The Buzzer: Golden Knights first to clinch, more from Wednesday in NHL

3 Stars for Wednesday in the NHL

1. Jonathan Marchessault, Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights became the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot in 2020-21 on Wednesday, and Jonathan Marchessault was a big part of that. (This also represented the Golden Knights’ eighth win in a row. They’re pretty good.)

Heading into Wednesday’s NHL action, Marchessault was pretty cold. The often-trigger-happy forward wasn’t shooting that often, firing a single shot on goal in each of his past two games (both without points). He also hadn’t scored a goal in his past five games, settling for an assist during that span.

Marchessault broke through in this one, though. He scored two goals and two assists for the second four-point night of his career. Marchessault attempted to make it a hat trick with an empty-netter, but ended up assisting on Mattias Janmark‘s first goal with Vegas.

Along with those four points, Marchessault ended the night with five SOG, one hit, and a +4 rating.

2. Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild

If you look at the 4-1 score, you might think that the Wild dominated the Coyotes as part of Wednesday’s NHL action. Cam Talbot’s play explained why this wasn’t a closer game, if not a Coyotes win.

Arizona fired 40 shots on goal, but only beat Cam Talbot once. Even then, Christian Dvorak scored on the power play, so Talbot was perfect at even-strength.

You have to wonder if Talbot’s already-strong season would be more impressive if he’d been able to stay healthy. After this strong win, Talbot is now 15-6-3 with a sparkling .925 save percentage.

During his past 13 games, Talbot’s only lost once during regulation (10-1-2). Many nights, the Wild make life relatively easy for their goalies, Talbot included. Here, Talbot was clearly a difference-maker.

3. Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks

After falling behind 4-1, the Blackhawks finally notched a win against the Predators this season. Brandon Hagel and Malcolm Subban (36 saves) made the biggest difference in what was a stunner for the NHL on Wednesday.

Hagel scored the overtime game-winner, capping a night where he already generated two assists. With that three-point burst, Hagel continues to heat up, as he now has five points (2G, 3A) in his past four games.

Through 43 games with the Blackhawks this season, Hagel now has a solid 19 points.

Although Subban allowed four goals, it’s tough to beat him up too much for any of them. He now sports a .911 save percentage, making Subban the less dramatic pleasant Blackhawks surprise in net. This isn’t Kevin Lankinen-level stuff, but it would be nice if Subban could establish himself as a reliable NHL backup.

Habs – Oilers almost produced top stars for Wednesday in the NHL. If Josh Anderson‘s stick didn’t break, he likely would’ve scored an empty-netter to nab a hat trick. Connor McDavid and the Oilers almost pulled off a Blackhawks-like rally against Anderson’s Canadiens, as McDavid generated three points. But it wasn’t quite enough, and Hagel scored an OTGWG, so Hagel gets the nod.

Highlights of the night for Wednesday in the NHL

Watch that Hagel OTGWG and that staggering Blackhawks comeback via these extended highlights:

Both Nico Sturm‘s sauce pass and Kevin Fiala‘s slick finish make this a very pretty goal:

Stat of the Night: Another Marleau milestone

It won’t top breaking Gordie Howe’s games played record, but Patrick Marleau played in his 900th consecutive game, joining a rare “Ironman” club.

[Stunning numbers on Marleau breaking Gordie Howe’s games played record]

Wednesday’s NHL scores

Blackhawks 5, Predators 4 (OT)
Wild 4, Coyotes 1
Golden Knights 5, Sharks 2
Canadiens 4, Oilers 3

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: Knight wins debut; Beauvillier breaks out (Tuesday in NHL)

3 Stars for Tuesday in the NHL

1. Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

Anthony Beauvillier headed into Tuesday’s NHL action ice-cold. He was on a five-game pointless streak. The Islanders forward also hadn’t scored a goal in seven straight games, managing a single assist during that span. Well, Beauvillier made up for lost time.

In the Islanders’ dominant win over the Rangers, Beauvillier scored a goal and three assists for four points. He scored on his only shot on goal, and registered a +3 rating in 16:14 TOI.

With that four-point outburst, Beauvillier’s now scoring about a point every two games (19 in 37). It’s a step back from last season (18 goals, 39 points in just 68 games), but if he can really get rolling, the already-formidable Islanders get that much scarier.

Naturally, with six goals scored, other Islanders contributed alongside Beauvillier. Josh Bailey enjoyed almost as strong an output, collecting two goals and one assist. Jordan Eberle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau generated one-goal, one-assist nights.

2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Thanks mostly to injuries, it’s been a bumpy 2020-21 season for Tuukka Rask. (On the bright side, the Bruins might have unearthed a goalie option for the future in Rask’s absence.)

Like the Bruins, Rask has been heating up lately. On the way to producing the highlight of Tuesday night in the NHL, Rask pitched a 32-save shutout. That’s his first shutout of the season, extending his win streak to three in a row.

Since the full Bruins – Sabres highlights will be spliced in below, enjoy Rask’s brilliant sequence of saves in GIF form, too:

3. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

They did it again.

The Canucks were supposed to struggle after a lengthy COVID disruption. That seemed like a particularly good bet against the North-leading Toronto Maple Leafs.

Then again, considering how strange things always seem to follow those Buds, maybe we should’ve expected this development?

This time, the Canucks didn’t need a Bo Horvat overtime-winner to take this one. (They did get a pretty keyed-in Braden Holtby, though.) Hughes scored a goal and two assists, while Tanner Pearson collected two goals on a rough night for Toronto netminding. More on that soon …

There are plenty of honorable mentions, and you could argue they deserve the nod over Hughes. This one stands out the most, at least from a storytelling perspective (sorry, Andreas Athanasiou, but here’s hoping those flashes of offense help you to raise your profile).

Knight bright in NHL debut as Panthers win

Being that the Panthers scored five goals, they probably didn’t need Spencer Knight to be brilliant in his NHL debut. Knight was, though, stopping 33 out of 34 shots.

He wasn’t alone, as Jonathan Huberdeau collected three points (2G, 1A) in a lopsided win for Florida.

The league points out that Knight is the first goalie born in the 2000s to play an NHL game, so such goalies are now undefeated.

(You can consider Spencer Knight one of the three stars for Tuesday in the NHL, really, but it’s fancier to give him his own section.)

Highlights of the night for Tuesday in the NHL

The Bruins clogged things up for the Sabres to the point that there were only so many highlights beyond Rask’s save. But, hey, you get multiple angles if you watch the video. That’s cool, right?

Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust combined for a goal as pretty as the Penguins’ third period (six goals allowed against Devils) wasn’t:

Stats of the Night

It was not a great night for “Big Save” Dave Rittich. Despite heavy 2021 NHL Trade Deadline investments, Toronto’s goaltending struggles continue.

Speaking of the Penguins winning despite that awful third period …

Tuesday’s NHL scores

Bruins 2, Sabres 0
Islanders 6, Rangers 1
Hurricanes 4, Lightning 1
Panthers 5, Blue Jackets 1
Penguins 7, Devils 6
Stars 5, Red Wings 2
Canucks 6, Maple Leafs 3
Kings 4, Ducks 1

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 stay hot vs. Sabres, have a shot at moving up in East Division

The Bruins have been hot lately, and one thing that makes that more impressive is that they beat the Capitals and Islanders along the way. Now the Bruins can continue their push for East Division positioning by beating the lowly (if recently more energetic) Sabres 2-0. The Bruins took care of the first of a three-game set of games against the Sabres, winning on Tuesday.

Early on, the Sabres put up a pretty good fight vs. the Bruins. Boston kept Buffalo off the board after the first period, taking a 1-0 lead. Following a scrambly 2-0 goal, the Sabres were mainly quiet against the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask‘s save was probably the highlight of the night:

Rask ended up pitching a 32-save shutout, his first goose egg of the season.

Bruins beat Sabres, have a shot at improving East Division position

With Tuesday’s win over the Sabres, the Bruins improved to 26-12-6 for 58 points in 44 games played. While the Bruins remain in fourth place in the East Division after that win, games in hand advantages open up the possibility for upward movement.

East Division standings update

Capitals (idle): 29-13-4, 62 points in 46 games played
Islanders (beat): 28-13-4, 62 points in 46 GP
Penguins: (won vs. Devils despite strangely terrible third period): 29-14-3, 61 points in 46 GP
Bruins (beat Sabres): 26-12-6, 58 points in 44 GP

Beyond a looming back-to-back set on Thursday and Friday, the Bruins also take on the Sabres on April 13, and close the season series vs. Buffalo on April 29 and May 1.

Generally speaking, the Bruins don’t have a ton of games left against East Division teams above them. They’re scheduled to face the Penguins two more times, then close out 2020-21 with one game apiece vs. the Capitals and Islanders.

Boston’s seeding will then rely on: a) taking care of business vs. teams outside the playoff picture and b) the Islanders, Penguins, and/or Capitals not catching fire.

This win isn’t a huge part of Boston moving up, but grinding these out will ultimately be important as things wind down.

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.

Canadiens’ Carey Price placed in concussion protocol, out at least a week

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price will miss at least the next week after being placed in concussion protocol, according to interim head coach Dominique Ducharme

Price was injured in the first period of Montreal’s 4-1 defeat to the Oilers Monday night. He collided with Oilers’ forward Alex Chiasson and did not return for the start of the second.

“Sometimes symptoms can come a little bit after,” Ducharme said Tuesday. “So I cannot tell you exactly when he started to feel bad. I’m sure if it would have been, he would have told us. I think when he got off the ice [Monday] and sat down in the locker room and then he had to go see the therapist and started to feel bad, then they came to see me.”

Price had just returned to the Canadiens’ lineup on Saturday after missing six games due to a lower-body injury.

“Obviously unintentional,” Chiasson said afterward. “To be honest, I kinda read the play wrong a little bit. I apologized to him afterwards. He kinda realized it wasn’t my intention. I hope he’s alright.”

Montreal and Edmonton play again Wednesday night. The Canadiens finish up a five-game road trip with three against the Flames. Jake Allen will take over No. 1 duties in Price’s absence with Cayden Primeau backing up.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Push for the Playoffs: Hurricanes could get boost with Teräväinen return

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 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.

Teuvo Teräväinen is inching closer to a return to the Hurricanes’ lineup as he recovers from a concussion that he’s been dealing with for two months.

Teräväinen has played once since Feb. 19, but joined the team for practice on Friday — an encouraging sign that a comeback is in the offing. Carolina opened a six-game road trip Monday with an overtime loss to the Lightning. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour is hoping that Teravainen could return while they’re away from PNC Arena.

“Not sure. I hope so,” he said. “Just waiting on him to say, ‘Book me in,’ and then he’ll go in. Positive side is that he’s at least practicing with us so he’s part of the group now. Hopefully he’ll get the bug and feel good and he’ll get in there.”

Teräväinen opened the season by testing positive for COVID-19, then took a hit from Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zadorov on Feb. 19 causing him to miss seven games. He last played March 4.

Since Teräväinen has been skating now for a few weeks, whether he’s back playing will be up to him and how he feels at this point. He’s played 13 of Carolina’s 44 games this season and if he recovers 100% could be a key addition as the Hurricanes battle with the Lightning and Panthers for the top spot in the Central Division.

Entering play on Tuesday, Carolina and Florida are tied atop the division with 63 points with Tampa right behind them with 62. The Hurricanes currently have the edge via points percentage (.716) as they have 12 games to play.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

EAST DIVISION
1. Capitals vs. 4. Bruins
2. Islanders vs. 3. Penguins

NORTH DIVISION
1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Jets vs. 3. Oilers

WEST DIVISION
1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Coyotes
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

(NOTE: St. Louis currently holds a better points percentage than Arizona — .512 to .489.)

CENTRAL DIVISION
1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3. Lightning

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville — .545 to .543.)

TODAY’S KEY GAMES
Rangers vs. Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Hurricanes vs. Lightning, 7 p.m. ET
Maple Leafs vs. Canucks, 9 p.m. ET

TUESDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO
The Golden Knights can become the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot if the Ducks top the Kings in regulation.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Capitals – 98.4%
Penguins – 97%
Islanders – 92.9%
Bruins – 90%
Rangers – 21.3%
Flyers – 0.4%
Devils – 0%
Sabres – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – 100%
Jets – 99.93%
Oilers – 99.7%
Canadiens – 81.6%
Flames – 13%
Canucks – 5.7%
Senators – 0%

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – 100%
Lightning – 99.99%
Panthers – 99.99%
Stars – 49.6%
Predators – 44.3%
Blackhawks – 6.1%
Blue Jackets – 0%
Red Wings – 0%

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Avalanche – 100%
Golden Knights – 100%
Wild – 100%
Blues – 42.7%
Coyotes – 34.4%
Kings – 12.5%
Sharks – 10.4%
Ducks – 0%

draft lottery
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 17.2%
Ducks – 11.4%
Devils – 9.9%
Senators – 9.8%
Blue Jackets – 9.3%
Red Wings – 9%
Kings – 5.3%
Sharks – 5.2%
Canucks – 5%
Flames – 3.3%
Coyotes – 2.9%
Blackhawks – 2.9%
Blues – 2.5%
Flyers – 2.5%
Predators – 1.1%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 74 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 63
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 57
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 54
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 54
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 54

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 33 goals
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 26
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 24
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 24
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 23
Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks – 23

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stunning numbers: Patrick Marleau NHL record edition

On Monday night against the Golden Knights, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau played in his 1,768th regular season game, breaking the NHL record that had been held by Gordie Howe. That is a stunning number all its own. So let us take a look at some more stunning numbers from Marleau’s career.

• It is not just the fact that Marleau has played in a record number of regular season games. He has also appeared in 195 Stanley Cup playoff games, a mark that places him among the top-25 in NHL history. Add that total to his regular season total and he has appeared in 1,963 NHL games. Assuming he plays in all of the remaining Sharks games this season that would put him well over the 1,970 mark.

• Marleau has played in that number of games over a 23-year career that goes all the way back to the 1997-98 season. His career touched four different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s). That takes an enormous amount of dedication, durability, and luck. He has appeared in every game in 12 of his 23 seasons.

[Related: A remarkable talent: Marleau to break NHL games played record]

• He has appeared in at least 80 games 16 times. He has never missed more than six games in a season in his entire NHL career. Had it not been for the 2004-05 lockout and three shortened seasons (2019-20, 2020-21, as well as the 2012-13) his games played total would be even higher. We could be talking another 140-150 regular season games on his total games played.

• This might be the most stunning number of Marleau’s career.

When you play that many games over 23 seasons you are going to have a lot of teammates and play against a lot of players. According to the NHL, there have been 8,102 players that have appeared in at least one NHL game. Via @sharksstats, Marleau has played against 3,009 players as an opponent and been a teammate with 335 players. That comes out to more than 38% of the players in league history that Marleau has played in a game with either as an opponent or a teammate.

• Marleau has skated in 70.5% of all Sharks games in franchise history. That is the highest percentage of any player for any team in league history (minimum 1,000 games for the team in franchise history). Marleau has appeared in 98.5% of the Sharks games in which he has been a member of the active roster. (Via NHL PR)

• Just to bring all of this full circle: In Marleau’s rookie he was teammates with Bernie Nicholls in San Jose. In Nicholls’ rookie season he was teammates with Jim Rutherford. In Rutherford’s rookie season he was teammates with Gordie Howe.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

In Howe’s rookie season he was teammates with Roy Conacher (1941). In Conacher’s rookie season he was teammates with Eddie Shore. Shore was teammates with Harry Meeking in his rookie season. Meeking’s career began in 1917, the very first year of the NHL. Yes, you can trace Patrick Marleau’s career today back to the start of the NHL in a chain of just six players.

• He is one of just 43 players in league history with at least 500 goals and 1,000 career points. He is also 14th on the NHL all-time postseason goals list and 50th in playoff points.

• When Marleau entered the NHL and made his debut the league had 26 teams. It now has 31, with a 32nd team entering next season. His career pre-dates the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, and Columbus Blue Jackets.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Hurricanes’ surprising strength; Rangers on the rise

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we look at one team that is a legit Stanley Cup contender, and another that could be one in very short order. Maybe as soon as a year or two from now.

In Carolina, the Hurricanes remain a top-five team  thanks to a great core of young talent, an exceptional defense, and a surprising strength in goal. For years the biggest question mark with them was always whether they could get enough goaltending. Right now, they boast one of the best goaltending performances in the league with the trio of Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic, and James Reimer combining for a .915 all situations save percentage (per Natural Stat Trick). That is one of the best marks in hockey, and combined with their defense makes them one of the toughest teams to score against in the league.

That can take you a long way.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are starting to see their pieces all come together for an impressive 13-4-3 stretch over their past 20 games. They are not only winning, but they have been one of the NHL’s most exciting teams. They are top-10 in goals per game and goals against per game; have the fifth-best goal differential, and a core of talent that is rapidly improving. It may not be enough to get them in the playoffs this season, but they are not far away. They are closing in on the top-10 this week.

Where does your team sit in this week’s NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. They have not played in a while and are on pause for the next couple of days, but they have the NHL’s best points percentage, an insane plus-53 goal differential in 43 games (also best in the league) and are 17-1-2 in their past 20 games. The best team in hockey.

2. Vegas Golden Knights. No weakness here. Right there with Colorado among the league’s top teams. They could meet in the Second Round.

3. Carolina Hurricanes. Their goaltending has been insanely good this season. Third-best team save percentage in hockey, behind only Vegas and the Islanders. Scary team.

4. Washington Capitals. Anthony Mantha has been an incredible fit so far with four goals in his first four games.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning. They have been a little off for a couple of weeks now, but that is not a huge concern. It happens to even the best teams at some point in a season.

[MORE: Steven Stamkos placed on LTIR by Lightning, out until May]

6. Florida Panthers. Carter Verhaeghe has been one of the best stories in the NHL, so his injury is tough to see.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby just keeps rolling along with 50 points in 44 games and another top-10 year in the scoring race.

8. Boston Bruins. Do not count them out in the East. They could still win it. With the way they are playing right now and their remaining schedule, they might.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs. When this team is playing well it looks unbeatable. But it also has stretches where it looks very beatable. Little bit of a concern for the playoffs.

10. New York Islanders. Just 13 goals in the past eight games is not ideal. They have won two games during that stretch by a 1-0 score. That might be Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz’s dream situation, but you are going to need more than that in the playoffs

11. New York Rangers. You can see the potential in this group. It is scary. Also one of the most exciting teams in the NHL right now. They jump from No. 17 in last week’s NHL Power Rankings.

12. Minnesota Wild. Their reward for a strong season that has seen them take a big leap forward is going to be a First Round matchup with Vegas. Congratulations!

13. Winnipeg Jets. With those forwards and that goaltending you do not want to count them out. The right ingredients in the right division in the right season to maybe surprise you.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

14. Edmonton Oilers. Mike Smith has been great this season. Can he maintain that? It seems like the Oilers are banking quite a lot on his ability to do just that.

15. Dallas Stars. They are not going away quietly. A couple of rookies (Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger) are helping to lead their playoff push.

16. Nashville Predators. They have four head-to-head matchups with Chicago (three) and Dallas (one) the rest of the way. Winning at least three of them would do wonders for their playoff chances.

17. Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks probably have the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams fighting for that fourth playoff spot in the Central. If they get in, they will have definitely earned it.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Given their record before and after the coaching change it seems that this is just a middle of the pack team.

19. Calgary Flames. That little three-game winning streak this past week was way too little, way too late. Very disappointing season here.

20. St. Louis Blues. That loss to Arizona this past week could loom large. They play the top-three teams in the division in nine of their remaining 12 games.

21. Arizona Coyotes. Beating St. Louis in regulation to snap a five-game losing streak was massive. While the Blues finish the season playing Vegas, Minnesota, and Colorado in most of their games, the Coyotes finish while playing the Sharks and Kings.

22. Philadelphia Flyers. A Carter Hart bounce back next season would produce a Flyers bounce back.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Credit to them for coming back and beating Toronto. It still seems like it was too soon for them to be back on the ice.

24. Buffalo Sabres. Credit to them for not mailing in the rest of the season. They look like a wildly different team under Don Granato. Not really a particularly good team, but definitely better. Also no longer a pushover.

[Related: Coaching change helping Sabres finish strong]

25. Detroit Red Wings. Like the Sabres, the Red Wings have also been surprisingly competitive down the stretch. I want to see what Jakub Vrana can do with an increased role.

26. Los Angeles Kings. Keep your eyes on the future, Kings fans. It is bright.

27. San Jose Sharks. They played their way back into the playoff race and then lost six out of seven, including four losses to Anaheim and LA. You just can not let that happen.

28. Ottawa Senators. Hopefully that shutout against Montreal is something Matt Murray can build on. He needed a positive game. The Senators need him to be good.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks seem further away from seriously contending than any almost other team in the league.

30. New Jersey Devils. It has been a struggle lately, but there is some very good young talent here.

31. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may not be the worst team in the league, but nobody is playing worse than them right now. Only two regulation wins since March 5, and they’re tied for the lowest total in the league. The team they are tied with, Vancouver, has only played 11 games during that stretch. Columbus has played 21 games. Overall the Blue Jackets have lost eight of their past 10 games and looked bad while doing so.

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.

The Buzzer: Canucks win in return from COVID-19 protocol (Sunday in NHL)

3 Stars for Sunday in the NHL

1. Boston Bruins’ top line

Honestly, you could probably pick Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak for each of the three stars for Sunday in the NHL and call it a night. Even if, uh, they played during the afternoon.

Either way, it isn’t easy to distinguish the top star from the Bruins’ 6-3 win against the Capitals.

From a volume perspective, Brad Marchand led the way. He generated two goals and two assists for four points. Interestingly, it’s been feast-or-famine for Marchand lately. Over the last five games, Marchand’s been held pointless on three occasions, yet two outbursts put him at six points (4G, 2A) in his past five contests.

With Taylor Hall bolstering what now looks like a strong Bruins second line, Boston’s in a better position to handle the occasional pointless night from one or more members of “The Perfection Line.”

Speaking of the others, Bergeron didn’t get involved in a late empty-net goal, but ended up with three points (2G, 1A) and matched Marchand’s +4 rating. Pastrnak grabbed one of his assists on that ENG, yet was still prolific with three helpers and a +3 rating.

While 1,000 Games Club Member Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed a strong showing with two assists of his own, it wasn’t enough as the Capitals fell to the Bruins and that “Perfection Line.”

2. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders

For a significant chunk of Sunday’s OT loss to the Islanders, the Flyers likely believed they deserved better.

Through the first 40 minutes, the Flyers generated 23-15 shots on goal advantage, firing 15 on Sorokin during the second period alone. The Flyers couldn’t beat Sorokin once, though, as the young goalie put together a 30-save shutout.

Going forward, the Islanders shouldn’t hesitate to give Sorokin reps. He’s now won four of five games, allowing two goals or fewer in each of those appearances. A lot of the Islanders’ success comes down to their defensive system, but Sorokin’s looking solid in his own right.

3. Braden Holtby/Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

No doubt about it, the Canucks came into Sunday’s return from a lengthy COVID-related absence with some self-doubt. They also faced a Maple Leafs team that would be a challenge under even the most optimal circumstances.

Now, the Canucks fighting through that COVID disruption isn’t about one game. If anything, they might actually feel it more and more as the grind of their schedule truly sets in. But on Sunday night, Braden Holtby was absolutely brilliant in helping the Canucks squeeze out an OT win vs. the Maple Leafs.

It’s not as if the Maple Leafs laid an egg in the Canucks’ COVID return. Toronto fired 39 shots on goal, testing Holtby often. The veteran goalie made 37 saves, including the highlight of the night for Sunday in the NHL.

If allowing two goals disqualifies Holtby in your mind, you could instead roll with Bo Horvat. The Canucks’ captain helped his team rally from a 2-0 deficit, scoring two goals (including the overtime game-winner) and an assist.

Highlight of the night for Sunday in the NHL: Windmill save from Canucks’ Holtby

Braden Holtby left Wayne Simmonds (and the rest of us) stunned with a beautiful windmill save. Shades of Dominik Hasek here:

Stat of the Night

This is a quirky one from the NHL. That said, if the Rangers defy the odds and make the playoffs, they’ll do so in part based on dominating the Devils:

Sunday’s NHL scores

Bruins 6, Capitals 3
Rangers 5, Devils 3
Sabres 4, Penguins 2
Golden Knights 5, Ducks 2
Islanders 1, Flyers 0 (OT)
Canucks 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

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 looking like contenders again, win fourth game in a row

There is a good chance we will see the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins playing each other at some point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the standings remain as they are, it will be a First Round matchup. If Sunday’s 6-3 Bruins win is any indication of what we will see in that potential series, it could be madness. Sunday’s game featured an ejection (Garnett Hathaway for boarding Jared Tinordi), several big hits, post-whistle skirmishes, and what seemed to be an intense dislike between the two Stanley Cup contenders.

And let’s talk about that latter point for a little bit — contenders. Specifically, how the Bruins are starting to look like a force to be reckoned with again.

Boston hit an obvious lull starting in the middle of February that saw them win just 11 out of 26 games between February 13 and April 13. The secondary scoring was non-existent, were hit hard by injuries on defense, fell to fourth place in the East Division standings, and have been trying to hold off a surging New York Rangers team for that final playoff spot in the East Division.

Their win on Sunday extended their current winning streak to four games since the trade deadline, while they have started to look like the team Boston expected at the start of the season (and the team it saw in the first 12 games).

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci each scored two goals on Sunday, while Tuukka Rask stopped 30 out of 33 shots in what was just his third start in more than a month.

The biggest development for Boston right now is the emergence of a second scoring line.

For most of the season Boston’s offense had been almost completely dependent on the trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak. And while that trio combined for four of the Bruins’ six goals on Sunday, they are still getting way more from the newly formed second line of Taylor Hall, Krejci, and Craig Smith.

Hall has already scored two goals in his first four games with the team, while Smith has been on a roll over the past few weeks. With his two helpers on Sunday Smith now has 19 points in his past 16 games, including six multi-point games during that stretch. Smith was the prize addition of the Bruins’ offseason, and after a slow start is now finding his place in the lineup. The addition of Hall only makes that second line even more dangerous.

With Sunday’s result the top-four teams in the East are now separated by just six points. The Bruins have three games in hand on Washington, one more head-to-head matchup remaining (the regular season finale), and have seven games against Buffalo and New Jersey ahead. In other words: Do not count the Bruins out in that race.

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.

NHL On NBCSN: What do the Flyers need to contend again?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Flyers-Islanders stream coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From a mathematical standpoint the Philadelphia Flyers still have some sort of playoff hope for this season. But it is fading, and fading fast. Realistically speaking, they should be looking ahead to next season, and based on their approach at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, they are already doing exactly that.

They enter Sunday’s game against the New York Islanders (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in sixth place in the East Division, four points back of the fifth place New York Rangers and eight points back of a Boston Bruins team that still has two games in hand. The Flyers not only have almost no margin for error within their own games, they are going to need some major help along the way. Even worse, they only have two games (both against the Rangers) against the two teams directly ahead of them.

Given how good the Flyers were a year ago when they finished with the sixth-best record in the league and the fourth-best goal differential, their 2020-21 performance has to be considered a massive disappointment on both an individual and team level. Entering Sunday, they are in 18th place in the league standings this season and 25th in goal differential.

[FLYERS-ISLANDERS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Some players (Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes) took a small step backwards, at least as it relates to their goal scorer.

Others, like Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere on defense and Nolan Patrick at forward, did not take any kind of a step forward.

There were injuries to key players (Konecny, Sean Couturier).

Then the biggest issue of them all — goaltending.

A common occurrence and problem with the Flyers over the past three decades. Carter Hart was supposed to be the player to change that, and after showing a ton of promise during his first two seasons — and even early this season — his season turned into a massive disappointment with injuries, poor play, and some questioning from his coach.

But it is not just Hart that has struggled in that area. Brian Elliott has also had a rough season, and when combined the Flyers rank 31st in both 5-on-5 save percentage (.890) and all situations save percentage (.878). It does not matter what the rest of your team looks like, you are going to have zero chance of competing for a playoff spot, let alone a championship, with that level of play in net. It just does not work. It ruins everything else on the roster.

While the Flyers do have some issues in their own zone, statistically speaking their defensive metrics have been solid for most of the season, at least as it relates to limiting shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances. It is worth asking what this team would look like with the version of Hart that we saw over his first two seasons in the league. It probably looks a heck of a lot better.

That has to be issue No. 1 for the Flyers going into next season — get Hart back on track.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

He is the focal point of the next chapter of Flyers hockey, and the player that the whole thing is going to be built around. If he falters, the team is going to falter. If he success, well, guess what? The team is going to succeed. The talent level is absolutely there. He has shown flashes of being able to play at a high level, and he is still only 22 years old. It is not uncommon for young goalies to go through early struggles and then bounce back with great careers (Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury as some more recent examples).

But the Flyers can also help him by insulating him a little more with the defense in front of him.

Matt Niskanen’s retirement was a major development for the Flyers’ blue line coming into this season, compounded by the fact they did nothing to really address it in terms of an outside addition despite having a healthy amount of salary cap space. When you look at this Flyers defense it is pretty obvious they do not have that No. 1 guy that every Stanley Cup team has that can play a third of the game and excel in every possible situation. Shayne Gostisbehere never became that player. They sometimes treat Ivan Provorov like he is that player, but he is not. They are still useful players, and even very good players. But they are not the players that are going to lead a Stanley Cup caliber defense. At least not on their own.

Now, that is a difficult player to get. There are not many of them in the NHL, and they do not become available very often.

On the free agent market, Dougie Hamilton is the obvious choice but there are going to be 31 other teams (including his current team, Carolina) that are going to be lining up to try and sign him for major money.

Maybe Nashville explores a Mattias Ekholm trade again. Perhaps Columbus puts Zach Werenski on the market given his contract situation. Neither player is a true “No. 1,” but they would still represent a major upgrade to a unit that needs it.

No matter who it is or where they get it from, those are the two biggest factors that can get the Flyers back to where they should be.

Fix the goalie. Help the goalie get fixed by giving him more help in front of him.

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.

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.