NHL Scores: Canucks win post COVID thriller, Rangers win again as East playoff race intensifies, and more

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Apr 18, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Pearson (70) and forward Bo Horvat (53) and defenseman Tyler Myers (57) celebrate HorvatÕs overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena. Canucks won 3- 2 in Overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks returned from the longest COVID hiatus of any team in the NHL this season. They did so under protest and concern with J.T. Miller speaking out for his teammates. “I don’t feel ready at all,” he said candidly and even used the word “dangerous” back on April 15. “Skating a couple of times my lungs are screaming,” he explained even though he did not get COVID. “I never thought I’d be in this scenario in my career – it’s not ideal but we have a job to do I guess.”

Thanks to Miller’s honesty the league and NHLPA pushed the Canucks first game back another two days to allow them more time for conditioning.

Canucks triumphant return

Last night the Canucks faced the best team in the North Division in the Maple Leafs. Toronto also got back two major stars in William Nylander and Auston Matthews. All it did was add to the drama and make Canucks captain Bo Horvat’s OT winner extra special.

“I couldn’t prouder of our guys in that room,” said Horvat, who also had an assist. “The way they manned up tonight and stuck with the process and willed their way to that win.”

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While Horvat was the offensive hero with two goals, Braden Holtby was a wall in net making 37 stops against one of the best offensive teams in the league. Holtby called it a “gutsy effort” by his teammates, but it didn’t get any gutsier than the 31 year-old in net as the Canucks won 3-2.

Although Vancouver will not make the playoffs, this was a special moment and a highlight of the NHL season.

Rangers on a roll but so are many of the top East teams

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Apr 18, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New York Rangers right wing Vitali Kravtsov (74) celebrates his goal with center Kevin Rooney (17) against New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have risen from the bottom-feeders in the East to become one of the hottest teams in hockey. Since Artemi Panarin’s return from a leave of absence on March 13, the Blueshirts are 13-4-3 for 29 points. Yesterday, they defeated the Devils 5-3 and completed a four game sweep of their cross-river rivals.

It wasn’t easy for the Rangers. Once again they jumped out to a lead only to let up and see the Devils come back and tie the game in third period. This time, another birthday boy beat them. Mika Zibanejad power play goal late in the third period salvaged the victory and keeps the team in the playoff picture.

Zibanejad celebrated his 28th birthday by scoring the game winning goal but kept things in perspective. “We’ve got to take care of business and win our own games,” he said afterwards. “I mean we’re in it – we’re just trying to keep winning games and give us our best chance to make the playoffs.”

Unfortunately for the Blueshirts teams they are trying to catch have also been some of the best in the NHL over that time frame. The Bruins remain four points up on NY for the last playoff spot. Boston beat the Capitals 6-3 to hold off the charging Rangers. Boston has also picked up 24 points since March 13 which is 8th overall in that time span.

The Penguins lost to the Sabres 4-2 which allowed the Islanders to jump them in the standing by one point for second place. Pittsburgh and Washington are tied for third in points since March 13th with 26 each. The Islanders needed the 1-0 win over the Flyers in OT as they remain 8 points up on the Rangers, a team they play tomorrow and three more times before the season is done.

Golden Knights close first place gap with Avalanche who are out on COVID protocol

The Vegas Golden Knights have now tied the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the West. Max Pacioretty notched his 22nd of the year and Mark Stone extended his point scoring streak to four games. In net, Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves as the Knights marched to a 5-2 win over the Ducks.

“Everybody is contributing on a different night,” Stone said. “We’re getting balance throughout the 12 forwards. For five, six games, [the top six forwards] were struggling and [the bottom six] were the ones that kept us going.”

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