Sunday’s top NHL players
As defending repeat champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t likely to be dismissed by any would-be playoff opponents. Yet, with the Panthers already clinching the East (and thus the Atlantic Division), and the Maple Leafs secure in the second spot, there was a slight chance the Lightning would fall into a wild-card spot. Maybe at least one team breathed a sigh of relief that the Lightning may be running out of steam?
That notion seems a lot less sound lately, including after the NHL action on Sunday.
The Lightning ended the Panthers’ franchise-record winning streak at 13 games, and they did it in a big way. Tampa Bay doubled Florida up 8-4, and Nikita Kucherov played a starring role.
Kucherov collected a whopping five points on two goals and three assists. That big night pushes Kucherov to 23 goals and 62 points in just 44 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to 115 or 116 points. Kucherov’s reached the 100+ point mark twice in his career, so it’s fair to argue that he’s been about as potent as he’s ever been. (OK, maybe not at the level of his 128-point masterpiece in 2018-19, but that was also the year he got suspended in the playoffs and the Lightning were swept.)
Kucherov, Stamkos, Lightning have been on a resounding run
In a season where teams keep making history, and stack up huge winning streak, a three-game run should be nothing too notable.
However, with the playoffs so close, the Lightning’s three-game winning streak gets intriguing. Especially once you realize who the Lightning beat, and how lopsided those games were.
On Thursday, the Lightning walloped the Maple Leafs by a jarring score of 8-1.
A Predators team with more on the line couldn’t contain the Lightning, who won 6-2 on Saturday.
Apparently a back-to-back set couldn’t slow the Lightning offense. During the NHL action on Sunday, the Lightning handed that 8-4 beating the to the Panthers.
With that, the Lightning outscored three likely (two guaranteed) playoff opponents by a combined score of 22-7.
In what’s already been a season of rejuvenation, Steven Stamkos is getting on an even bigger role as the playoffs approach. His four points from that Sunday game almost got him NHL player of the night, and was impressive on its own. Remarkably, it pushed Stamkos to a streak of four straight games with at least three points (4G, 9A). Going further, he’s on a six-game multi-point streak (5G, 12A).
While I’d still consider resting Lightning players during this last week — I’ve been beating that drum, often to no avail, including with the Bolts for a while now — it’s understandable to allow Stamkos to chase a milestone. That four-point night leaves Stamkos in range of a 100 points this season (he’s at 97 in 78 games). Remarkably, he’s a point shy of tying his career-high of 98 points, so that would be his first 100-point campaign.
Perhaps you can just rest other high-mileage Lightning players, then?
Either way, it seems like this team may indeed reach the playoffs on a roll.
Sunday NHL highlights
This shorthanded goal could’ve been a highlight reel based on the Brandon Hagel pass alone. Then Nick Paul pulled off a ridiculous between-the-legs move to make it possibly the best shorthanded goal of the season:
The Golden Knights hung on against the Sharks, but it was still stunning to see a last-second goal nearly derail them:
Sunday NHL Takeaways
Canadiens honor Guy Lafleur in first home game since his death
The Montreal Canadiens honored Guy Lafleur’s memory in their first home game since he died at age 70.
Watch the great ovation and tribute for Guy Lafleur in the video below:
This was an especially nice touch from the Canadiens and their advertisers:
Ryan Getzlaf plays final home game for the Ducks
Being that Ryan Getzlaf decided to retire after this season, Sunday’s game against the Blues represented his last home game with the Ducks. While it’s tough not to wonder what Getzlaf might have brought to a contender in a trade deadline move, it clearly meant a lot for him to play for just the Ducks.
Here’s video of that ceremony:
This quirky gift from Teemu Selanne was probably the off-beat highlight of the whole thing.
Alex Ovechkin leaves Capitals’ loss to Maple Leafs with an injury
So far, it’s too early to tell if an upper-body injury will cost Alex Ovechkin much time. What we do know is that Ovechkin was not able to return to the Capitals’ shootout loss to the Maple Leafs after that injury.
Here’s footage of the awkward fall.
T.J. Oshie seemed optimistic, if vague about the Ovechkin injury situation. Perhaps we’ll learn more in the coming days?
Hurricanes have another goalie injury to watch in Raanta
With the Hurricanes already concerned about Frederik Andersen, their goalie situation could get shaky fast. Antti Raanta left the Hurricanes’ win over the Islanders with an injury and did not return.
It’s not yet clear how much time Raanta and Andersen may miss. This is tough timing, for sure, as the list of Hurricanes goalies is pretty scary.
Golden Knights narrowly avoid a painful squandered lead
Less than seven minutes into the third period, Nicolas Roy gave the Golden Knights what they hoped would be a commanding 4-2 lead over the Sharks. It was not the commanding lead Vegas hoped for.
After emptying their net, the Sharks scored with about two minutes left to make it 4-3. Then, Timo Meier stunningly tied things up with a second remaining.
Following that squandered lead, and a failed overtime power play, it sure felt like the Golden Knights might lose another should-win game and really doom their season. Instead, they squeaked by via a shootout to keep their hopes alive.
Not that their odds are great.
There’s also a path where the Golden Knights could make the playoffs if the Predators lost out, all in regulation.
Still, as dim as the Golden Knights’ playoff hopes are, they at least avoided a shattering loss to San Jose. Many things have made life worse for Vegas in this painful season, but failing to beat teams far outside of the playoff picture may end up being more agonizing than all of those injuries.
A big story for Monday
Blackhawks – Flyers mainly about draft lottery positioning
Following the NHL games on Sunday, the Flyers boast the fourth-fewest points in the NHL (61 points with three games remaining), while the Blackhawks rank sixth (63 points, also three games left). With the Senators sitting at 69 points, the Blackhawks aren’t likely to go any lower than sixth. The most likely areas where a team may move is from that sixth spot to as low as third (Kraken: 58 points, but with four games left they could go as high as 66 standings points).
Under certain circumstances, we might gain reminders of home fans cheering for their own team to lose, like that Sabres – Coyotes game of infamy.
Being that the Flyers visit the Blackhawks, this one might have a different flavor.
Due to the Seth Jones trade, it’s unclear if the Blackhawks 2022 first-round pick will go to Chicago or the Columbus Blue Jackets. If the Blackhawks’ pick ends up being in the top 2 after the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery, it would go to Chicago, with the Blue Jackets receiving the Blackhawks’ 2023 first-rounder instead. So … there’s not the same clarity to root for a team to tank.
On the Flyers’ end, tanking and an “aggressive retool” might not mix, at least in some ways. Would Philly be bold enough to trade such a high pick in hopes of a quicker turnaround?
Then there’s the usual flavor: as much as any team may want to tank, the players on the ice want to bolster their hockey futures. So they’re unlikely to mail it in … at least not completely.
As Monday’s only game, Flyers – Blackhawks lacks much in the way of immediate stakes. It’s not unlike a Monday game between the Jets and the Canadiens. Don’t be surprised if fans of teams with draft lottery interest may at least keep an eye on it.
(Plus, most prefer some low-importance hockey to no hockey at all, right?)
Sunday NHL scores
Red Wings 3, Devils 0
Hurricanes 5, Islanders 2
Blue Jackets 5, Oilers 2
Flyers 4, Penguins 1
Lightning 8, Panthers 4
Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 3 (SO)
Jets 4, Avalanche 1
Bruins 5, Canadiens 3
Wild 5, Predators 4 (OT)
Blues 6, Ducks 3
Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (SO)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
NHL Rink Wrap: Lightning end Panthers’ streak; Emotional home games originally appeared on NBCSports.com