All posts by Craig Hagerman

Predators become 1st team to clinch playoff spot

Get your catfish ready because the Nashville Predators are heading back to the playoffs.

The Predators became the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season with a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.

This will be the Predators' fourth consecutive playoff appearance and the 11th in their 19-year history.

Nashville now sits comfortably with a four-point cushion in the Presidents' Trophy race at 104, and is just six points away from matching the franchise record of 110 set during the 2006-07 campaign.

Last season, the Predators came within two wins of capturing the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup, ultimately falling short in Game 6 of the final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Wild’s Spurgeon out at least 4 weeks with hamstring injury

The Minnesota Wild blue line got some crushing news on Wednesday.

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss at least four weeks after suffering a partial tear of his right hamstring during Tuesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced.

The timeline for the injury means that Spurgeon will miss the remainder of the regular season and potentially the start of the postseason if the Wild are able to secure a playoff berth.

Spurgeon had been on pace to eclipse his previous career highs in goals (11) and points (38), having put up nine and 37 respectively in 61 games.

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Hart Trophy Power Rankings: Weeding through the numerous MVP candidates

This year a coin flip will decide the winner of the Hart Trophy.

OK, not really, but given how tight the race for arguably the biggest individual award in hockey has been this season, it appears to be as good a system as any as we head into the final weeks of the season.

As it stands, a serious case could be made for nearly a dozen potential candidates. However, we'll try to narrow that down as we look at the five most-likely candidates and a few honorable mentions to bring home MVP honors.

1. Nikita Kucherov

Throughout the season several players have entered and exited the MVP conversation, but Nikita Kucherov has remained a constant.

The Tampa Bay Lightning forward sits atop the NHL's points list with 87 in 66 games and has not conceded his throne since Dec. 13.

Kucherov has had one three-game pointless streak and another of two games, and outside of those has not gone consecutive games without a point.

The 24-year-old been the pinnacle of consistency while tormenting goaltenders, and is poised to lead the Lightning to what stands to be a franchise-best in points and the team's first-ever Presidents' Trophy.

2. Nathan MacKinnon

One year removed from the worst season in the salary cap era, the Colorado Avalanche are knocking on the door of the playoffs and they have Nathan MacKinnon to thank for it.

MacKinnon has 32 goals and 79 points in just 59 games this season, demolishing his previous career highs (24 goals, 63 points) set during his rookie campaign. In fact, he currently leads the league with 1.34 points per game.

If it wasn't clear how valuable he's been, it should be noted that only Calgary's Sean Monahan has more than MacKinnon's 10 game-winning goals.

3. Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall finally saw his historic point streak come to an end Thursday night.

Prior to Thursday, the New Jersey Devils forward had strung together a point streak of 26 games. That run helped Hall set a career high in goals, and leaves him just six points shy of his career best (80).

Besides being in the top 10 in scoring, he's also put up an astounding 33 more points than the next closest Devil. He also leads the team in power-play points, game-winning goals, shots, and overtime goals.

Meanwhile, his performance has the Devils sitting in a playoff spot, which would halt a streak of five seasons without postseason hockey.

4. Evgeni Malkin

It's not outlandish to think that if Malkin had been able to stay healthy over the last eight seasons he may very well have captured a few more Hart Trophies.

Malkin has played more than 70 games in a season just once since the 2009-10 season when he dressed in 75 in 2012. Last season he tallied 72 points in 62 games - a 95-point pace. And this season he's on pace for 107.

Malkin is just two goals off Alex Ovechkin's league-leading 40 and just two points back of Kucherov with a game in hand. If he keeps this up he could soon lead both categories and subsequently lead this list.

5. Alex Ovechkin

Patrik Laine, Eric Staal, and Malkin are making late-season pushes for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. But let's face it, Ovechkin is still the favorite to capture the award for the seventh time in his career.

Ovechkin paces the league as the only 40-goal scorer this season. The 32-year-old has already surpassed last year's output of 33 goals and 69 points with 40 and 72, respectively.

His bounce back in offense has the Capitals within a point of top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand on the Penguins and him in pursuit of his fourth Hart Trophy.

Honorable Mentions

Connor McDavid

Historically the Hart Trophy is usually awarded to players on playoff-bound clubs, but if McDavid keeps producing as he has, it will be hard to deny him his second straight Hart Trophy.

While playing on the fifth-worst team in the league, the Edmonton Oilers captain has still managed to put up 31 goals (a career high) and 81 points. In fact, he's factored in on over 42 percent of all Oilers goals this season.

The Hart Trophy is summarized as "the player most valuable to his team" and it would be hard to argue that any team relies more on one player than the Oilers do on McDavid.

Steven Stamkos

Before Kucherov grabbed the scoring race by the horns, it looked as though Stamkos was going to run away with it.

The Lightning captain has since slowed down a bit, but still remains in the top 10 in scoring.

After being limited to just 17 games last season, it's quite clear that Stamkos has returned to being one of the elite producers in the game.

Claude Giroux

The Philadelphia Flyers appear playoff bound after missing last year's postseason, and that's thanks in large to the play of Giroux.

The captain sits fourth in league scoring with 80 points in 68 games. He's already posted his highest point total since the 2013-14 season and has been instrumental in linemate Sean Couturier shattering his previous career highs in goals and points.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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Canadiens sign 2016 draft picks Bitten, Pezzetta to entry-level deals

The Montreal Canadiens signed forwards William Bitten and Michael Pezzetta to three-year, entry-level contracts, the team announced Wednesday.

Bitten was drafted in the third round in 2016 with the 70th overall selection. In his second season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, he's contributed 19 goals and 61 points in 58 games.

Pezzetta was selected in the sixth round, 160th overall in 2016. The 19-year-old has split this season with the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves and Sarnia Sting where he's put up 22 goals and 50 points in 58 contests.

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Canucks’ Boeser out 4-6 weeks with back injury

Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser is likely done for the season.

The rookie sensation was diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury and a small non-structural, non-displaced fracture in his lower back that will require four-to-six weeks of recovery time, the team announced Tuesday.

The injury occurred late in the club's eventual overtime win over the New York Islanders after Boeser went in for a hit but was propelled back-first into an open door on the Canucks' bench.

The 21-year-old was then taken to hospital for what head coach Travis Green initially labelled precautionary reasons.

The injury likely concludes an incredible rookie campaign that has seen him tally 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games, both team highs. It also likely brings an abrupt end to the Calder Trophy race, as while Boeser leads all first-year players in goals, he trails Islanders forward Mathew Barzal by 14 points.

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Bruins’ McAvoy out at least 4 weeks with sprained MCL

Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy sprained the MCL in his left knee and will be re-evaluated in four weeks, the team announced Tuesday.

The injury occurred early in the first period of the Bruins' clash with the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

It's a big blow to Boston, which is already without forward Patrice Bergeron, who's expected to miss at least one more week with a fractured right foot.

McAvoy paces all rookie defensemen with 32 points in 59 games and trails only Torey Krug in scoring among Bruins defenders.

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Babcock laments Maple Leafs playing like ‘kids’ vs. Caps

The Washington Capitals took the Toronto Maple Leafs to school Saturday night.

The Capitals steamrolled the Maple Leafs 5-2 in a Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and, to Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, his team sure didn't look its age.

Related: Capitals remain undefeated in outdoor games with win over Maple Leafs

"They look at us and they still think we're kids," Babcock said. "It looked like we were kids here tonight. I thought they smacked us around and forechecked us. I didn't think we executed at all, I didn't think we played fast."

The Maple Leafs' dismal display means the team will practice tomorrow in Buffalo despite a late flight, according to TSN's Kristen Shilton.

Related: Capitals score 5 goals to chase Maple Leafs' Andersen

"Obviously, we've got to regroup," said Babcock. "We'll be practicing tomorrow. The work we didn't put in today we'll be putting in tomorrow and get back on track here."

The Maple Leafs face the Sabres on Monday, when they'll look to halt a three-game losing streak.

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Capitals remain undefeated in outdoor games with win over Maple Leafs

The Washington Capitals might want to consider playing outdoors permanently.

With a commanding 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Saturday night's Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Capitals improved to 3-0-0 all time in outdoor games.

Saturday's game was the Capitals' first outdoor contest since the 2015 Winter Classic, where they topped the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at Nationals Park in Washington.

In their only other outdoor game, the Capitals edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

As for the Maple Leafs, the loss on Saturday was their first in an outdoor game after two wins against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and last season at the Centennial Classic at BMO Field in Toronto.

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Capitals score 5 goals to chase Maple Leafs’ Andersen

With five goals on 25 shots Saturday, the Washington Capitals forced the Toronto Maple Leafs to mercilessly pull goaltender Frederik Andersen.

The Capitals took a 3-1 lead in the first period, but the Maple Leafs got to within a goal early in the second on a seeing-eye shot from Nazem Kadri. However, the Capitals answered back with tallies from John Carlson and Jakub Vrana for a 5-2 advantage, after which Andersen was pulled in favor for Curtis McElhinney.

It marked the first time Andersen has been pulled from a game this season, outside of an injury, according to TSN's Mark Masters.

Offensively, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Carlson each contributed three points, tied for the most in an outdoor game.

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Bruins’ McAvoy leaves game vs. Habs with lower-body injury

Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy left Saturday's game in the first period against the Montreal Canadiens with a lower-body injury and is not likely to return, the team announced.

McAvoy left the game just 37 seconds in after appearing to be tripped by Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher.

An injury of any severity would be a big blow to the Bruins as the 20-year-old sits second in team scoring among defensemen with 32 points in 58 games.

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