In this edition of “NHL Talk,” these are the top hockey stories with quotes from players, coaches, managers, and more. Check Tom Pepper’s profile every day for a new edition of the “NHL Talk” column.
Maple Leafs’ Matthews Reaches 100-Point Mark on Season
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews scored two assists in a 7-3 win against the Washington Capitals on Thursday, giving him 101 points (58 goals, 43 assists) in 69 games this season. He ranks first on Toronto in points and goals, and fourth in assists. It marks the third time in Maple Leafs’ franchise history that a player has reached the 100-point mark, following in the steps of Darryl Sittler (100 in 1975-76, 117 in 1977-78) and Doug Gilmour (127 in 1992-93, 111 in 1993-94).
“It’s humbling,” Matthews said. “I mean I feel like I just keep repeating myself but obviously to be mentioned with those two guys, what they were able to do for this team and this city and kind of paving the way for guys like myself and the guys that are here now. It’s a big honor but it didn’t happen without the guys on this team and the guys I play with every single night. It’s certainly not about me, I think it’s a team accomplishment and obviously tonight was a big bounce-back win for us against a really good team.”
Lightning Clinch Stanley Cup Playoffs Berth in Thrilling Game
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched a playoff berth for the eighth time in its last nine seasons with a 4-3 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. Tampa Bay jumped out to a 2-0 lead, before allowing three consecutive goals against, but managed to tie the game at 3-3 with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, eventually sealing it at 1:58 of overtime. The Lightning are back-to-back Stanley Cup champions and will be making a run at a three-peat.
“We don’t love our entire game and I think we have some steps to take to get better,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “We have to find a way to get ourselves ready for the playoffs. But like I said, finding a way to win at the end hopefully can galvanize us and we gain some momentum moving forward.”
Penguins Clinch Stanley Cup Playoffs Berth for 16th-Straight Season
The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched a playoff berth for the 16th consecutive season with a 6-3 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday. Pittsburgh’s incredible postseason streak is the longest active streak among all NHL franchises. The Penguins are five points behind the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division following its latest victory.
“I think it’s a remarkable accomplishment,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s hard to make the playoffs. Half of the League doesn’t make it every year. … There’s a lot of good teams every season that don’t make it. The fact that this organization has done it 16 consecutive years in a row, in my mind, is a remarkable achievement.”
Red Wings’ Nedeljkovic Earns Shutout Against Former Team
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic earned his sixth career NHL shutout in a 3-0 win at the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. He put on an incredible performance in his old stomping ground, saving all 46 shots he faced in the game. After being acquired by the Red Wings from the Hurricanes on July 22, 2021, he has a 2-1-0 record in three starts against his former team.
“Any time you can get a shutout in this League it’s always special, so maybe tonight it was a little bit more,” Nedeljkovic said.
Oilers’ Smith Records First Shutout of the Season
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith recorded his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 win at the Nashville Predators on Thursday. He saved all 30 shots he faced in the game for the 43rd shutout of his NHL career. With the victory, the Oilers continue their surge in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for second place.
“We wanted to bounce back and have a better effort than we did in [Minnesota],” Smith said. “I think [it was] as complete an effort as you can have against a really good hockey team in their building. .. It’s always tough to play in here. It’s always a good atmosphere and the guys responded really well. Had a good start to the game, got up in the first and then kind of just carried the momentum of that throughout the whole 60, so it was good to see.”
Blackhawks End Eight-Game Winless Skid in Shootout
The Chicago Blackhawks ended its eight-game winless streak with a 5-4 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane (one goal, two assists) and Alex DeBrincat (three assists) each scored three points in the game, with DeBrincat also tallying the only goal in the shootout. Chicago is back in the win column after posting an 0-6-2 record in its previous eight games.
“Feels good,” Kane said. “Obviously, (it) changes the vibe in the room a little bit when you win a game. Everyone’s excited, everyone’s upbeat in the room after that one and it’s nice to get two points on a night like tonight too.”
Canucks’ Miller Tallies Career-High Five Assists in Blowout Win
Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller tallied a career-high five assists in a 7-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. He has 91 points (29 goals, 62 assists) in 73 games this season, leading the Canucks in points and assists, and ranking second in goals behind Bo Horvat (31 goals). Vancouver hopes to make the playoffs with the help of Miller, sitting five points back of the Dallas Stars for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“I try to feel like I’m never satisfied. I’ve got an amazing opportunity since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to play in every situation, which is something I’ve worked for my whole career,” Miller said. “But that being said, it doesn’t really mean [much] to me if we don’t play in the playoffs. It’s great, but I’m not in this for the personal game. … I really just want to play in the playoffs because when you score in the playoffs, that’s when it means a lot.”
Tom Pepper is an NHL columnist at The Hockey Writers. He lives in Toronto and is a diehard fan of the St. Louis Blues.