Around the rink – February 27; Lightning-Rangers highlight a busy Sunday

1:00 p.m.

Tampa Bay @ NY Rangers

It’s the first game of the day and perhaps the most intriguing. Bryan McCabe will make his Rangers debut after being traded by the Panthers yesterday. The Rangers hold a three point cushion over Carolina for seventh place in East and trail Montreal by three for sixth. Tampa Bay has a three point lead on Washington for the Southeast Division lead and lead Boston by two points for second. It’s all playoff spot jockeying  for now but the Rangers have won two in row including a humiliating 6-0 win over Washington on Friday night. Tampa Bay has won two in a row of their own and a win would help keep the heat off from the Caps.

3:00 p.m.

Columbus @ Nashville

Teams going in opposite directions here as Columbus has won five of their last six, including three in a row, while Nashville has lost four straight. The Blue Jackets are just two points behind Nashville in the standings now and while that’s great, both teams as of now are out of the playoffs. Nashville needs goals in the worst way as they’ve scored just four goals over their last four games and have been shutout twice. Columbus has been getting stellar play out of both Steve Mason and Rick Nash and if they want to hang in there in the playoff race, taking care of Nashville will go a long way towards that.

5:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Atlanta

This is a huge game for both teams as the Leafs look to get past their wild 6-5 shootout loss to Pittsburgh last night. Atlanta’s second half of the season has been beyond miserable and oddly enough, their season took a turn for the worse since beating the Leafs back on December 20th. Since then, Atlanta has gone 6-17-4 going from a likely playoff team to one that’s now six points behind Carolina for eighth with Buffalo and Toronto in front of them in that race. The Leafs can get to within three points of Carolina with a win. Atlanta can keep their pulse alive for the playoffs with a win.

New Jersey @ Florida

The Devils are coming off a tough loss to Tampa Bay and playing the Panthers today could prove to be the last one in a Florida uniform for any number of players. The Devils can expect either a team that will be demoralized and get run over or one looking to get one last rally in before tomorrow’s trade deadline. If it’s the latter, the effect it has on the Devils slim shot at the playoffs will be profound as a Devils loss could make them finally decide to pack it in and trade some players away themselves.

7:00 p.m.

Phoenix @ Chicago

Speaking of a team in need of a win, the Chicago Blackhawks everyone. The Hawks are just two points behind Minnesota and Dallas who are tied for sixth in the West. With how tight things are there, every game is important and wins in regulation come at a premium. Phoenix, meanwhile, sits in fourth with 75 points and three points behind San Jose for the lead in the Pacific Division. After dropping two in a row to Columbus and Tampa Bay, the Coyotes could stand to get better goaltending and defense after giving up eight to Tampa and five to Columbus.

8:00 p.m.

St. Louis @ Calgary

Welcome to the bigs Ben Bishop. The Blues goalie is coming off his first career NHL shutout in a 5-0 win over Edmonton on Friday. Playing the eighth place in the West Flames should provide a bit more of a challenge, however. The Flames are looking to get off the schneid after two losses in a row to Boston and San Jose, a pair of red hot teams in their own right. St. Louis is barely hanging on in the playoff race and a loss to the Flames would just about put a bullet in their hopes the rest of the way.

Boston @ Edmonton

Boston looks to stay perfect on their six game road trip. They’re 4-0-0 after beating Vancouver last night and they’re looking impressive while doing it. Tonight’s game will show off the top two picks from the 2010 NHL draft in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Hall’s had the better statistical season, but clearly Seguin is seeing more team success as the Oilers have the worst record in the NHL while the Bruins lead the Northeast Division. On the upside for the Oilers, they’re probably not going to face Tim Thomas in goal. Tuukka Rask, of course, isn’t much of a relief himself.

Colorado @ Anaheim

While the Avalanche’s playoff hopes are pretty much null and void, unless the Ducks can pull out of their tailspin they’ll be joining them. Anaheim has lost their last five games in a row and have gone from being locked in on making the playoffs to being alone in 11th place in the West, three points behind Calgary. With Dan Ellis in goal for the Ducks, it’s a great opportunity for him to prove himself. He played great the other night against Minnesota only to get burned in overtime. The only thing we know for sure with the Ducks is that as long as they keep losing with Jonas Hiller out of action, the stronger Hiller’s case for Vezina consideration is made.

Bruins go from Nash trade rumors to loss, Bergeron injury

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There are times when the Boston Bruins have looked downright unstoppable. Saturday serves as a harsh reminder that things can change in a heartbeat, or at least that the threat is basically always hovering.

Consider this: earlier today, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins were becoming frontrunners to trade for Rick Nash. Such a deal is still plausible, although John Shannon (also of Sportsnet) reports that Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit could cause some challenges, even this late in the season.

Either way, the Bruins’ outlook seemed shiny: they’re already a tough team to deal with thanks to an absolutely bear (sorry) of a top line in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The B’s have been so impressive, they even seem to be a threat to win the Atlantic.

Things went sour in multiple categories hours later.

The Bruins lost to their hated rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3. That game ended in regulation, and the decisive goal brought about everyone’s favorite hockey thing: a goalie interference review. This didn’t go in Boston’s favor, and while some shrugged their shoulders, Tuukka Rask wasn’t thrilled:

With that, the Atlantic Division thing seems far less promising. To start, the Lightning managed a 4-3 shootout win. Even worse, the Maple Leafs took second place in the Atlantic by beating Boston.

If that wasn’t enough, the most integral part of the Bruins’ dominance is in danger. Reporters including NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty noted that Patrice Bergeron was seen in a walking boot:

On the bright side, all three situations could still turn out nicely for the Bruins.

  • The Bruins might actually be more justified in going after Nash if Bergeron’s a little banged up. Granted, a more severe injury might leave them more conservative at the deadline.
  • Games in hand make optimism easier to come by in the Atlantic positioning races. The Lightning have 87 points in 62 games played while the Maple Leafs are at 83 in 64. The Bruins are at 82, yet with only 59 games played, there’s plenty of time for the B’s to either regain home-ice advantage over Toronto or even push for the top spot in the division.
  • As you can see from Haggerty’s tweet, Bergeron’s issue might not be too bad, either.

So, this isn’t a doom and gloom situation for the Bruins, but it still stands to mention how bumpy things became for at least a while there. The B’s have to hope that most of this stuff sorts itself out, Nash or not.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Panthers boost playoff hopes, end Penguins’ streak

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

For quite some time, it seemed like the Metropolitan Division would send five teams to the playoffs while the top-heavy Atlantic would only generate three.

The Metro still dominates the wild-card picture, but with all apologies to the scrappy Red Wings, the Florida Panthers stand as the one Atlantic team with a shot at crashing the party. For all of the front office upheaval, the past few nights provide evidence that they could do some damage if they walk in that door.

Maybe it’s fitting for an up-and-down team to see some extreme highs and lows in an eventual 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite some strong work from Evgeni Malkin, the Panthers went into the third period with a 4-2 lead. That wouldn’t end up being enough, as the two teams traded blows during a frantic, five-goal final frame. The Penguins briefly tied the contest up at 5-5, pushing for a seventh straight win, but it was not to be.

Ultimately, Evgenii Dadonov (first career hat trick) trumped Evgeni Malkin (two goals, one assist) in getting the late game-winner. Perhaps the Panthers will try to lift up a community rattled by tragic shootings, as this is the second straight game where they’ve notched decisive goals late in front of home fans.

(Thursday’s win against the Capitals was even more dramatic, as they rallied late after Roberto Luongo‘s stirring speech before the game.)

Now, the Panthers might not seem like much of a threat with 62 points, as the Columbus Blue Jackets currently hold the East’s final wild-card spot with 67. Games played paint a brighter picture, though.

Here’s how the wild-card races look, updated following the Devils’ win against the Islanders, which is a nice boost for Florida overall:

Devils (beat Islanders in regulation): 72 points in 62 games played, first WC
Blue Jackets (won tonight): 67 points in 62 GP, second WC

Islanders (lost to Devils): 65 points in 63GP
Hurricanes (lost tonight): 64 points in 62 GP
Panthers: 62 points in 59 GP
Red Wings (beat Canes): 61 points in 60 GP
Rangers: 59 points in 62 GP

On one hand, the Panthers’ situation isn’t that different from the Red Wings,’ at least if Florida doesn’t get hot. On the other hand, consider that the Panthers have a few games in hand on everyone ahead of them. The margin could close rapidly … or they could fade.

Credit the Panthers for making things interesting, and if things go well, making their competition sweat.

That’s the power of “Dadonov Strength.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils retire Patrik Elias’ jersey

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils retired career scoring leader Patrik Elias’ No. 26 jersey in a ceremony before their game against the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

The 41-year-old former Czech forward played his final game in 2016, finishing a 20-year career in New Jersey with two Stanley Cup championships and most of the team’s scoring records.

“For someone growing up in Eastern Europe, in a communist country, there’s no way I could have ever dreamed of this day,” said Elias, whose eyes welled with tears during his speech that was interrupted several times by chants of “Paddy! Paddy!”

Always a fan favorite, Elias walked through a section of the stands at the Prudential Center before taking his place on the ice with his wife, two daughters, former and current teammates and the franchise’s owners and management.

The podium on the ice was shaped as a puck with the No. 26 on it, and it was by surrounded by other super-sized pucks with the same number and two trophies, the Stanley Cup and The Prince of Wales trophy, presented to the Eastern Conference winner.

Elias played on four conference champions, scoring the winning goal in Game 7 against Philadelphia in 2000.

Elias is the first European player to have his number retired by the Devils, and the first forward. Defensemen Scott Stevens (No. 4), Scott Niedermayer (No. 27) and Ken Daneyko (No. 3) and goaltender Martin Brodeur (No. 30) also had their jerseys retired. All four were in attendance with Brodeur, of course, getting the biggest ovation.

It was appropriate that Elias’ No. 26 was raised to the rafters at the Prudential Center against the Islanders, the team he played his most games against, 91, and had his most points, 86.

Elias is the Devils’ leader in points (1025), goals (408), assists (617), points in one season (96), points in a playoff season (23) and game-winning goals (80), .

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Stamkos, Hedman fight for Lightning during same period

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Your results may vary, but from here, novelty carries a lot of weight when it comes to noting an NHL fight.

Two superstar Tampa Bay Lightning players dropped the gloves in the same period against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, and while neither showing was especially boisterous or violent, the rarity really drives the point home.

As that tweet spoils, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman were the Bolts players who got a little testy in this one.

First, Stamkos went after Karl Alzner in defense of running mate Nikita Kucherov (see the video above this post’s headline). Some might argue that this was less of a fight and more of an aggressive hugging, but it’s still an unusual sight. According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Stamkos has only fought on two other occasions in the NHL: against Brad Marchand (2014-15) and Nik Zherdev (2008-09).

Hedman, meanwhile, dropped the gloves despite a considerable height advantage over Brendan Gallagher. You can see a portion of that fight in this GIF:

While this might explain the anger:

This would be Hedman’s sixth fight.

Theory: Lightning players are just as anxious as the rest of us to see if they’re going to land Erik Karlsson.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.