3 things we learned in the NHL: Leafs defence entering elite territory

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly celebrates a goal. (Nathan Denette/CP)

It was a night that served as a microcosm of Canada’s NHL clubs this season — the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs making history, the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators coming up short yet again.

With 12 teams in action as the 2017-18 season nears its close, here are a few things we learned around the league on Monday.

Rielly, Gardiner moving Leafs blue line into elite territory

The talk of the evening in Toronto was the club tying its franchise record for overall points, the result of Auston Matthews and William Nylander going off for a combined four goals and two assists against the Sabres.

But how about this for a low-key historic sidenote: with one point a piece in the 5-2 win, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner now each sit above the 50-point plateau. Rielly moved to 51 points, and Gardiner reached 50 even.

That makes Toronto one of only two teams in the league to boast two rearguards with 50 points or more this season.

The other? Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists in Nashville, who have both P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in the 50-point club.

It’s also the first time in over a decade that two Leafs defenders have amassed at least 50 points in the same campaign, the last such duo being Tomas Kaberle (58) and Bryan McCabe (57) in 2006-07. Not a bad addendum to the club’s dynamic forward corps.

(Bonus: Matthews remains very good at putting pucks in nets)

Wild winger Parise finding his game when Minnesota needs it most

The Wild entered Monday night still in the hunt to secure a playoff spot, sitting third in the Central Division with 98 points with a few clubs nipping at their heels. Fuelled by veteran Eric Staal‘s redemption campaign — the 33-year-old has 40 goals and 74 points this season, his highest totals in seven years — the Wild are now seeing another member of their old guard find his form.

Star winger Zach Parise wasn’t able to get into into the lineup until January, missing the majority of the season while recovering from back surgery. Upon returning, he posted just eight points through his first 23 games of 2017-18 as he looked to recover his signature skill.

Monday night, he proved yet again that he’s back to his old self, helping his team clinch a playoff spot in the process.

Parise tallied two goals in Minnesota’s 3-0 shellacking of Edmonton, extending a recent scoring binge that started back in late February in his 24th game of the year. Since that tilt — an 8-3 drubbing of the Blues — Parise has amassed 12 goals and 16 points through 17 games, a razor-sharp turnaround that’s helped keep Minnesota in playoff contention.

Nine of those points have come in seven straight games as well, with Parise extending that streak via his two goals on Monday.

Hellebuyck making history in net as Jets keep climbing

With a playoff spot already sealed up and 100-plus points in the bag, the Jets are simply playing to tune up before the post-season at this point. But that isn’t stopping their stars from claiming a bit of personal glory down the stretch.

One of the club’s key names did that again Monday as netminder Connor Hellebuyck registered his 42nd victory when Winnipeg took down the Senators, making history in the process.

That win moves young Hellebuyck into a tie for second place among the finest single-season campaigns ever mounted by an American goalie.

That’s no small feat when you consider the careers of some of the prominent U.S.-born netminders to take the ice in the NHL in recent years — Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop, and others.

The list is long, and yet, with just two more wins (the Jets have three more games — against Montreal, Calgary, and Chicago), Hellebuyck’s 2017-18 effort could go down as one of the best all-time by an American in the cage.


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