Stanley Cup Playoff Buzz: Hurricanes first in Central, defeat Panthers

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2021 NHL postseason. There are 26 days left in the regular season and the races in each of the four divisions — the seven-team Scotia North and eight-team MassMutual East, Discover Central and Honda West — are tight. The top four teams in each of the four divisions reach the playoffs. 

Here is a look at the NHL Standings and everything else that could impact the playoff picture.

About last night

There were 10 games Thursday, each with playoff implications:

Colorado Avalanche 4, St. Louis Blues 2: Andre Burakovsky scored twice, Nathan MacKinnon had three assists and the Avalanche won their fifth-straight game to become the second team to clinch a playoff spot this season, following the Vegas Golden Knights. Colorado, which returned after it had three games postponed due to NHL COVID-19 protocol, trails Vegas by two points for first in the West. St. Louis remained one point behind the idle Arizona Coyotes for fourth in the West.

Washington Capitals 1, New York Islanders 0 (shootout): Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov (26 saves) and Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov (28 saves) each had shutouts and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the deciding goal in the shootout to give the Capitals a one-point lead on the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the East.

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, New Jersey Devils 1: Kasperi Kapanen scored a goal and had an assist in his return from a lower-body injury to help the Penguins tie the Islanders for second in the East and remain one point behind the Capitals for first. Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust and Teddy Blueger each scored a goal and had an assist for Pittsburgh, which is 6-1-1 in its past eight games. New Jersey has lost eight in a row (0-8-0).

Boston Bruins 5, Buffalo Sabres 1: Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each scored a goal and had an assist for Boston, which extended its winning streak to six games. The fourth-place Bruins pulled eight points ahead of the fifth-place New York Rangers in the East and are three points behind Penguins and Islanders.

Philadelphia Flyers 3, New York Rangers 2: James van Riemsdyk scored two power-play goals and Brian Elliott made 33 saves for the sixth-place Flyers, who closed within three points of the fifth-place Rangers and remained 11 behind the fourth-place Bruins in the East. The Rangers lost their second straight following a four-game winning streak to fall eight points behind the Bruins.

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Winnipeg Jets 3: Auston Matthews scored his League-leading 34th goal of the season and had two assists, and Nick Foligno had an assist in his debut for Toronto, which ended an 0-3-2 slide. The Maple Leafs extended their lead in the North to six points ahead of the second-place Jets.

Ottawa Senators 3, Vancouver Canucks 0: Matt Murray made 31 saves for his second shutout in three games for Ottawa, which has won three-straight. The Senators closed within one point of the Canucks for sixth in the North and are 11 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for fourth. Vancouver is 10 points behind Montreal and has four games in hand.

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Florida Panthers 2: The Hurricanes moved two points ahead of the Panthers for first in the Central Division. Sebastian Aho scored two shorthanded goals for Carolina, which went 1-for-3 on the power play and 8-for-9 on the penalty kill on its way to improving to 6-0-1 against Florida this season. 

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1: Blake Coleman scored twice and Ondrej Palat broke a 1-1 tie 8:14 into the third period for Tampa Bay, which climbed within one point of Florida for second in the Central and remained three points behind Carolina for first. Columbus has lost eight straight and was eliminated from playoff contention.

Detroit Red Wings 7, Dallas Stars 3: Jakub Vrana scored an NHL career-high four goals for Detroit, which ended Dallas’ eight-game point streak (6-0-2). The Stars remained fifth in the Central, two points behind the idle Predators for fourth. The Red Wings are 11 points behind the Predators.

If playoffs started Friday 

Here is a look at the matchups for the first round as they stand entering games Friday:

North Division 

1. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 4. Montreal Canadiens
2. Winnipeg Jets vs. 3. Edmonton Oilers 

East Division 

1. Washington Capitals vs. 4. Boston Bruins 
2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 3. New York Islanders

Central Division  

1. Carolina Hurricanes vs. 4. Nashville Predators  
2. Florida Panthers vs. 3. Tampa Bay Lightning

West Division  

1. Vegas Golden Knights vs. 4. Arizona Coyotes 
2. Colorado Avalanche vs. 3. Minnesota Wild  

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