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The Buzzer: Kucherov and Kane ride again

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov

Kucherov helped the Lightning pass the 90-point standings barrier (before any other team has hit 80), while passing the 90-point mark himself. With an impressive one goal and three assists, Kucherov now has a ridiculous 92 points in just 58 points.

PHT’s covered the “Kucherov is awesome” thing quite well recently, from his fantastic performance on Thursday to his wider dominance from a historical perspective.

It’s probably not shocking, what with the Lightning winning 6-0 against Dallas, that the Bolts generated other quality top three considerations. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 32 saves to pitch a shutout, already his fifth of the season. He has an outside chance of tying or exceeding his career high of eight from last season.

Steven Stamkos deserves another honorable mention, scoring two goals and one assist, with one of his tallies being the GWG, and Stamkos also fired six shots on goal. Yeah, it was a good night for quite a few Lightning players.

Kucherov stands above the rest with four points, but he also has two straight four-point nights, and had a three point-game before that, so that’s 11 points in his last three contests. Wow.

2. Auston Matthews

Speaking of players who’ve already received attention, Matthews crossed the 100-goal barrier on Thursday, which you can read about on a broader level in this post.

Matthews is now at 101 goals, actually, as he scored two goals and one assist in Toronto’s win against the Vegas Golden Knights. Matthews fired six SOG in this one, so he was quite active in that victory.

In 43 games this season, Matthews has 27 goals and 26 assists for 53 points.

3. Patrick Kane

With a goal and two assists, Kane didn’t just barely extend his 16-game point streak, he truly powered another Blackhawks win.

But, seriously, that 16-game point streak.

By generating an assist, Kane has had a helper in 15 consecutive games, breaking a tie with Stan Mikita for the Blackhawks’ franchise record. He’s the seventh player with an assist streak of 15 games or more in NHL history.

This marks Kane’s fifth 50+ assist season, putting him on a list of the best passing wingers of all-time. Yeah, there are a lot of ways to carve up the great play of runs like that of Kane and Kucherov.

Highlights of the Night

After this fake-out by Stamkos, Andrew Cogliano might prefer being traded to anonymity.

What a rifle of a shot by Elias Pettersson.

Ilya Kovalchuk does his Brooks Orpik impression.

If you need a smile, and this doesn’t bring that to your face … I just don’t know how to help you.

More Factoids

  • Some significant team streak news, too. The St. Louis Blues won¬†again, stretching their winning streak to eight games. They hold a game in hand over Dallas, so the Blues are now ranked third in the Central. On the other end of the positive streak spectrum, the Avalanche finally won, ending a grueling eight-game skid.
  • Not all streak news was positive. The Sharks fell to the Capitals, so they’re run ended at six wins in a row.
  • Moving to players, T.J. Oshie collected his 500th point, while Chris Kunitz played in his 1,000th game.

Scores

FLA 3 – CGY 2 (SO)
NYI 3 – CBJ 0
DET 3 – OTT 2
TBL 6 – DAL 0
NSH 3 – MTL 1
COL 4 – WPG 1
CHI 5 – NJD 2
STL 4 – ARI 0
TOR 6 – VGK 3
VAN 4 – LAK 3 (SO)
WSH 5 – SJS 1

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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.

The Buzzer: Tavares delivers in the clutch

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Three Stars

1. Kevin Labanc

Six players generated three points on Saturday, so you could make cases for plenty of players outside of tonight’s picks. Labanc was the only player who generated a hat trick, however, and it’s the first hat trick of the 23-year-old’s career.

Labanc’s been enjoying a pretty effective season. He has nine goals and 36 points in 56 games, leaving him four points short of last season’s career-high of 40.

All three of his shots on goal ended up finding the mark.

2. Alex Galchenyuk

It’s been an up-and-down first season in Arizona for “Chucky,” who’s watched as Max Domi‘s been flourishing in Montreal.

Saturday served as one of his best games with the Coyotes, as Galchenyuk generated two goals (including the game-winner) and an assist. He fired five SOG and had a +1 rating. About the only bummer of his game was that he only won 20 percent of his faceoffs.

3. Patrice Bergeron

When it comes to Galchenyuk and Bergeron making the top three, game-winners tipped the scales.

Bergeron’s three points came by way of that GWG, plus two assists. As you’d expect from Bergeron, it was quite the all-around performance; the Bruins center fired seven SOG, had a +3 rating, and won 54.2 percent of his draws. One of his three points came shorthanded, too.

It’s fair to ask what kind of major awards Bergeron might be pushing for if he hasn’t been dealing with some injuries. Despite being limited to 39 games this season, Bergeron has 20 goals and 50 points. In 2017-18, Bergeron generated 63 points in 64 contests.

You might be shocked to hear that he’s excellent.

Highlight of the Night

If Maple Leafs fans want some assurance that all of that salary cap worrying they shouldn’t be doing is worth it, they merely need to watch Mitch Marner show great instincts and timing by setting up John Tavares, who scored an excellent overtime-winner with a backhander.

Factoid

  • Sidney Crosby passed Mario Lemieux for 916 games played, the most in Penguins franchise history. It really highlights that injuries, cancer, and that pesky¬†first retirement really deprived hockey fans of more Mario. The Penguins celebrated it in a cool way.

Scores

BOS 5 – LAK 4 (OT)
BUF 3 – DET 1
MIN 4 – NJD 2
NYI 4 – COL 3 (OT)
PHI 6 – ANA 2
OTT 5 – WPG 2
STL 3 – NSH 2
ARI 3 – DAL 2
TOR 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TBL 5 – PIT 4
FLA 5 – WSH 4 (OT)
SJS 5 – EDM 2
VAN 4 – CGY 3 (SO)
CBJ 4 – VGK 3

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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.

The Buzzer: Boudreau fumes; Are Blackhawks for real?

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Drouin / Phillip Danault

These two Montreal Canadiens forwards were Thursday’s two four-point producers. Drouin scored two goals and two assists, while Danault generated a goal and three helpers.

If you had to pick one for the top spot, it would probably be Drouin, as it really stands out how emphatic and confident he was. The once-maligned forward fired a whopping nine shot on goal, helping Montreal overwhelm Winnipeg.

(The Jets were not happy.)

There were a ton of very strong three-point performances on Thursday, but for the next two spots, goalies win out.

2. Anders Nilsson

Yes, the Ducks are terrible right now. On many nights, Anaheim’s been out-shot, even when the Ducks have fallen behind by quite a bit early on. Teams likely eased off the gas a bit, and the Ducks still didn’t put much pressure on opponents.

Thursday was a little different.

Nilsson needed to make 45 saves in this one, including a 1-0 first period where the Ducks generated a 17-8 SOG advantage. That’s quite the shutout, even against a team that’s basically in crisis mode.

3. Jordan Binnington

Hey, when you beat Andrei Vasilevskiy in a goalie duel, you’re doing something right.

OK, Vasilevskiy had this save and made 38 overall, but Binnington generated a 32-save shutout. The Blues needed every one of those in a 1-0 OT win, and Binnington delivered.

It’s also something of a “week-time” achievement award. Binnington’s been a huge part of the Blues’ bold surge back into the West postseason picture, and this win really highlighted that. Binnington’s only allowed four goals during a four-game winning streak, and his save percentage is now at .931 over 12 games.

Feel free to make other arguments in the comments, as Thursday was just brimming with great performances.

One not-so-great performance, though:

Boudreau’s had it

The Wild lost Mikko Koivu for the season, have lost four in a row, and should probably be sellers at the trade deadline.

Things are tense, and Bruce Boudreau has already been trying to squeeze every point out of a so-so roster. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he’s losing his cool, but he really let players like Mikael Granlund have it after Minnesota fell 4-1 to the also-struggling Edmonton Oilers.

” … There’s some players there that are just a shell of the players I’ve known for the last two-and-a-half years,” Boudreau said during a grim presser.

Did Boudreau also make a sly “Seinfeld” reference?

If things really get bad, maybe Boudreau quits one day, then tries to walk into the locker room as if nothing happened?

Highlights of the Night

Anton Khudobin gave Vasilevskiy serious competition for save of the night.

Connor Hellebuyck made a beautiful stop, too. He was a Winnipeg Jet who showed up.

Mathew Barzal with a beauty.

Scary moments

With so many games on Thursday, there were some injuries and other developments that might become clearer on Friday or the weekend.

But we already know of some scary moments. Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to have avoided injury after a highly questionable Ian Cole hit, but Cole was punched many, many times for doing so, thanks to Tom Wilson. The Ducks also must cross their fingers after John Gibson was accidentally walloped by a teammate.

Finally, there’s this scare for Oilers defenseman Kris Russell.

Factoids

Speaking of records, the Blackhawks are suddenly looking more viable thanks to a six-game winning streak. The standings don’t look that promising yet, but Chicago’s chances have at least risen above laughable all of a sudden.

Considering how dire things looked at times this season, being two points back of the second wild-card team (St. Louis) is impressive. The caveats are crucial and obvious: there are teams ahead, and most have games in hand advantages. But ask those Blues and they’ll tell you that things can turn around quickly, at least considering how lousy the West bubble teams have often been.

Scores

CAR 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
FLA 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
NYI 2 – NJD 1 (SO)
LAK 3 – PHI 2 (SO)
WSH 4 – COL 3 (OT)
MTL 5 – WPG 2
OTT 4 – ANA 0
VGK 4 – DET 3
STL 1 – TBL 0 (OT)
NSH 3 – DAL 2 (OT)
EDM 4 – MIN 1
CHI 4 – VAN 3 (OT)
SJS 5 – CGY 2
CBJ 4 – ARI 2

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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.

Streaking Flyers boosted by phenomenal Carter Hart

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The Philadelphia Flyers’ streaky nature shouldn’t come as much of a surprise in the City of Brotherly Love.

If anything, it’s only become natural over the past few seasons.

The NHL sends out daily emails filled with wonderful statistics for the media to sink its teeth into. On Thursday, they keyed in on the Flyers current eight-game winning streak (one they will look to push to nine against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night).

Streaky has been the name of the game for the Flyers, and they’ve had mixed success within that formula. For instance, last year the Flyers became the fourth team in NHL history to rebound from a winless streak of at least 10 games (0-5-5) to make the playoffs.

But the year before in 2016-17, the Flyers won 10 straight before ultimately missing out on the postseason, becoming the only team in league’s then 99-year history to do so.

What the future holds for the Flyers this season is anyone’s guess. Three weeks ago, no one would have been talking playoffs and Flyers in the same sentence, but their current heater has changed the conversation. They’ve gone from 15 points adrift to seven, passing five teams along the way as they began their ascent from the basement of the NHL.

The Flyers eight-game winning run comes after an eight-game slide, and a 10-game stretch where they won just one game. You don’t have to dig all that deep to figure out why the wins and losses have come in waves.

Looking at the eight-game block prior to the current one, they scored just 13 goals and allowed 27. Math is hard, but it’s easy to sort out this one. They scored less than half the goals they allowed. You don’t win like that.

Conversely, they’ve scored 30 during their current run and have allowed just 17.

A big part of that has been the play of Carter Hart.

He’s allowed three goals or fewer in five of his seven straight wins — a .934 save percentage. The 20-year-old’s fine play, coupled with the extra run support, has made Philly a dangerous team to contend with. They’ve knocked off Winnipeg, Boston, Montreal and Minnesota — all teams in playoff position — during their run. The string of wins could get a little longer, too, with their next two games coming against Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Can the streak reach 10 for the second straight year?

How many wins in a row would Hart need to put himself in the Calder Trophy conversation? (Or is he already there now?) He has to be, right?

Sure, Elias Pettersson is having a great season and still the runaway leader at this point. But let’s say Hart puts the Flyers into the playoffs… sprinkle in a little east-coast bias and some recency bias and Voil√†, some first-place votes may head his way.

Hell, if that happens, Hart would surely have to be on the long list of Hart Trophy candidates, too.

Yes, we’re putting the cart before the horse here. The Flyers still have a mountain to climb. Their eight-game winning streak has only improved their lot in life by eight points when looking at the standings. They’re still eight points behind the third-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division and seven out of a wild card spot. And they won 10 straight last year and still couldn’t walk in the back door to get to the playoffs.

But they’re heating up at the right time and they have a goalie who is playing with all sorts of confidence (with a team the following suit thanks to their netminder’s play).

There’s hope in Philly these days.

MORE: Good and bad of Flyers’ remarkable winning streak

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Power Rankings: Sharks are one player away

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We need to talk about the San Jose Sharks this week because they are looking awesome this season.

They do not have a single player in the top-20 in the league in scoring, and only one (Brent Burns) that is in the top-40. Despite that, they have seven different players that have already topped the 40-point mark this season (putting each of them on at least a 65-point pace for the season), an eighth that is already over 30 points, and then Joe Thornton casually hanging back with 26 points in only 44 games and still being a dominant one-man wrecking crew when it comes to driving possession (nearly a 60 percent Corsi rating this season).

So they are loaded at forward.

Their two Norris Trophy winning defenders in Burns and Erik Karlsson are playing at an elite level and they have at least one of them on the ice for nearly 45 minutes per night. So for more than two-thirds of the game their opponents are going up against probably one of the five-best blue-liners in the league. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic ever gets back on track and plays to his expected level the defense would look even scarier.

Overall, the Sharks enter the week with the sixth-best points percentage in the NHL (third best in the Western Conference) and look every bit like they contender we expected them to be at the start of the season.

They have almost everything they could possibly need.

The one thing they are missing? Goaltending. That has been the Achilles’ heel of this team this season as neither Martin Jones or Aaron Dell have played well at all.

Together, they have an .891 save percentage, a mark that is the third-worst in the league ahead of only the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Do you have any idea how dominant and great the rest of your team has to be to get goaltending that bad and still be one of the best teams in the league? Just look at it this way: Of the 10-worst teams in save percentage this season the Sharks are the only one that occupies a playoff spot. Among the bottom-15 teams they are one of only three that is currently in a playoff spot, joining the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, and the Canucks are a fringe team that is only really still in the race because the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field isn’t any good.

The Sharks are as good as it gets in the NHL and have everything they could possibly need to win it all except for, at the moment, a goalie. Whether it comes from Jones improving or a trade they are going to need to hope it gets figured out because that is the worst possible position to have a weakness at come playoff time.

The Sharks sit in the No. 4 spot in this week’s Power Rankings. Let us see where everyone else sits.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have cooled off the smallest bit, but until someone does something to close the gap on them even a little bit they have earned their spot at the top of the list.

2. Calgary Flames —¬†There is nothing to suggest that they are not for real. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender with an exciting young core that¬†might be around for a while.

3. Winnipeg Jets —¬†They haven’t been playing their best hockey lately, but they keep winning. That counts for something. I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while now but imagine how good they could be when Patrik Laine gets back on track

4. San Jose Sharks — Imagine how great they could be with better goaltending.

The Second Tier Elites

5. New York Islanders — They are 15-3-2 in their past 20 games! It is not always pretty, but they just keep on winning and collecting points. There is no way that Barry Trotz does not win the coach of the year at this point. There are still some red flags that exist here, but you can’t take away what they have done and the position they have put themselves in.

6. Nashville Predators — When they are healthy they are as good as it gets. Viktor Arvidsson has only played in 30 games this season and already has 21 goals. Filip Forsberg has only played in 37 games and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Keep them healthy and this team can go far.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — If you were one of the people arguing they would need to trade William Nylander for defense what was your reaction to them getting a top-pairing defender in Jake Muzzin without having to trade Nylander? Or any other key player in the organization? What a perfect fit for what the¬†maple Leafs need both this season and next season.

8. Montreal Canadiens — The surprising success of the Flames and Islanders has overshadowed the job Claude Julien has done in¬†montreal. With Carey Price starting to get back to being Carey Price this team could be a real headache for somebody in the first round of the playoffs. Or maybe the second.

Still Contenders, But Going Through a Slump

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are so laughably hot and cold this season, but when they are at their best they beat anybody as they did when they rolled over the Tampa Bay Lightning this past week. They can also lose to anybody, as their 2-6-2 record against last place teams this season reflects. They really need Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to solidify their depth, though.

10. Vegas Golden Knights — I am still pretty high on this team and think that in some ways they are a bit better than their first season. They are not as reliant on goaltending, the first line has not been as good but the improved second line makes up for it. Little bit of a slump here recently but when you have rarely struggled in your first season-and-a-half in the league it is going to stand out when you do.

11. Boston Bruins — The top of the lineup is fine and the goalies have been great, but they have got to find some scoring depth to give them a shot in the stacked Atlantic Division playoff field.

12. Washington Capitals — Losing nine out of 10 games is not something we are used to seeing from this franchise in the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era. I still think it’s just a temporary speed bump and not yet a cause for real concern.

The Bubble Teams

13. Dallas Stars — They have only allowed 14 goals in their past nine games but are still only 5-4-0 during that stretch because they can’t consistently score and have gotten next to nothing offensively after Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg during that stretch.

14. Minnesota Wild — I still don’t fully know what to make of this team. I kind of like their roster, but I also kind of don’t. They are kind of good sometimes, they are kind of not good other times. Zach Parise is having a great bounce back season, and that certainly helps given that Eric Staal has regressed a bit. They will probably make the playoffs, but they will probably not go anywhere. Actually, when you look at all of that and put it together this is the perfect Minnesota Wild season.

15. Vancouver Canucks — Let’s be honest, their current position in a playoff spot is entirely due to the mediocrity that is surrounding them in the Western Conference. That is a fact. They are not even on pace for 90 points this season. But, they are there. They are in it. And they are in it despite Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, their two best players, combining to miss 24 man-games due to injury. That has no doubt robbed them of at least a couple of points in the standings.

16. St. Louis Blues —¬†Every year we see a team that gets crushed early in the year and then plays like a contender for the last five months of the season only to fall just short because of that terrible start. This might be that team this season. But they are certainly playing well right now.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — It wasn’t that long ago that I was telling you not to sleep on the Blue Jackets this season and then … everything fell apart. They lost a bunch of games, Artemi Panarin might be on his way out, and wow did all of that escalate quickly.

[Related: Is it time for struggling Blue Jackets to make a move?]

18. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been exactly what they needed.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — If Carter Hart keeps playing like this he is going to make Flyers fans start to believe they have a goalie. Maybe they have reason to believe that. He has certainly helped them in the short-term.

20. Arizona Coyotes –– They deserve a ton of credit for hanging in this thing as long as they have given the injury situation they have had to deal with this season.

21. Florida Panthers — It is going to be intriguing to see what they can do this offseason with the newfound salary cap space they have created for themselves. Will the Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky duo be heading to Miami soon?

22. New York Rangers — They are playing hard, but the talent just isn’t there.

23. Buffalo Sabres —¬†Being just a few points out of a playoff spot is progress from where they are coming from in recent seasons. Based on where they were just a couple of months ago it is bitterly disappointing. They are fading fast and just got lit up at home by a Blackhawks team that is going nowhere this season.

24. Colorado Avalanche — One line, again,¬†can only take you so far. They are 7-15-3 in their past 25 games and falling fast in the standings. Such a promising start, too.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The Western Conference playoff field being as weak as it is creates the illusion they might still be in it, but they need to start dumping as many contracts as they can to try and still get something out of the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane era.

26. Edmonton Oilers — Five losses in a row, three of them to teams out of the playoffs. A rudderless ship going nowhere.

The Lottery Teams

27. Detroit Red Wings — With three wins in a row and five in their past seven games they clearly have not quit on the season. Just too little, too late. Do not ruin your Jack Hughes chances!

28. Los Angeles Kings — Finally, the rebuild seems to be underway.

[Related: Muzzin trade should be start of Kings’ teardown]

29. New Jersey Devils — With Taylor Hall a year away from free agency you have to wonder what his future in New Jersey is. He spent the first part of his career surrounded by nothing in Edmonton, then spent the second part of his career in a similar situation in New Jersey. Have to imagine he wants to take advantage of free agency to get to a team that won’t surround him with nothing.

30. Ottawa Senators — They¬†might get a first-round pick or two for trading¬†Matt Duchene and¬†Mark Stone, but it’s not going to be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent to Colorado to get Duchene in the first place. That is unfortunate.

31. Anaheim Ducks — I know the overall record for the season does not reflect this, and technically speaking they are still very¬†much alive in the Western Conference wild card race, but somebody needs to tell¬†me why they do not deserve the No. 31 spot this week. They have the worst goal differential in hockey at¬†minus-39. They just lost 9-3 in a game where they gave up six goals in the first 18¬†minutes. They are an abysmal possession team and get absolutely caved in when it comes to allowing shots. They are boring offensively. This team stinks. Stinks!

More: Ducks fans call for Carlyle’s firing

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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.