PHT Morning Skate: Kempny trade pays off for Caps; Chara goes back to school

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Capitals’ acquisition of Michal Kempny flew under the radar when it went down, but it might become one of the best value trades in NHL history. (TSN.ca)

• Health Canada has recalled a bunch of Ottawa Senators onesies because they were deemed a choking risk. The jokes could write themselves. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Amanda Kessel has signed a contract with the Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL. (The Ice Garden)

Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban and a few other athletes took a week-long class at Harvard. (NHL.com/Bruins)

• The Rat Trick argues that Vincent Trocheck should be the next captain of the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

• 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.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid passes Kucherov

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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.

Courageous fight

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.

Highlights

Leafs great Borje Salming enjoyed himself during Toronto’s win, including this patently weird moment.

Fantastic save by Jake Allen, who helped the Blues thwart the Blue Jackets in a big game.

Carl Soderberg finished quite the sequence for Colorado’s only actual goal before the Avs edged Vegas in a shootout.

More Factoids

Year after year, Bruce Boudreau churns out regular-season wins. Maybe one of these days he’ll enjoy more postseason success? (It certainly wouldn’t be easy this year, but still.)

Clayton Keller might need to practice Teemu Selanne’s sniping goal celebration at this rate.

Not bad for a team that’s been without Auston Matthews for big chunk of the season.

Scores

Avalanche 2, Golden Knights 1 (SO)
Sharks 5, Flames 1
Maple Leafs 4, Red Wings 3
Capitals 6, Canadiens 4
Hurricanes 5, Senators 2
Panthers 4, Coyotes 2
Devils 2, Lightning 1
Blackhawks 3, Islanders 1
Rangers 5, Sabres 1
Blues 2, Blue Jackets 1
Wild 4, Predators 1
Oilers 3, Kings 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.

NHL Playoff Races: Blues end Blue Jackets’ run at 10

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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.

Jake Allen ended up winning a goaltending duel with Sergei Bobrovsky, as Allen turned aside 33 out of 34 shots on goal. Vladimir Tarsenko scored a very “Vladimir Tarasenko” goal as the decisive tally:

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:

METRO2: Penguins – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
METRO3: CBJ – 89 points, 76 GP, 36 ROW

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.

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.

Bruins’ Backes risks suspension with hit on Trocheck, Matheson fight

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In just his second game back for the Boston Bruins after being suspended for an awkward hit on Frans Nielsen, David Backes is at risk of another brush with the Department of Player Safety.

Backes was ejected from Thursday’s Bruins game against the Florida Panthers after a hit on Vincent Trocheck, which inspired an immediate response in the form of a fight with Mike Matheson.

As with many hits, this one is inspiring disagreements about the hit. On one side, some believe that Trocheck placed himself in a vulnerable position and likely don’t expect anything further:

Either way, if the Bruins want to rally for a comeback against the Panthers, they’ll need to so without Backes.

UPDATE:

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: Panthers keep rolling, Devils end Preds’ win streak

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Player(s) of the Night

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.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: No Patrice Bergeron? No Charlie McAvoy? No big deal for the Boston Bruins. They won their sixth game in a row on Saturday afternoon and continued to put up huge offensive numbers without two of their best players. Krejci had a huge game for the Bruins on Saturday with two goals in the 7-4 win.

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.

That would be the only goal the Capitals would need in a 2-0 win to move back into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Factoid of the Night

Another milestone for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights thanks to their 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon. What a season. What a story.

Scores

Vegas Golden Knights 2, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Winnipeg Jets 1

Colorado Avalanche 5, Arizona Coyotes 2

St. Louis Blues 7, Los Angeles Kings 2

Washington Capitals 2, San Jose Sharks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3

New Jersey Devils 3, Nashville Predators 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, Minnesota Wild 1

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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.