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.

NHL ON NBCSN: Lightning, Blues square off in battle of NHL’s best

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Wednesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Lightning and Blue have consistently been two of the best teams in the NHL since opening night.

A healthy Tampa side has scored at will with a league-best 110 goals through 29 games and the Blues have been powered by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and the now-injured Jordan Schwartz. Both teams have the fire power, but they also have played some very stingy defense, thanks to goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jake Allen.

The Blues enter Tuesday night’s game banged up and missing Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, so depth will be tested. Schenn’s production may also be affected as Schwartz has assisted on half of his 16 goals. And as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic pointed out this morning, St. Louis averaged 3 goals per game with Schwartz and 2.36 goals when he wasn’t in the lineup.

[WATCH LIGHTNING-BLUES LIVE ON NBCSN]

Tampa hits the road following an undefeated four-game homestand. Their last road trip away from Amalie Arena ended with a 1-3-0 record and only seven total goals scored. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper won’t have last change to get his preferred matchups on the ice, so will he find himself splitting up Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at times to spread out the offensive threat?

“We’ve done what we had to at home,” Cooper said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we have to do it on the road, and it’s much tougher with all the travel we have to do, especially where we are here. So, we have to learn from what we did on the road before, what we have to do to prepare, but this is a good way to jump-start that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson hits ‘reset button’ after heathy scratch

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The reset button has been hit and Cam Atkinson will return to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

Atkinson, who has six goals and nine points in 25 games this season, was made a healthy scratch on Saturday, three weeks after signing a seven-year, $40.25 million extension. John Tortorella’s decision to sit the forward who scored 35 goals last season wasn’t a hard one for the head coach, mainly because the player forced the issue.

“This isn’t to kick a player,” Tortorella said on Monday. “Cam Atkinson is a very important player, and especially for this coach. He’s in every situation, and that’s what I think of him as a player.”

It wasn’t an easy past couple of days for Atkinson. An embarrassing scratch not long after inking a big extension wasn’t an ideal way to show off his worth to the franchise. But on Sunday he received a text from Martin St. Louis, an off-season Connecticut golf buddy and someone who knows pretty well how Tortorella operates. For more than a half hour the former Tampa Bay Lightning star reminded the 28-year-old that he’s a good player and that the franchise has an incredible amount of confidence in him, as displayed by the contract they just handed him.

[Blue Jackets bet big on Cam Atkinson]

Since Saturday’s scratch, Atkinson had stayed on the ice after skates working on his shot and getting extra touches with the puck to try and restore his confidence. There was time spent watching video, too. And just as important, there was plenty of communication with Tortorella.

“It’s one of those things where once you go down that dark alley, one thing leads to another and it’s hard to get out of it,” Atkinson said. “It’s not so much pointing the fingers, but sometimes you tend to blame your teammates or linemates and that’s something you can’t do. It’s something I’ve tried not to do… Being a healthy scratch was probably the best thing for me.”

There’s more than one Blue Jackets player struggling at the moment, which Tortorella admits is a failure on his part to find a way to get them going again. To the head coach, scratching a player isn’t a form of punishment, it’s a way to help.

Atkinson has hit the 20-goal mark in each of the last four seasons, so it’s not like he’s a lost cause or being crushed under the weight of his extension. Now, after a night in the press box, he knows he needs to respond.

“Obviously, you never want to be a healthy scratch, but it gives you a chance to reassess and hit the reset button, realize where you are at that point in time in the season and what you need to do to get better,” Atkinson said.

“It’s a wake-up call. I take full responsibility. I know I need to be way better, and I will be.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Cooper’s reinvention; Pietrangelo on IR

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• How Jon Cooper helped reinvent himself and bring the Tampa Bay Lightning back to elite status. [Tampa Bay Times]

• Days after losing Jaden Schwartz for six weeks, the St. Louis Blues placed Alex Pietrangelo on injured reserved with a lower-body injury. The good news is that he’s expected back by early next week. [Blues]

• Six skaters on Russia’s Sochi Olympic women’s hockey team — including its captain and leading points scorer — were banned from the Olympics for life by the IOC. [NBC Olympics]

Drew Doughty on the Los Angeles Kings doubters: “Yeah, you know, obviously, people are still going to doubt us. There’s always going to be people who don’t believe in the success we’re having, but we’re not too worried about those other people.” [LA Daily Times]

• The New York Islanders unveiled their plans to develop land by Belmont Park race track, which includes an 18,000-seat arena. Bidding against MLS side NYCFC, it’s unknown when the winner will be announced. [Islanders Insight]

• How the returns of Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg will affect the rest of the Anaheim Ducks’ lineup. [OC Register]

• Don’t trade Erik Karlsson. No, really. Just don’t do it. [Silver Seven Sens]

• Canada’s World Junior entry got a big boost on Monday when the Montreal Canadiens announced they will be loaning the defenseman to the national team. [Canadiens]

• What to make of these Columbus Blue Jackets? [The Cannon]

• The New Jersey Devils have made the most out of having some very hard practices. [NJ.com]

• So you wanna rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks? Well, about that… [Second City Hockey]

• It’s not been the greatest season in Philadelphia, but Sean Couturier is certainly shining. [TSN]

• What do the Dallas Stars need to do to find more success on the road? [Defending Big D]

• Are smelling salts actually dangerous for players? [The Star]

• Would a transatlantic hockey league be a successful one? [British Ice Hockey]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ducks’ Perry being evaluated at hospital for lower body injury

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The injury woes for the Anaheim Ducks continued on Monday night.

On the same night they got Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg back in the lineup, they lost forward Corey Perry to some sort of a lower body injury.

Perry exited the game after playing just 3:49 in the first period.

After the game Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said that Perry is being evaluated at a local hospital for the injury and that there was no other update at this time.

According to Ducks beat writer Eric Stephens of the OC Register Perry did not suffer a skate cut.

In 31 games this season Perry has scored six goals to go with 16 assists for the Ducks. The Ducks have been absolutely crushed by injuries this season, a development that has no doubt played a major role in their slow start.

The Ducks were 3-2 winners on Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.