NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 31, 2017
Game recaps, updates on playoff race and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Montreal Canadiens clinched a playoff spot by crushing the Florida Panthers 6-2. Brendan Gallagher had a goal and three assists while Paul Byron scored twice for the Habs (97 points), who hold a six-point lead over the Ottawa Senators for top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Nino Niederreiter scored twice as the Minnesota Wild thumped the Ottawa Senators 5-1. The Sens (91 points) played without captain Erik Karlsson, who’s listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury but could return to action on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. Meanwhile, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is being sued by a former team executive over breach of contract.
Connor Brown had a goal and an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Nashville Predators 3-1. The Leafs (89 points) moved within two of the Senators for second in the Atlantic. They remain a point up on the Boston Bruins for third place. The Leafs are also reportedly on the verge of re-signing defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a seven-year deal worth $4.5 million annually.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The 25-year-old Zaitsev’s quickly established himself on the Leafs blueline in his first NHL campaign. The puck-moving rearguard’s tallied 34 points in 76 games and he’s led all Leafs blueliners in average ice time (22:16) per game and blocked shots (127) this season. While the term seems a bit lengthy the cap hit isn’t too bad. Should Zaitsev remain a vital part of the Leafs defense corps, this deal could be considered a bargain down the road.
Tuukka Rask made 27 saves while Brad Marchand and Torey Krug scored the only goals as the Bruins blanked the Dallas Stars 2-0. With the win, the Bruins (88 points) hold a three-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Stars forward Curtis McKenzie left the game with a soft-tissue eye injury after being struck in the face by the stick of Kevan Miller. Fortunately, McKenzie reportedly didn’t suffer any damage to his eyeball.
Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr each had two-point performances to give the Lightning a 5-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The Bolts played without top scorer Nikita Kucherov (illness). It was a costly loss for the Wings, as rookie forward Anthony Mantha fractured a finger in a fight with Luke Witkowski and is done for the season.
Noah Hanfin’s overtime goal gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Canes (84 points) extended their points streak to 13 games and are four points out of the final wild-card berth in the East.
Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier each collected a goal and two assists to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders. The Isles (82 points) have fallen six points back of the Bruins while the Flyers are also six points out of a playoff spot.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning and Hurricanes are both surging in the Eastern standings and could pose a serious threat to the Bruins for that final wild-card spot. Barring a significant turnaround by the Isles and Flyers, I don’t think they’re going to make it.
Mark Scheifele scored in overtime as the Winnipeg Jets upset the Anaheim Ducks 4-3. With the loss, the Ducks (96 points) failed to widen their lead over the Edmonton Oilers for top spot in the Pacific Division.
Connor McDavid tallied a goal and an assist and Patrick Maroon scored twice to give the Edmonton Oilers a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. With the win, the Oilers (95 points) moved one point ahead of the Sharks into second place in the Pacific.