Around the rink – February 25; Kovalev debuts for Pittsburgh, Caps and Rangers face off

7:00 p.m.

Washington @ NY Rangers

New York gets Ruslan Fedotenko back in the lineup tonight while Mike Green appears to still be out. Nicklas Backstrom will also play as he’s got a broken tip of his thumb. The Caps have won two in a row while the Rangers are hoping their shootout win over Carolina is the stepping stone they need to pull away from the gathering mob at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race. The Caps need a win to keep pace with the Lightning in the Southeast.

Pittsburgh @ Carolina

Welcome back Alex Kovalev. Kovalev will make his re-debut with the Penguins tonight, his first game with Pittsburgh since the 2002-2003 season. After acquiring the Russian star from Ottawa, the Penguins are showing that they’re going to keep trying with or without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. The bigger problem immediately for Pittsburgh will be playing without Brooks Orpik for the next month. For Carolina a win, any win, would be huge for them as they’re caught in a mosh in the eighth spot in the East with Buffalo, Toronto, and Atlanta all right there waiting for them to fall. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost three in a row. With the injuries mounting it’s getting tougher to keep up with Philadelphia for the Penguins.

Phoenix @ Columbus

The Coyotes look to rebound from their 8-3 humbling at the hands of Tampa Bay with a game against the reinvigorated Blue Jackets in Columbus. Columbus has won seven of their last nine and are just four points out of the cluster of five teams vying for the last four spots in the West. Phoenix is locked into a battle with the Sharks for control of the Pacific Division and the only way for them to keep at it is to keep winning as the Sharks seem set to keep doing the same.

7:30 p.m.

New Jersey @ Tampa Bay

If Tampa Bay wants to prove something to themselves, beating the red hot Devils would be a good way to go about it. The Devils have beaten Tampa Bay in 12 of their last 13 games in Tampa. Such things are always startling to read but after the Lightning humbled Phoenix who had been playing great hockey up to that point, it’s tough to deny the Lightning the shot at getting off the schneid. The Devils coincidentally come into their game with Tampa Bay also on an eight game win streak, similar to the one Phoenix had before their date in Tampa. For the Lightning, this game marks the final one of their 12-game home stand. During that record stretch, the Lightning are 6-3-2.

Ottawa @ Buffalo

Buffalo is just three points behind Carolina for eighth and they’ve got the Maple Leafs catching up to them fast. A win over lowly Ottawa would be huge for the Sabres. Doing it against a re-motivated Craig Anderson might prove to be the hard part. Ottawa has won two in a row with Anderson’s help so perhaps the doormat Sens are gone for now. We’ll see how badly Buffalo wants back in the playoff race with how they handle the Senators.

Florida @ Atlanta

Is this the last stand of the Florida Panthers as we know them? With tonight’s game against Atlanta and Sunday’s against New Jersey, whether or not we’ll see the likes of David Booth, Stephen Weiss, or Tomas Vokoun after the weekend is through is up in the air with the trade deadline on the way on Monday afternoon. Atlanta hopes they can just get a win, period, as they’ve slipped further back in the race for the playoffs in the East.

9:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Calgary

A pair of teams that have been playing well of late square off. The Sharks have taken control of the Pacific Division by a point over Phoenix but they’ll be without Dan Boyle tonight. Boyle’s a difference maker on the blue line for them and how that effects Antti Niemi in goal will be curious to see. After a tough loss to Boston on Tuesday, getting back on top of things for Calgary would be huge. To do it against a rival like San Jose would make it sweeter.

St. Louis @ Edmonton

Times are tough for St. Louis right now. They’re virtually on the edge of being out of the playoff discussion and after three straight losses, including last night’s to Vancouver, things aren’t getting any easier. Sure they’re playing harder but without wins they’re going nowhere fast. Dealing with the NHL’s worst team in Edmonton should be the elixir they’re looking for to fix things up but Edmonton is hot winners of four of their last five games. If you’re afraid of giant goalies, be afraid. St. Louis will start 6’8″ Ben Bishop while Edmonton counters with 6’6″ Devan Dubnyk.

10:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ Anaheim

Dan Ellis will make his first start as a  Duck tonight as the Wild look to put their tough loss to the Kings last night behind them. Minnesota sits in a logjam for sixth place in the West while the Ducks look to get back into the mix themselves after getting hammered in their last four games by a combined 24-12 score all while going 0-4-0 in that span. The Wild could help their own cause by stringing some wins together rather than alternating wins and losses.

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”