Alain Vigneault

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers scores his fifth goal of the game in overtime
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The Buzzer: Zibanejad stars on Broadway; Blackhawks remain in playoff race

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Three Stars

1) Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

The 26-year-old scored five times as the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals in overtime, 6-5. Zibanejad is the first NHL player to score five goals and the game-winning goal in overtime since Sergei Fedorov on Dec. 26, 1996. The alternate captain joined Don Murdoch and Mark Pavelich as the only players in franchise history to score five times in a single game. Zibanejad established himself as a top-line NHL center last season with a breakout campaign but reached new heights this year with 38 goals and 33 assists. The Blueshirts trail the New York Islanders by two points for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race but have played one additional game.

2) Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

Only four points separate six teams within striking distance of the wild card spots in the Western Conference. DeBrincat scored twice as the Blackhawks defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 at the United Center Thursday and extended their winning streak to four games. DeBrincat lit the lamp twice in the second period as Chicago pulled away from Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl recorded two assists in his Hart Trophy campaign.

3) Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers

It takes time for an NHL coach to implement his system in his first year with a new club, but AV has quietly led the Flyers to a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 15 games remaining in the season. Philadelphia has recently climbed the standings and are in position to earn home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vigneault helped the Flyers move past an emotional win against the Capitals Wednesday and extend their winning streak to eight games with a 4-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Highlights of the Night

Artemi Panarin delivered a sensational stretch pass as Zibanejad closed out the Capitals with the overtime winner.

Patric Hornqvist converted a spinning backhanded shot to record his first of two goals in the Penguins’ 4-2 win against the Sabres.

Patrick Kane netted his 30th of the season with this sharp-angled shot in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 win against the Oilers.

Brady Tkachuk looked off a defender before firing this short-side snipe as the Senators defeated the Islanders, 4-3.

Ivan Provorov scored for the second straight game as the Flyers tied the Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Torey Krug launched a slap shot in overtime to propel the Bruins to their fourth straight win.

Push for the Playoffs

Stat of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Montreal Canadiens 0

Boston Bruins 2, Florida Panthers 1 (OT)

New York Rangers 6. Washington Capitals 5 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Ottawa Senators 4, New York Islanders 3

Nashville Predators 2, Dallas Stars 0

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Edmonton Oilers 3

Los Angeles Kings 1, Toronto Maple Leafs (SO)

Minnesota Wild 3, San Jose Sharks 2


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

Streaking Flyers closing in on Metro lead

Travis Konecny #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores a goal
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The Philadelphia Flyers moved within one point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals Wednesday.

Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov each had a goal and an assist as the Flyers won their seventh straight game. Brian Elliott made 25 saves and picked up his second win this season against the Capitals. Travis Konecny, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton also scored for Philadelphia.

James van Riemsdyk left in the first period after blocking a shot with his right hand and did not return

“I’m not sure the severity of it,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the win. “There are different breaks but he took that shot right on the tip there. I’ll find out tomorrow (Thursday) for how long.”

Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored, but Washington fell for the second time in the previous three games. Four points separate the top three teams in the Metro and a slump could cost the Capitals, Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Provorov sealed the victory for the Flyers with a wicked wrist shot that sailed past the glove of Braden Holtby in the third period. Jakub Voracek patiently waited at the blueline until the young defenseman was able to join the rush and gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead. Philadelphia leads the NHL with 43 goals scored by defensemen this season.

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period with consecutive goals by Konecny and Hayes.

Konecny converted on the power play shortly after one of his attempts was waived off following a video review. Provorov took a shot from the point that Holtby couldn’t control and Konecny buried the rebound.

Hayes expanded the Flyers lead when Derek Grant wisely kicked a fluttering puck toward the other side of the crease for the tall center to finish. It was the 23rd goal and 40th point of the season for Hayes, his first with Philadelphia after signing a lucrative seven-year deal this summer.

Eller opened the scoring for Washington with a skillful backhand-forehand combination at 14:09 of the first period. Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin assisted on the play.

Hathaway helped the Capitals cut the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 with a bar-down wrister from just above the crease in the second period.


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

NHL on NBC: Flyers look to remain red-hot vs. Rangers

Flyers red-hot in 2020 Rangers preview
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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For most of 2019-20, it looked like the Flyers would battle for a wild-card spot. Following some recent red-hot play, the Flyers might be able to aim even higher. Beating the Rangers on NBC on Sunday could strengthen their unlikely hold on the second seed in the Metro.

Could the Flyers actually pull this off against the plummeting Penguins? Such a thought is increasingly reasonable as Philly is in the middle of a five-game winning streak (while Pittsburgh lost its sixth in a row on Saturday).

Even if the Flyers merely settle for getting back in the playoffs, they’re looking more and more like a tough out.

More on the Flyers being red-hot for most of 2020

Most obviously, the Flyers hope to improve upon what is currently a five-game winning streak. Jakub Voracek reflected on Philly’s hot ways after collecting four assists in the Flyers’ 5-2 Friday victory against these same Rangers.

“We’re not there yet, but I think if we’re going to continue to play the way we do, we can make a run,” Voracek said, via Dan Rosen of NHL.com. ” … Everything has to be clicking. It’s clicking right now. We just have to make sure it’s clicking in a month and a half.”

The Flyers’ winning streak only begins to explain how red-hot they are. Since Jan. 8, the Flyers boast an impressive 15-5-1 record, outscoring opponents 77-53.

Gaining at least one round of home-ice advantage could be a real boon for this team, in particular. The Flyers are scary at home (23-5-4) while being merely middling on the road (14-15-3) so far this season.

Carter Hart probably displays the most dramatic disparity. The 21-year-old looks all-world at home in 2019-20, going 18-2-2 with an outstanding .941 save percentage. On the road, he turns into a sub-backup pumpkin (3-10-1, .855).

One would assume that some of those numbers are coincidental … but maybe a quirky trend could perpetuate itself? For all we know, the difference between the Flyers winning or losing a close potential playoff series could come down to who was at home in a Game 7.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

Outlasting opponents

An 82-game NHL regular season is a serious grind. Smarter teams should find ways to preserve players — particularly prominent ones — for playoff battles and other bigger games.

It sounds like Flyers coach Alain Vigneault is paying such arguments some mind. James van Riemsdyk mentioned that he’s felt fresher than he has in years, as this great in-depth feature from NBC Sports Philadelphia notes.

Combining that “sports science stuff” with possibly possessing better skaters might explain the Flyers’ recent surge, not to mention how strong they are at closing out games. That NBC Sports Philadelphia piece points out that the Flyers have generated 79 third-period goals, managing a +25 differential.

“I think the way we skate. I think we’re skating really good and that’s why we’re winning a lot of games because we outskate the other teams,” Voracek said on Thursday. “The starts are so-so, the first periods are so-so, the other teams have a lot of energy, but the second and third periods, I think we’ve been really strong all season long.

“That’s really important for us, when it’s going down to the wire, we can be confident about winning the game.”

A hard-skating, open-minded team that’s hard to beat at home? The Flyers are sounding more and more like an opponent others want to avoid. We’ll see if that pattern holds against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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.

Flyers keep confident as playoff push continues

WASHINGTON – How will we respond? That was the message in the Flyers locker room on Saturday as they again found themselves in a critical position against the Capitals.

After falling 5-0 to the Devils on Thursday, Philadelphia seized the opportunity to not only rebound from one of the toughest losses of the season, but to continue their playoff push and keep momentum alive.

“There’s not much to say. When you get to this level, you should know when you have one bad loss, you need to regroup and get back to it,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We talked about coming out of bye week, if we lose one, we need to regroup and get the next one, so hopefully it’s something we’re going to do for the rest of the year.”

It’s that mentality that helped the Flyers pull together one of their best overall performances. They dominated Washington at both ends of the ice en route to a commanding 7-2 victory to tie the Hurricanes for the second wild card spot in the East.

Their play was evident of a team that could pose a major threat come April. The Flyers dominated in the face-off circle, winning over 70 percent of their draws, while they also got key performances from critical players – most notable Giroux, who was able to end a four-game scoreless drought, notch his first goal since Jan. 2 and register his 800th career point with a goal and two assists.

[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]

“The win feels the best… and I haven’t been playing that great lately,” Giroux admitted. “t’s good to be able to contribute to a team win and we have to keep it going here.”

Beyond their stars, though, they also got a strong offensive performance from all four lines, from Sean Couturier’s two goals to a Gordie Howe hat trick for Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

Even more impressive was the defense. In his return to Washington since being traded to Philadelphia in the offseason, Matt Niskanen and Robert Hagg – who led the team with four blocked shots — helped lead the blue line put together a wall that shut down Alex Ovechkin, who was held at bay as he approaches 700 career goals, and kept Washington scoreless on three of four power play opportunities.

Brian Elliott also had another strong showing in net, stopping 25 of 27 shots for his third win in five games.

“Really proud of the guys. I think we approached it the exact right way that we needed to,” Niskanen said. “We acknowledged how embarrassing and how bad we were the other night and brought one of our best efforts of the season… that’s a good sign that we have a lot of character in here and something to build on.”

“You’re going to have a game now and then where it doesn’t go your way, you have a stinker – whatever it is – but if you can bounce back and get a couple wins the next time out, that’s a good quality.”

Although the Flyers are tied with Carolina in the standings, the Hurricanes currently hold the tiebreaker, meaning Philly is still looking from the outside in and can’t afford to slow down, with the division race tight and the wild card race even tighter.

“[This] was important… this time of year, you really can’t lose two, three in a row,” Couturier said.

“It’s Saturday night in a tough rink, and we wanted to bring it. I thought we came [to D.C.] with our A-game, you could tell everybody was into it right away,” Elliott added. “That’s what we want to bring every night. It’s tough in an 82-game schedule, but these are the types of games and this time of year that you need to bring it.”

Heading into another tough matchup on Monday against the Panthers – who are in a major playoff push of their own – the Flyers’ mentality stays the same as they look to not only collect points, but maintain the same play and success they’ve shown against top teams so far this season.

“We’re a good team. This is a tough league and there are no bad teams and everybody works hard and everybody prepares,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were fortunate we capitalized on some of our looks and got a big game from Giroux and Couturier, so [we’ll] build off that.”

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Sammi Silber is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @sammisilber.

Flyers blank Penguins, keep pace in playoff race

The Flyers need to make the most of each game to stay in the playoff race. Philadelphia’s 3-0 win against the Penguins wasn’t pretty — except where it needed to be.

Flyers hang in the playoff race

Actually, from a defensive standpoint, it was pristine. Brian Elliott only needed to make 19 saves for his first shutout of 2019-20. The Flyers asserted overall, generating a 30-19 shots on goal advantage.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed just three SOG in this one. Both teams eye the All-Star break, so maybe there was the hockey equivalent of “Senioritis.” Philly hit the books enough to get the shutout, though.

An empty-net goal exaggerated the score, but 3-0 felt fitting for how well Philadelphia played. Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk scored all of the goals the Flyers needed, while Justin Braun iced it with the ENG.

The Flyers improved their record to 27-17-6 (60 standings points in 50 games played). The bad news is that, if the playoffs began today, the Flyers would be out. The better news is that Philly didn’t lose ground in what could be tight races for the final East wild-card spots. The Hurricanes won their Tuesday game, so Philly risked losing ground:

Flyers playoff race
via NHL.com

Flyers, Penguins have been playing well lately

Again, the Penguins failed to impress in this one. They were the schoolkids staring at the clock at the end of class.

The Flyers earned this win, even if it was the equivalent to providing a boring lecture (or clogging passing lanes). Alain Vigneault’s group won four of its last five games.

Overall, the Penguins have been loading up points. This loss ended a two-game winning streak, and Pittsburgh is now 6-2-0 in its last eight.

The Penguins and Flyers meet again in Pittsburgh when their schedules resume. Maybe they’ll have to share reports about how they spent their All-Star breaks/summer vacations?

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.