Wednesday's NHL: Flames, Panthers take 3-2 leads; Crosby leaves after Trouba hit

Pat Graham
Associated Press
Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) checks Stars center Radek Faksa (12) during the second period of Game 5 on Wednesday in Calgary.

Sunrise, Fla. – Carter Verhaeghe set a Florida postseason record with a five-point night, and the Florida Panthers escaped a three-goal deficit to beat the Washington Capitals 5-3 and take a 3-2 lead in an Eastern Conference first-round series Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 shots for Florida, which trailed 3-0 in the second period. Verhaeghe had two goals and three assists for the Panthers.

Patric Hornqvist, Claude Giroux and Sam Reinhart also scored for the Panthers, and Aleksander Barkov had two assists.

T.J. Oshie scored twice for Washington, which also got a goal from Justin Schultz and two assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ilya Samsonov stopped 33 shots.

Verhaeghe broke the Panthers’ playoff scoring record that Ray Sheppard set on a four-point night back on April 22, 1996 – which remains the last, and only, season in which the Panthers won a playoff series.

They can change that Friday, when Game 6 is played in Washington. Game 7, if necessary, would be back at Florida on Sunday.

(At) N.Y. Rangers 5, Pittsburgh 3: Filip Chytil scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and New York staved off elimination with a victory over Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the teams’ first-round playoff series.

Jacob Trouba (Michigan) and Alexis Lafrenière each had a goal and an assist, and Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren also scored for the Rangers. Igor Shesterkin, torched for 10 goals over three periods in the previous two games, had 27 saves.

Jake Guentzel had two goals and Kris Letang also scored for Pittsburgh, which leads the best of seven series 3-2. Evgeni Malkin had two assists and Louis Domingue finished with 29 saves.

Penguins star Sidney Crosby left with about seven minutes remaining in the second period after a hit by Trouba with what coach Mike Sullivan said after the game was an upper body injury.

When asked if he thought there was intent on Trouba's hit, Sullivan simply replied, "Did you see it? Then you probably have the same opinion I do."

Game 6 is Friday in Pittsburgh, and a potential deciding Game 7 would be Sunday back at Madison Square Garden.

(At) Calgary 3, Dallas 1: Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane and Trevor Lewis all scored in the third period, leading Calgary over Dallas to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Jacob Markstrom made 20 saves for the Flames, who can win the series Friday in Dallas. If necessary, Game 7 would be back in Calgary on Sunday.

Jason Robertson scored the lone goal for Dallas, and Jake Oettinger stopped 29 shots.

Makar turns in dominant series

There’s one area Cale Makar still has plenty of room for growth – his playoff beard.

Even with a little bit of a head start, the Colorado Avalanche defenseman’s rosy cheeks still shine through.

Detroit Red Wings right wing Lucas Raymond, front, wraps around the net for a shot as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar pursues in the second period.

“It’s like three weeks, right?” teased teammate Devon Toews before the Avalanche swept the Nashville Predators in a first-round playoff series dominated by Makar.

“Yeah, this is probably a couple of weeks already,” Makar said with a laugh. “Hopefully we get to have a better look at (a beard) this year, what I can actually do if it’s a couple months.”

No bristling at this: His game is razor sharp.

Makar turned in one of the best regular seasons ever by a Colorado defensemen. It was quite a feat given the Avalanche’s blueline tradition, which includes Adam Foote, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque and Sandis Ozolinsh, but Makar is clearly something special.

After helping the Avalanche put away the Predators with a three-goal, seven-assist series, his 10 points are the most in league history by a defenseman through four games in any playoff year, according to NHL Stats.

“He might be the best player in the league right now,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “He might be one of the best ‘D’ to ever play by the end of his career at this rate.”

The 23-year-old from Calgary is averaging 1.05 goals per game over 39 career playoff appearances, which at the moment puts him second all-time among NHL defensemen, trailing only Bobby Orr (1.24 over 74 postseason games).

“He hasn’t let up,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of Makar, the fourth overall pick by the Avalanche in the 2017 draft. “He keeps getting better and better.”

Makar’s 28 goals broke Ozolinsh’s single-season franchise record by a defenseman. On the night he eclipsed Ozolinsh’s mark, teammate Mikko Rantanen had to inform him of the milestone.

“I sound like a broken record, but those goals go back to the team,” Makar said, insisting that individual records are “not really something I focus on.”

Same with winning the Norris Trophy, which goes to the league’s top defenseman. He’s among the finalists along with Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay and Nashville’s Roman Josi.

Josi’s 96-point season was the best by an NHL defenseman in 29 years, but the Avalanche held him to one goal and one assist in sweeping a first-round series for a second straight postseason.

Count Makar a big fan of Josi, with the two spending some time chatting at the All-Star Game and briefly again in the handshake line Monday night.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Makar, the 2019-20 Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year. “He pushed me a lot this season. He had one incredible year.”

The respect is mutual.

“He’s such a fun player to watch,” said Josi, who captured the Norris the same season Makar took home the Calder. “He’s so dynamic. … I love watching him play.”

Except for maybe this: Makar setting up the winning goal Monday by avoiding a check and sending a pass across the ice to an open Valeri Nichushkin. It capped the three-point night for Makar, whose sweet performance included fans throwing Skittles at him in the closing moments.

“It is what it is,” Makar said. “It’s fine.”

On the docket, rest and perhaps viewing some of the playoff action, including the Minnesota-St. Louis series, whose winner will face Colorado. The Avalanche have been eliminated in the second round in each of the last three postseasons.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Makar believes the Avs have the personnel for a long run. He has developed a nice rapport with fellow blueliner Toews.

“We just read off each other,” said Toews, who ranked first among all NHL defensemen with a plus-52 rating in the regular season. “We both want to play quick. Defensively, I think that’s the kind of side of things that doesn’t get looked at as much. I think offensively we create a lot and a lot of times we’re playing with Nate’s line and it gets easy to create offense.

“If you look back at the other end of the rink, we’re getting out of our zone really quick. We’re closing fast and using our speed and our IQ to break pucks up and break plays up and that allows us to play more offense.”

There’s this, too: Makar emerging as a vocal leader.

“He’s taken another step with his leadership in the room,” MacKinnon said. “On the ice, he’s so dominant. … We’re really excited to have him on our team, obviously.”