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The Buzzer: Schwartz helps Blues keep pace; Rinne, Rask pick up shutouts

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Three stars

1. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

There’s a real race for the third spot in the Central Division down the stretch here, with the Blues leading the Dallas Stars by two points for the spot.

Both teams won on Tuesday, and Schwartz led the way for the Blues, scoring a hat trick en route to a 7-2 thrashing of the Edmonton Oilers. Schwartz opened the game’s scoring and then scored in the second and a late third-period marker on the power play to complete his fourth career hatty.

Schwartz hasn’t had the season he would have hope after putting up 24 goals and 59 points last season. He’s now up to 10 tallies this year and 34 points after also grabbing an assist for a four-point night.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

The Predators are in tough to try and win another Central Division crown. They’re one point back of the Winnipeg Jets but the Jets have two games in hand. Basically, they need to win out and hope for some help.

Part of that help will come from within, and Rinne was on point in the crease on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, stopping all 22 shots he saw. It’s the second time this season that Rinne has blanked the Leafs.

The Preds neutered the Maple Leafs high-powered offense in this one as the Predators nursed a one-goal lead for most of the game.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

The Bruins put in a complete effort against the Islanders in this one, and Rask only saw 13 shots come his way. But he stopped all 13 to snap a two-game stretch where he was less than the stellar goaltender that he had been. And sometimes those games where you barely see action can be the hardest.

Rask now has four shutouts on the season and 25 wins. He started the season off horribly and likely would have been in the Vezina conversation if not for that. Still, a focused — and well-rested — Rask is exactly what the Bruins need heading into the playoffs.

Highlights of the night

Hurricanes go duck hunting:

Here’s how to make Seth Jones look silly:

Simmons ends drought, scores first with Predators:

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 5, Islanders 0
Red Wings 3, Rangers 2
Canadiens 3, Flyers 1
Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2 (SO)
Capitals 4, Devils 1
Blues 7, Oilers 2
Predators 3, Maple Leafs 0
Avalanche 3, Wild 1
Stars 4, Panthers 2
Flames 4, Blue Jackets 2


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

The Buzzer: Islanders reclaim top spot in Metro; Flames clinch playoff spot

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Three Stars

1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. This is the player the Philadelphia Flyers have been waiting decades for, a goalie that can be a difference-maker (for the better!) and steal them the occasional game. That is exactly what Carter Hart did on Sunday night as he stopped 41 of 42 shots he faced and gave his team a chance to score two late goals, one with 19 seconds remaining in regulation and another with three seconds remaining in overtime, to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, keeping their slim playoff hopes for at least another day. Read all about it here.

2. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders. The New York Islanders reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild. Mathew Barzal had two more assists in the win, but it was Brock Nelson that gets the star in this one for his two points, including the overtime winner. He is now up to 47 points on the season, setting a new career-high with still 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule.

3. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche have no margin for error the rest of the way and need to win as many games as possible if they are going to get back into a playoff position. Sunday’s 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils was a good place to start with Tyson Barrie’s two goals leading the way. He is now up to nine goals on the season and is just one goal away from what would be his fifth season with double-digit goals. There are only 17 active defenders in the NHL with at least that many in their career.

Other notable performances and notes from Sunday

  • Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals to help the Vegas Golden Knights keep rolling in a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Read all about it here.
  • Entering play on Sunday Vancouver Canucks forward Tim Schaller had appeared in 37 games this season without scoring a goal. He scored two in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Alex Nylander had a pair of assists to help the Buffalo Sabres pick up a 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.
  • Jakob Silfverberg‘s late third period goal was the difference in the Anaheim Ducks’ 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Not getting a point might be enough to put an end to the Panthers’ playoff chances.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin on a week-to-week basis due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Carter Hart was the star of the game for the Philadelphia Flyers in their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Sean Couturier made the play of the game to score the game-winning goal with just three seconds to play in overtime.

The Minnesota Wild did not get the result they wanted, but they were still able to get at least one point on Sunday night thanks in large part to this incredible goal from Zach Parise.

Tyson Barrie provided enough offense for the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon and Philip Grubauer stopped all 22 shots he faced to help their team get two important points to keep them in pursuit of a playoff spot. This is Grubauer’s best save of the day.

Factoids

  • The Calgary Flames did not even play on Sunday night but they still became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference thanks to the Minnesota Wild’s overtime loss to the New York Islanders. [Calgary Flames]
  • It came in a losing effort, but Connor McDavid is the first player since Vincent Lecavalier to record multiple points in at least eight consecutive games since Vincent Lecavalier in 2007. [NHL PR]
  • The Minnesota Wild have lost six of their past seven games that have gone to overtime or shootout. Those are big points to leave on the table, especially considering they are just one point out of a playoff spot as of this posting. [Michael Russo]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 3, New Jersey Devils 0

Buffalo Sabres 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Dallas Stars 2 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

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: Can Panthers pull off the impossible?

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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.’

We can agree to file this one under ‘Long Shots,’ but the Florida Panthers have a spark at the moment.

Yes, they are eight points back. Yes, that’s a pile of points to overcome in 11 remaining games. Yes, their odds resemble that of a snowball’s chance in hell (Hockey Reference currently has them at a 2.7 percent chance to play an 83rd game this season). But if the Philadelphia Flyers are still getting some playoff love, putting the Panthers — winners of four straight heading into Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks — in the same conversation is perfectly acceptable.

And they’re playing the Ducks on Sunday, so if they keep it simple, there are another two points to be bagged and a deficit to be decreased. With a game in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets, a win could quickly shift to six points — a number that at least appears more manageable.

“We’re not dead yet, and we can make things interesting,” Florida coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com after Saturday’s win. “We’ve just got to keep on winning, and tomorrow is another big day for us.”

Sam Montembeault has come out of nowhere and has been a revelation in his short time in the Panthers crease, winning his past four starts and beginning his life in the NHL with a 4-0-1 record. Perhaps we have another Jordan Binnington story right before the season ends?

Aleksander Barkov has been flying, scoring twice and adding nine assists in a five-game point streak. He’s got a career-high 81 points now.

With the Montreal Canadiens fluttering, and the Jekyll and Hyde Blue Jackets unsure what they want, the time is now for a team seemingly out of it to take charge. Florida’s going to need a season-long — and a perhaps franchise-record — win streak to get the job done. And that’s what makes this time of the year so much fun.

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Devils vs. Avalanche (3 p.m. ET)
Blues vs. Sabres (5 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Wild (6 p.m. ET)
Canucks vs. Stars (7 p.m. ET)
Flyers vs. Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)
Panthers vs. Ducks (9 p.m. ET)
Oilers vs. Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Calgary Flames, who are idle, can clinch a playoff berth if:

* The Minnesota Wild lose in any fashion to the New York Islanders

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.8 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Islanders — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 98.2 percent
Hurricanes — 93.6 percent
Blue Jackets — 80.3 percent
Canadiens — 23.7 percent
Panthers — 2.7 percent
Flyers — 2.1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Out
Red Wings — Out
Senators — Out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Jets — 100 percent
Flames — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.9 percent
Golden Knights — 99.4 percent
Blues — 97.4 percent
Stars — 89.9 percent
Coyotes — 55.1 percent
Wild — 32.4 percent
Blackhawks — 12.9 percent
Avalanche — 9.1 percent
Oilers — 3.5 percent
Canucks — 0.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Canucks — 7.5 percent
Rangers — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Avalanche — 3.5 percent
Blackhawks — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*Senators pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lighting — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 103 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 99 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals


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

Mike Hoffman just had to have banner mocking his ‘hours’ with Sharks

via Mike Hoffman on Twitter
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Every now and then, a player will “join” a team via a trade, only to never play a game with that team before being traded again.

It’s part of the process during three-team trades, whether they’re official or unofficial, so that was the case with Mike Hoffman and the San Jose Sharks. For a few hours, he was a “member” of the team after Sharks sent very little to the Ottawa Senators in a trade for Hoffman, only for the Sharks to flip Hoffman to the Florida Panthers.

You’d imagine that there’s no animosity on either side, as that trade allowed the Sharks to get out of Mikkel Boedker‘s problem contract.

For many, it was a mere transactional curiosity, something that would inspire a few “Oh yeah, that happened,” type responses.

Yet, for a group of Sharks fans, Hoffman’s “return” to San Jose provided an opportunity for trolling at such a level that even Hoffman approved. Teal City Crew, a “fan-driven supporter club of the Sharks” located in section 218, decided to create a banner honoring Hoffman’s mere hours with the Sharks.

It was very good, so good that Hoffman had to have it for himself.

Hoffman apparently had those fans invited to Panthers practice on Friday, so he could collect that “keepsake.”

As isolated and unusual as the situation is, it does bring some other recent events to mind.

Good-natured trolling: Sidney Crosby was so amused by the laser-precise heckling of a New York Rangers fan, that he made sure that fan received a customized, autographed stick.

Grief for banners: Perhaps the widespread mockery the Nashville Predators received for putting up banners for smaller accomplishments provided some inspiration, too?

[When should your team hang a banner?]

With any random scroll on social media, you face uncomfortably high odds of seeing something terrible. If you follow a lot of sports fans and figures, sometimes things go too far when a player has a tough game.

So, while these gestures seem minor, it’s pretty refreshing to see such friendly interactions between players and fans of rival teams.

Hot take: being nice is even more underrated than Mike Hoffman.

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.

Push for the Playoffs: Jets looking to add some cushion to Central Division lead

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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.

The lead for the Central Division has flip-flopped back and forth lately, but the Winnipeg Jets can begin to distance themselves from the Nashville Predators with a win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

Winnipeg holds three games in hand over the Predators and a one-point lead in the Central. With Nashville dropping a 5-3 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (a team the Jets walloped 8-1 the night before), the Jets can add a bit of cushioning to their lead with a win.

Neither team has looked like it’s wanted to take the bull by the horns. Winnipeg has just four wins in their past 10 games and Nashville has only done one better. St. Louis, whose charge has put them in third place, have also cooled off (although they have two games in hand on the Predators and are four points back of Nashville, with both teams level on ROWs).

Winnipeg’s offensive onslaught on Friday night in Raleigh was a game Jets fans were wondering had gone. The once dominant Jets have hit a snag recent weeks, but are now winners of three of their past four games. Patrik Laine has found his game again and Blake Wheeler has traded his assist stick in for a goalscorer’s one.

Winnipeg’s strength of schedule is one of the worst down the stretch. This week alone, the Jets play Washington today, San Jose Tuesday, Boston on Thursday and Calgary Saturday. Every one of those teams is in a high-ranked playoff position.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

Eastern Conference
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Red Wings vs. Panthers (5 p.m. ET)
Jets vs. Capitals (7 p.m. ET)
Bruins vs. Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET — WATCH LIVE on NBCSN)
Golden Knights vs. Flames (9:30 p.m. ET)
Kings vs. Ducks (10 p.m. ET — WATCH LIVE on NBCSN)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Tampa Bay Lightning — Clinched
Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Washington Capitals — 99.4 percent
New York Islanders — 98.9 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 94.2 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 88.7 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 68.1 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 44.1 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 5.8 percent
Florida Panthers — 0.6 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 0.3 percent
New York Rangers — 0.0 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 0.0 percent
New Jersey Devils — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out

Western Conference

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Calgary Flames — 100 percent
San Jose Sharks — 100 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 100 percent
Nashville Predators — 99.5 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 98.9 percent
St. Louis Blues — 98.6 percent
Dallas Stars — 80.2 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 44.5 percent
Minnesota Wild — 40.2 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 34.3 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 2 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 1.7 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 0.2 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 0.0 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 0.0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Ottawa Senators — 18.5 percent*
Los Angeles Kings — 13.5 percent
Detroit Red Wings — 11.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 7.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6.5 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 6 percent
New York Rangers — 5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 3.5 percent
Florida Panthers — 3 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 2.5 percent
Minnesota Wild — 2 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 1.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 1 percent

(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 110 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 97 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 96 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 87 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — 87 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 40 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 38 goals


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