• NHL referee Garrett Rank qualified for the semi-final of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball golf championship. (Raleigh News & Observer)
• Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt takes a deeper look at the complicated legacy of former LA Kings owner Bruce McNally. (Sportsnet)
• Sean McIndoe gives fans of the other 29 teams a reason to cheer for Vegas or Washington. (Sportsnet)
• Devils GM Ray Shero provides an update on his off-season plans. He’s already begun thinking about signing Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to extensions, and he hasn’t had any contact with Ilya Kovalchuk. (NHL.com)
• On Monday, we linked to Part 1 of a series of articles pertaining to Joe Vitale’s battles with concussions. Here’s Part 2 of that series. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)
• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals.
A new points king, and some concerns for the Kings
With two goals on Saturday, Connor McDavid might just pull off an impressive-yet-depressing feat: winning the Art Ross Trophy and then sitting at home after his team misses the playoffs. He now has 96 points on the season, one more than Nikita Kucherov.
That nice output helped the Edmonton Oilers upset the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in regulation. With this result, the idle Anaheim Ducks hopped into the third spot in the Pacific, while wins for the Avalanche and Blues force Los Angeles out of the wild-card spots, too. More on that here.
Here’s the goal that gave McDavid the lead, at least briefly:
If nothing else, McDavid might generate two 100-point seasons in a row.
Players of the Night
Nicklas Backstrom was dishing out some great passes in Washington’s 6-4 win against Montreal. His four-assist night is quite the accomplishment, though you could argue that it isn’t all that rare for the slick Swede.
Vincent Trocheck generated a clutch performance for the Panthers, collecting two goals and an assist during a third period rally that saw them avoid being spoiled by the Arizona Coyotes. Keith Kinkaid generated back-to-back wins for the Devils, with 35 of 36 saves coming in a tight win against the Lightning. This post has more on what all of that means for the playoff races.
Alexandar Georgiev getting more reps is one of the silver linings of the Rangers roughing it through the end of the regular season. He’s now 4-3-1, yet with a strong .926 save percentage after making 43 out of 44 saves in a win against the Sabres on Saturday.
An ovation for Karlsson
The fans in Ottawa gave Erik Karlsson a heartwarming ovation during his return to the Senators lineup following the death of his infant son. Karlsson collected an assist in Ottawa’s loss.
Brenden Dillon probably gets the W in this jarringly aggressive fight, but give Garnet Hathaway credit for rallying back in the end, and merely for dropping the gloves against a larger competitor. Wow.
With points at a premium for teams in the NHL’s bubble races, sometimes it’s about digging deep … and maybe getting a bounce or two.
All four division leaders either hold huge or at least comfortable edges over their competitors through Saturday, so let’s focus on teams that are in more urgent battles for positioning, if not spots altogether.
Blues > Blue Jackets
After rattling off 10 consecutive wins, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell short against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 regulation decision. St. Louis is on a nice run of its own, as this gutsy win gives them five in a row.
Earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Golden Knights 2-1 via a shootout, so the Avalanche and Blues now hold the West’s wild-card spots. Each team could conceivably creep into the Central’s top three, yet they also don’t have a lot of room ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks. (Update: Minnesota ended up beating Nashville, widening its lead.)
Third in Central: Wild (defeats Nashville) – 92 points, 74 games, 38 ROW First WC: Avs – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW Second WC: Blues – 89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW
Update – Third in Pacific: Ducks – 89 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW Ninth place: Kings (after loss to Oilers) – 89 points, 76 GP, 39 ROW
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Gutsy wins by Devils and Panthers
For quite some time, it looked like the Arizona Coyotes might play the spoiler against the Florida Panthers.
Florida entered the third period down 2-0, but Vincent Trocheck helped them rally with two goals, pushing him to 30 on the season. Denis Malgin ended up collecting the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 win for the Panthers, who willed their way to a big win.
The New Jersey Devils probably rank as even more impressive. One night after gutting out an overtime win against the defending champion Penguins, the Devils beat the East-leading, more-rested Lightning by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall assisted on the game-winner by Kyle Palmieri after scoring in OT on Friday, while Nico Hischier had two goals in as many nights.
Keith Kinkaid was even better closing out back-to-back wins, as he stopped 35 out of 36 shots on goal against the dangerous Lightning.
With the Atlantic top three essentially locked in and the Capitals closing in on the Metropolitan Division crown, take a look at the Metro’s other two spots, the two wild-card holders, and where the Panthers rank after a busy Saturday:
East WC1: Flyers – 88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW East WC2: Devils – 86 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW
Ninth: Panthers – 83 points, 73 GP, 35 ROW
With three games in hand on the Blue Jackets and two on the other relevant Metro teams ahead of them, the Panthers are in a strong position to push their way into the postseason if they can keep things going.
Imagine how Florida felt going into the third. They lost their most recent game to Columbus by a humbling score of 4-0, and were down 2-0 with a four-game road trip looming. Saturday could have delivered a punch to the gut; instead, they kept fighting and demanded a big win.
Losing in regulation keeps Columbus from a) at least briefly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage and b) creating a meaningful cushion ahead of the bubble pack. They remain in third in the Metro even after this loss, but this one stings.
Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: Entering play on Saturday the St. Louis Blues had won just one of their past 10 games and managed to score just 14 goals during that stretch. That included three shutouts and two other games where they scored just a single goal. They put all of that behind them on Saturday afternoon by absolutely crushing the Los Angeles Kings, 7-2, to help keep their playoff hopes alive. It was a big game for Schwartz as he finished with a goal and two assists.
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto extended its home winning streak to a franchise record 10 games on Saturday night with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Frederik Andersen made 38 saves in the win while Nazem Kadri helped drive the offense with a pair of goals.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Thanks to their 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings losing to the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche were able to move back into a playoff position for the time being in the Western Conference. As usual, MacKinnon played a big part in the win by assisting on a pair of goals, giving him 49 assists and 81 total points on the season. He has only played in 60 games. That moves into fourth in the NHL in scoring. His 1.35 points per game average is tops in the NHL and would be a 110-point pace over 82 games.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Edmonton Oilers are not going anywhere this season but they still have a chance to get Connor McDavid the scoring title. He added three more points on Saturday night (two goals, an assist) in the Oilers’ 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. That gives the Oilers three consecutive wins, while McDavid has pretty much single handedly delivered each of the past two. After scoring the lone goal in regulation earlier in the week and then getting the game-winning goal in the shootout against the New York Islanders, he had a hand in three of the four goals on Saturday night including scoring the first two. He is now third in the NHL scoring race with 84 points, four behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.
Panthers win again
The Florida Panthers’ late season surge continued on Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers. Vincent Trocheck scored the winner in the shootout to help lift Florida to its 15th win in the past 19 games. The Panthers are also now on an eight-game point streak to help pull them to within two points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with still three games in hand on the second Wild Card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It also helped them keep pace with the New Jersey Devils.
Speaking of which…
Devils put an end to Predators’ winning streak
The Devils are entering a brutal stretch of games here and it started on Saturday night with a trip to Nashville to take on a Predators team that entered the night having won 10 games in a row.
After allowing a late game-tying goal to Ryan Johansen to send the game to overtime, the Devils were able to come away with two huge points in the standings and put an end to the Predators’ winning streak. Brian Boyle scored the game-winning goal in the shootout after an exciting overtime period that saw Jusse Saros and Keith Kinkaid put on a goaltending clinic. Along with the shootout winner Boyle also scored a goal during regulation.
The most bizarre part of the overtime period though was probably when the Predators were given a power play with a minute to play in the extra period and came out with a power play unit that consisted of three defenseman (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis) and one forward (Ryan Johansen).
The Predators did not score on the man advantage, sending the game to the shootout where the Devils were able to come away with the win.
Highlight of the Night
Nicklas Backstrom does not score a lot of goals with his slap shot but he scored a big one for the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon when he absolutely wired this shot by San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones. What a shot.