Early ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

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Boston 2, Tampa Bay 1

This hasn’t been an easy stretch for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On back-to-back nights they’ve been forced to play the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference on the road. In both games, the Lightning did a good job of holding their opponents to only 2 goals. Unfortunately, they only scored a single goal as they lost for the second straight night.

In a battle for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, Milan Lucic scored the eventual game-winner with about 4 minutes left in the game. Lucic netted the goal on a rebound after an unbelievable scramble in front of Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. For his part, Smith had a fantastic game and gave his team a chance to win. They’ll just need to start scoring more than once if they want to win.

Washington 3, St. Louis 2

Welcome to the Capitol, Mr. Arnott. The Caps have been saying for two years that they wanted a 2nd line center, and one game into the Arnott-era it seems they might have found the right guy for the job. Thursday’s win was their third in a row—the first time they’ve won three games in a row since the Winter Classic. In fact, the Caps didn’t have a lead until Arnott’s goal with 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. It was a tough way to lose for the Blues who played a good road game and desperately need the points in the tight Western Conference.

Toronto 3, Philadelphia 2

The good news for the Flyers was Kris Versteeg was able to bury 2 goals against his former team. The bad news is no one else was able to do anything and the Leafs escaped Wells Fargo Center with a 3-2 win. Escaped is really the right word. The Leafs controlled the play for most of the game, but once they scored the go-ahead goal with 4:30 left in the final frame, the Flyers threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Maple Leafs. At the end of the day though, it was the first time the Flyers have lost back-to-back games since the end of December.

The Leafs continued their hot streak as of late. This was the ninth one-goal game in a row with Toronto earning points in all 9 games (6-0-3). Rookie netminder James Reimer played well once again helping the Leafs win another tight game as they make a surprising push for the playoffs.

Minnesota 3, NY Rangers 1

Don’t look now, but the Rangers are in a freefall. Thursday night’s loss is their 11th in their last 15 games, dropping them down to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Once again, they played well enough to win—but fell short on the scoreboard. They got 41 shots on net against the Wild, but Henrik Lundqvist was only able to make 16 saves as the Wild escaped Gotham with a much needed win.

The Wild will take wins any way they can get them—and tonight that included surviving a horrific first period. Even though the Rangers dominated the play in the opening frame, Minnesota kept it close and made enough big plays to earn the win. At this point, it doesn’t matter how they get them. A win is a win.

Carolina 3, Buffalo 2 (OT)

For all of the teams in the East trying to push into the playoffs, this was the worst possible result. A 3-point game between the 8th and 9th place teams is NOT the way to climb the ladder to make any headway.

Defenseman Jaime McBain was able to pot the game-ender for the Canes only 26 seconds into OT. With the overtime win, the Hurricanes are now 11-3-2 in their last 16 at the RBC Center. As Eric Staal said after the game, he could sense the confidence building within the team with youngsters and veterans alike. That’s exactly what Carolina will need if they want to make the playoffs in April.

The loss snaps the Sabres 4-game winning streak even though newcomer Brad Boyes was able to score his 2nd goal in as many games for Buffalo. As a team battling for the final playoff spot, they were at least able to earn the loser point.

Ottawa 3, Atlanta 1

Why in the world didn’t Bryan Murray trade for Craig Anderson months ago? The former Avs netminder played well yet again as his 42 saves led the Sens to their fourth win in his sixth game. Better than that, it was the fifth time he’s only allowed 1 or fewer goals in a game for the Sens.

The 11th place Thrashers lost ground on everyone they were chasing as they lost their 7th game in their last 8. They have one game left on their current 5-game homestand that has seen them go 1-2-1. The loss drops them seven points out of the final playoff spot. Needless to say, this wasn’t the time to lose to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal 4, Florida 0

Unfortunately, the Panthers are going to have to play the rest of the season. After trading three defensemen and four forwards, the Panthers looked completely overmatched as the Habs jumped all over them in the 1st period. The final score was 4-0, but it seemed much worse than that. Maybe it had to do with the sellout crowd of Habs fans making the BankAtlantic Center their own. Maybe it was Tomas Vokoun getting pulled 9 minutes into the game.

The Canadiens must have been happy with their effort. Two first period goals and a 30 save shutout for Carey Price helped solidify their sixth place standing. Even Hal Gill scored a goal! That pretty much sums it up.

Eugene Melnyk’s Senators are kind of a mess right now

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As the Ottawa Senators prepare to head into their outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night it is really difficult to imagine this is the same organization that was one game away from winning the entire Eastern Conference just seven months ago.

It’s taken a less than a year for all of the goodwill that improbable playoff run created among the team’s fan base to be almost completely wiped away.

And it’s not just because the product on the ice has badly regressed.

Actually, that is probably the least of their concerns at this point.

On a day that is supposed to be a celebration and a highlight of the team’s season — a home outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens!– the fan base is instead staging a social media rebellion against team owner Eugene Melnyk with the #melnykout hashtag on Twitter.

[NHL On NBCSN: Senators, Canadiens Meet In NHL 100 Classic]

Pretty much every reply to every Tweet from the Senators’ social media team is being bombarded with that hashtag as fans voice their displeasure. On Saturday afternoon #melynkout was one of the top trending topics in all of Canada.

Just a quick recap of everything that has gone wrong in recent weeks to help get things to this boiling point.

  • Erik Karlsson, the team’s best player, a generational talent, and a superstar that has played the past few seasons on a below market contract made some comments that indicated he would not be willing to take another hometown discount when his contract expires after next season. Given the team’s financials it is pretty clear that he already has one foot out the door.
  • The team, struggling on the ice and apparently desperate to make a move, is reportedly fielding calls on every player on the roster, including Karlsson.
  • Kyle Turris, traded as part of the Matt Duchene trade, suggested the team’s front office wanted to re-sign him but ownership did not. Turris and his new team, the Nashville Predators, have been unstoppable since the trade while Duchene and the Senators have been stuck in neutral.
  • General manager Pierre Dorion denied that claim and said all hockey moves go through him, not the owner. That press conference from Dorion included the anecdote that Dorion’s own son said the team’s “level of suckage is high.”
  • Then, on Friday night, on the night before the team’s outdoor game, Melnyk poured a bucket of gasoline on the tire fire that is his team and made some ominous comments about the team’s financial situation and future in Ottawa.

Melnyk is no stranger to bringing some less than desirable attention to his team. The whole forensic investigation surrounding the Matt Cooke and Erik Karlsson incident; the way he lost his mind in the wake of the Sidney Crosby/Marc Methot incident. But to make comments like the ones he made on Friday, on the eve of a major NHL and team event, and given everything else surrounding the team and his ownership at the moment, is astonishing even for him.

Oh, and the team itself is still seven points out of a playoff spot and sitting in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.

Given all of that it is really difficult to imagine a bleaker long-term outlook for any fan base in the NHL. Which situation can possibly be worse?

The only one that really comes close at this point from is probably the Detroit Red Wings, and that is strictly from a hockey standpoint. The Red Wings are a sub-par team saddled with a ton of long-term contracts, little in the way of young, impact talent and are in dire need of a rebuild but seem reluctant to actually go through with it. It might be a long time before the Red Wings are a factor in the Eastern Conference again, but at least they are not in danger of moving (or at least having that threat thrown out there). They don’t have an owner that fans are openly revolting against.

Even the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have some reason to be hopeful from a hockey standpoint (Jack Eichel in Buffalo; Arizona is struggling, but they have a ton of young talent).

But the Senators? What is the reason for optimism here?

They have a generational superstar that might be one of the finest players to ever play his position and it is only a matter of when, and not if, he is playing for another team.

The owner, seemingly unwilling to sell the team, doesn’t seem to respect his own fan base and doesn’t seem to have the funds to consistently put a competitive product on the ice.

If you are Senators fan, what can you possibly have to look forward to right now, whether it be for the rest of this season or beyond?

It is a grim situation to be sure.

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.

NHL On NBCSN: Senators, Canadiens meet in NHL 100 Classic

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The first outdoor game of the 2017-18 season takes place on Saturday night in at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa when the Ottawa Senators host the Montreal Canadiens.

Both teams are looking for some kind of a spark to break out of their early season slumps that have them starting to get buried in the Eastern Conference standings. Even with those slow starts there remains plenty of intrigue with this game.

Let’s start with the fact that both teams — both of which were in the playoffs just last season — are absolutely desperate for points right now.

[Live Stream: Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators]

The Senators, who were just one shot away from being in the Stanley Cup Final a season ago, have won just two of their past 14 games and find themselves in 15th place in the East, 10 points out of a Wild Card spot and seven points behind the Boston Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

As if the problems on the ice are not bad enough, there is plenty of off-ice drama surrounding them. And it seems to keep getting worse.

The long-term future of their only superstar, defenseman Erik Karlsson, remains in doubt and with each passing day it seems as if his time in Canada’s capital city is coming closer and closer to ending. A free agent after next season, Karlsson has made it clear he is not looking to take a discount on his next contract. Then came the report that he was one of the many Senators that was asked to give his no-trade list.

As if all of that wasn’t ominous enough, team owner Eugene Melnyk spoke publicly on Friday, the day before what should be one of the highlights of the team’s 2017-18 season, and played the relocation card.

Other than all of that, everything is going wonderfully for the Senators.

On the other side of the ice we have the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens enter play on Saturday sitting just two points back of the Bruins for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but have also played three additional games.

The Canadiens have been a difficult team to get a grasp on this season because they keep running so hot and cold.

After starting the season on a 1-6-1 run, they followed that up by going 7-3 over their next 10. Then they lost five in a row. Then they won five in a row. Which was then followed by a three-game losing streak. You never know which Canadiens team you are going to get on a given night or over a given period of time. The only thing consistent about them this season has been their inconsistency.

Now they enter play on Saturday night against a struggling Senators team that is dealing with plenty of drama off the ice.

Outdoor games always have a little extra appeal to them, but this one is especially big given how much the two teams need the points.

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.

Canada beats US 3-1 in women’s hockey Olympic tuneup

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 victory over the United States on Friday night in the latest Olympic tuneup between the world’s top powers in women’s hockey.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

It was the fifth of six meetings between the rivals as they prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada has won four of the five recent matchups, after the Americans took the series opener Oct. 22 in Quebec City.

”We just have to be better in the red zones – that’s the difference between winning and losing,” United States coach Robb Stauber said. ”We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 

MISC: 

Scores: 

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck