 2, Buffalo Sabres 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Washington Capitals 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Boston Bruins 4

Montreal Canadiens 3, Detroit Red Wings 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, St. Louis Blues 1

San Jose Sharks 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Calgary Flames 9, New Jersey Devils 4

Anaheim Ducks 3, Nashville Predators 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Stars face busy stretch in hopes of securing wild card

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Tuesday night begins a vital stretch of games for the Dallas Stars. They currently hold the first wild card spot in the Western Conference with 14 games to play. Seven of their final 14 will come in the next 12 days — and that’s before the four-game western Canada road trip to end the month.

The importance of these upcoming games considering their position will mean a reliance on depth. That’s head coach Jim Montgomery’s plan as he expects to use some rotation in order to get fresh legs in his lineup.

“Going back to the four in six it is really important that we keep people fresh,” Montgomery said via the Stars website. “We saw Saturday that I would say that everyone except [Andrew] Cogliano and [Alexander] Radulov looked tired. So it is important that we can move bodies in and out.”

Saturday’s loss to the Chicago Blackahwks ended a four-game winning streak as they now head on the road for games in Buffalo and Minnesota before returning for a five-game homestand. The games against the Wild and next week against the Colorado Avalanche will feature important points on the line. There’s been some division on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture as teams have finally started separating themselves a bit.

The Stars have been getting solid goaltending of late from both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. They’ll need even more from them both as Montgomery will be leaning on them over this busy period hoping freshness can result in the accumulation of points that will provide a cushion.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Sharks vs. Wild
Jets vs. Stars
Flames vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Stars at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Capitals at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Bruins at Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Coyotes at Blues, 8 p.m. ET
Sharks at Jets, 8 p.m. ET
Devils at Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Predators at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – In
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Capitals – 99.7 percent
Islanders – 99.5 percent
Penguins – 96.9 percent
Hurricanes – 93.8 percent
Blue Jackets – 56.3 percent
Canadiens – 44.9 percent
Flyers – 7.6 percent
Panthers – 1.0 percent
Sabres – 0.3 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – Out
Red Wings – Out
Senators – Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Sharks – 100 percent
Flames – 100 percent
Jets – 100 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Blues – 99.3 percent
Golden Knights – 99.1 percent
Stars – 86.5 percent
Coyotes 38.9 percent
Wild – 37.4 percent
Avalanche – 29 percent
Oilers – 5.0 percent
Blackhawks – 4.8 percent
Canucks – 0.3 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Rangers – 6.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Sabres – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Wild – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Canadiens – 1 percent
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 111 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 98 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 98 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 89 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 88 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 41 goals
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – 38 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 38 goals

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.