Nick Leddy, Corey Crawford, Dustin Jeffrey

Hockey Day Preview: Penguins, Blackhawks hope to play like champions today

The two most recent Stanley Cup champions square off during their only game of the season as the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 champs) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009 winners) for Hockey Day in America’s closing game at 3:30 pm ET.

Fans can be forgiven if they wonder: are these teams really the Penguins and Blackhawks?

Injuries, trades and exhaustion have beaten down both teams, leaving each squad to wonder when – if ever – they’ll look like their old selves again.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain sidelined with significant injuries for the Penguins, who must lean on an attacking defense and scrappers such as defensive center Jordan Staal to manufacture offense. Pittsburgh’s status as an Eastern Conference playoff team seems relatively safe as they sit in fourth place, but their chances of wrestling the Atlantic Division crown from the Philadelphia Flyers are dim at best.

While this win would be a great boost for the struggling Penguins, the pressure is really on the wobbling Blackhawks. Salary cap-related trades forced Chicago to allow Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to increase their profiles with the Atlanta Thrashers and also caused GM Stan Bowman to move useful depth winger Kris Versteeg. Of course, the Hawks also parted with their goalie duo of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet for cap-related reasons too. If that wasn’t enough, Chicago might not have their Cup-winning coach behind the bench either, as Joel Quenneville was just released from the hospital yesterday.

The Hawks are currently locked in an 11th-place tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Western Conference’s convoluted playoff bubble. Their position isn’t as bad as it sounds since they’re only four points out of a spot in the top eight, but the defending champs will need to scratch and claw every week to make it into the postseason after cruising in last season. These are the kind of games they absolutely need to win if they want to accomplish that goal.

While both teams are far from full strength, the bright side for hockey fans is that each team has plenty to play for. There’s also still plenty of talent on the ice, as Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang were all-stars for Pittsburgh while the Blackhawks boast high-end talent such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.

Both teams will need their remaining stars to step up if they want to come within a breath of their previous heights.

For more on this game, take a gander at the Associated Press preview.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.