February 18 — Flames Fiery First Line & the NHL Dunk Contest

Curious about all the bizarre headlines you’ve read about the Beijing Olympics? If so, join us on Friday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 pm ET as Cheddar News gives you an inside look at the business news & impact of the Olympic Games. Click here for access.

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

ST. LOUIS BEATS ST. LOUIS: Martin St. Louis recorded his first career coaching win on Thursday night, as his Montreal Canadiens edged the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in overtime to snap a 10-game losing skid. Cole Caufield scored the tying goal and overtime winner, while Paul Byron started the scoring for Montreal in his 500th career game.

NORMALCY RETURNING: Thursday represented another step toward normal as the hockey world moves away from the COVID pandemic. The IIHF announced that the World Junior Championship was rescheduled for August, while the Women’s U-18 tournament is set for June after both events shut down due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed fans back to Scotiabank Arena, as Ontario upped its capacity allowance to 50% for professional sporting events.

KRAKEN HISTORY: Seattle’s first all-black broadcast on Thursday was the latest representation throughout the NHL. Everett Fitzhugh and J.T. Brown called the television broadcast of the Seattle Kraken at the Winnipeg Jets game, giving another voice to the hockey fans who often don’t feel seen.

HERITAGE CLASSIC SWEATERS: Yesterday, the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs revealed the jerseys they will wear for the 2022 Tim Horton’s NHL Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ontario, on March 13.

FINN-ISHING STRONG: One-half of the men’s gold medal match became clear last night, as Finland defeated Slovakia 2-0 to earn a shot at its first-ever championship in hockey. Finland has finished with a silver medal twice (1988 Calgary and 2006 Turin) and will face the winner of the Sweden vs. Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) game later this morning.

Friday Favorites

Let’s look back at our favorite moments of the week.

Lights, Camera, Action

Willie O’Ree virtually joined “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah to discuss breaking the color barrier in the NHL. He talked about his partial blindness and being the first black player in the NHL. So far, 2022 has been a big year for O’Ree, who had his number retired by the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18 and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.”

Toffoli Heating Up

Calgary received forward Tyler Toffoli in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens, and he wasted no time making an impression. The Toronto native made his debut at Scotiabank Saddledome on Feb. 15 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and with less than 10 minutes left in the game, he scored the Flames’ sixth goal


Arriving at the arena in style wearing the Canadian women’s national team jerseys, the Winnipeg Jets celebrated Team Canada clinching gold last night at their game against the Seattle Kraken. Marie-Philip Poulin had a three-point night, while goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens made 38 saves in the 3-2 victory over the Americans. It was a classy move and a big hit with Winnipeg fans.

Fanning the Flames

Any line that features Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl down the middle is bound to be dangerous, and yet neither centers the best line in Alberta, let alone the best in the NHL. In largely under-the-radar fashion, the Calgary Flames reign atop the Pacific Division while riding a league-best eight-game win streak on the strength of what might well be the best line in hockey.

From left to right, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk may not have a catchy collective nickname (the JEM line, maybe?), but they have anchored the 28-13-6 Flames. While much of the focus in Calgary has lingered on secondary scoring deficiencies, an area they addressed with Monday’s trade for Tyler Toffoli, the heavy lifting of the dynamic top line also warrants considerable attention and celebration.

While the three Flames are probably overdue for “best line in hockey” consideration, it’s now especially worth taking a closer look at how these three linemates are giving opposing defensemen nightmares right now:


Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Tkachuk currently represent three of the top five plus/minus leaders in the whole league. Gaudreau leads the way at a whopping plus-39, Lindholm occupies second with a plus-37, and Tkachuk sits fifth with a plus-32. It stands to reason that all three would have similar plus/minus numbers since they share the ice so frequently, but those lofty figures shed light on just how significant their impact has been.

Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Driving the Streak

The question of who has been the primary driving force behind the Flames’ current eight-game win streak is an easy one for anyone who has watched the club this year. Indeed, Lindholm has produced a whopping seven goals and six assists, Gaudreau has notched four goals and eight assists, and Tkachuk has delivered three goals and seven assists over those eight games. It’s no surprise that one of those men has been responsible for the game-winner in four games during the streak.


Can three guys share the Hart Trophy? Seriously, the Toffoli addition further shines a light on something apparent for a while now: Calgary’s success depends on their No. 1 line. There have only been five games all season in which none of Gaudreau, Lindholm, or Tkachuk have registered a point, with the Flames going 1-4 (compared to 27-9-6 when they do hit the score sheet).

NHL Dunk Competition

Two weeks after the NHL had its All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, the NBA will hold its All-Star celebration this weekend in Cleveland. The festivities include the annual dunk contest, which, although it’s lost some luster in recent years, is among the most popular All-Star events in any sport.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some NHL players who can dunk a basketball. Plenty could probably throw down if they tried, as they are world-class athletes, but this list is limited to players with video evidence of dunking.

Wayne Simmonds

Wayne Simmonds might be the only person ever to both score a hockey goal and dunk a basketball at Wells Fargo Center. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 2014, when the current Toronto Maple Leafs forward was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, he and teammate Claude Giroux played an exhibition basketball game against the Harlem Globetrotters. During warmups, Giroux balanced a basketball on the blade of his hockey stick as Simmonds ran toward the hoop. Simmonds took Giroux’s feed and flushed it home, much to the crowd’s delight at Wells Fargo Center.

Andreas Athanasiou

Anthony Mantha may have been the first hockey player to score a goal in Little Caesars Arena, but Andreas Athanasiou was probably the first hockey player to dunk a basketball. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Detroit’s Little Caeser’s Arena, home to the Red Wings and Pistons, opened in Sep. 2017. Three months later, the Wings got invited to try out the Pistons’ court for the first time. Current Los Angeles Kings center Athanasiou, who was with the Wings at the time, took advantage of the opportunity by attempting a slam dunk, which he completed, though just barely.

Trevor van Riemsdyk

Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t dunk a ball on a regulation rim, but he did do it on ice while wearing skates, and he stuck the landing. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After victories, the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes would do what they called “Storm Surge,” which was a variety of postgame celebrations. In March 2019, they honored NCAA March Madness by bringing a basketball hoop out on the ice and simulating a play, complete with screens and cuts. Current Washington Capitals defenseman van Riemsdyk acted as the point guard, taking the ball to the basket and climbing for the dunk. He even channeled dunk contest legend Vince Carter afterward.

Morgan Rielly

Morgan Rielly didn’t dunk a ball in front of much of a crowd, but he made sure to have someone film it so he would one day end up on this list. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Sep. 2019, a video of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman slamming home a one-handed dunk went viral throughout the hockey world. At 6-foot-1, Rielly is shorter than Athanasiou (6-foot-2), van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3), and Simmonds (6-foot-3), which made this dunk more surprising and arguably more impressive.

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel, the oldest and shortest player on this list, can *allegedly* dunk a basketball (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While there is no video evidence of the 34-year-old Phoenix Coyotes forward dunking a basketball, a video of him playing basketball against Ryan Reaves in 2017 when both were members of the Pittsburgh Penguins does exist. There is also a claim from current teammate Clayton Keller, who said during an interview on “The Cam & Strick Podcast” last September that the 6-foot Kessel can dunk a basketball. We’re all still waiting to see proof.

NHL Standings

NHL’s Leading Scorers

Today’s NHL Schedule