NHL Rink Wrap: Panthers clinch top spot in East, Power’s first goal, Copp’s big game
Top player in the NHL on Thursday
Andrew Copp, New York Rangers
The New York Rangers stayed how on Thursday night and secured home ice advantage in the First Round of the playoffs thanks to their 6-3 win over their crosstown rivals, the New York Islanders. Andrew Copp got things started for the Rangers with a natural hat trick in the first period to help give them an early 3-0 lead. He has been one of the best trade deadline acquisitions of the year since joining the Rangers and has now eclipsed the 20-goal mark for the season. The downside for the Rangers on Thursday: Copp ended up leaving the game with a lower-body injury and did not return. The team will have more information on Friday but this is definitely an injury situation to watch.
Highlights from around the NHL on Thursday
No. 1 overall pick Owen Power scored his first career goal for the Buffalo Sabres in their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres are definitely finishing the season on a high note and getting some production from Power is definitely an encouraging sign.
Jake Guentzel recorded his fifth career hat trick to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-0 shutout win over the Boston Bruins. Those three goals give Guentzel 40 goals on the season, the second 40-goal season of his career.
Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk now has 40 goals and 100 points on the season. He and Johnny Gaudreau have been as good as any other forward duo in the league this season.
Three takeaways from the NHL on Thursday
Stars miss an opportunity in playoff race
The Western Conference Playoff race is really getting interesting in the final weeks of the regular season. The Dallas Stars had a chance to add some cushion in the Wild Card race on Thursday but lost their third game in a row and fourth in their past five games. They now sit just two points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for the second Wild Card spot while the two teams still have a head-to-head meeting remaining. In the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings’ win over the Chicago Blackhawks gives them a five-point lead over the Golden Knights. That is huge for the Kings and is starting to make it look like Vegas’ best chance to make the playoffs is to catch the Stars.
Panthers winning streak reaches 12 consecutive games
The Florida Panthers just keep winning. They extended their current winning streak to 12 consecutive games on Thursday night with a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. That win also clinched the Atlantic Division crown for the Panthers and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, giving them home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They also temporarily move two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Robert Thomas point streak at 15 games, while Blues-Wild playoff matchup is set
We know at least one playoff matchup at this point, and it is going to be the Minnesota Wild vs. the St. Louis Blues in the 2-3 matchup of the Central Division bracket. The only thing left to be decided is which team gets home-ice advantage. Both teams were winners on Thursday night, with the Wild getting a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks and the Blues beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1. Robert Thomas scored a goal for the Blues in their win, extending his current point streak to 15 consecutive games as his breakout season continues.
Friday’s big story
The Washington Capitals seem to be getting back on track and enter Friday’s game in Arizona with an 8-3-1 record in their past 12 games. They are fighting to avoid a Wild Card spot and trying to climb into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Now that they are mostly healthy they are starting to look like a formidable playoff opponent, but the big question is going to be if they get the goaltending they will need from either Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov. Also on Friday the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers face off in an intriguing matchup of superstars. The Avalanche are still playing for the Presidents’ Trophy while the Oilers are getting closer to wrapping up home-ice advantage in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Thursday’s NHL Scores
Philadelphia Flyers 6, Montreal Canadiens 3
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 2
Buffalo Sabres 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Boston Bruins 0
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Winnipeg Jets 2
New York Rangers 6, New York Islanders 3
Minnesota Wild 6, Vancouver Canucks 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 8, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Calgary Flames 4, Dallas Stars 2
Los Angeles Kings 4, Chicago Blackhawks 1
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 1