Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. The former goalie and current NHL Network analyst will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
What a great night for Ryan and his family on Thursday. He scored three goals for his fifth NHL hat trick in the Ottawa Senators' 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks; it came in his second game back, and first at home, since returning from the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. Ryan said he wasn't sure what to expect, but had the support of the home crowd and said it was an amazing feeling to score one goal, which he did in the first period. He scored two more late in the third for a hat trick and was named First Star of the Game.
Ryan did a courageous thing by entering the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program in November to get help and put himself and his family first and hockey aside. In his first public comments last week prior to returning, he explained how he knew he had an issue but had trouble coming forward and getting help. Hopefully others who are having trouble opening up or seeking help for their issues will see Ryan, a professional athlete who was already under scrutiny, be brave and take the necessary steps, and decide to follow suit.
Video: Discussing Ryan's hat trick in Senators return
Saturday was a night to remember for the 42-year-old emergency backup goalie, who preserved a 6-3 win for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs after Carolina's two goalies, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, left with injuries. Ayres allowed goals on the first two shots he faced before stopping the final eight.
Coming in cold is not an easy situation for anyone, but especially someone who didn't expect to dress, let alone play in the game. It reminded us of Scott Foster, the EBUG for the Chicago Blackhawks who was an accountant by day. He came in the third period of a game on March 29, 2018, and made seven saves in a 6-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets.
Ayres was named the First Star of the Game in his hometown of Toronto and was hailed as a hero in Carolina; the mayor of Raleigh gave him his own day, and he cranked the siren prior to the Hurricanes' game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Prior to that, Ayres had a whirlwind day in New York on Monday that included a trip to the NHL offices to meet Commissioner Gary Bettman and numerous radio and television appearances. It was one of the best moments of the season and shows why hockey is the greatest game.
Video: CAR@TOR: Ayres makes history as emergency backup
New York Rangers
Don't look now, but the Rangers are only two points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They have won a season-best five straight games, including a team-record nine in a row away from home. New York won 5-2 at the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday after trailing 2-0 late in the second period. Mika Zibanejad scored for his sixth straight game, giving him 30 goals and 62 points in 50 games this season. Artemi Panarin tied his NHL career high in points with 87 and has plenty of time to add to that total. He has to be in contention for the Hart Trophy, especially if New York makes the playoffs.
With rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin out with a rib injury sustained in a car accident, Alexandar Georgiev is going to see increased playing time. And we should also see Henrik Lundqvist, who has been the third goalie in a three-goalie system for the past few weeks. Perhaps it's a good thing they didn't trade a goalie at the deadline, because that would have put them in a tough spot now.
The Predators absolutely stole two points in a 4-3 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Nashville allowed the go-ahead goal with 43 seconds left in the third period before Mikael Granlund tied the game with 0.1 seconds left, then won it in overtime. The win kept the Predators in a tie with the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
Nashville has won three straight and is 6-1-1 in its past eight games. The Predators have struggled with consistency issues in all areas of their game, but they appear to be righting the ship. Nashville finishes a four-game homestand by hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, visits the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, then plays a home-and-home set with the Dallas Stars that starts a five-game road trip. The next few games will go a long way in telling if this team is a contender or a pretender.
Video: CGY@NSH: Granlund ties game late, pots OT winner
The Vegas Golden Knights are clicking on all cylinders. They have won seven straight and are one of the most improved teams following the NHL Trade Deadline. Defenseman Alec Martinez has already chipped in offensively and defensively, and goalie Robin Lehner gives them a nice safety net behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
Lastly, hats off to Alex Ovechkin who scored his 700th NHL goal last Saturday. It wasn't in front of his home fans, but he still got a nice ovation and recognition by the New Jersey Devils and their fans at Prudential Center after he scored. Ovechkin joined some elite company, and the quest for 800 is underway.