Rangers crush Canadiens, but Lundqvist questionable for Sunday

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In one of the best settings of the season, the New York Rangers exploded for five goals in the first period to coast to an important 6-3 victory against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. For 57 minutes, all of the news was good for the Rangers and their fans as they solidified their hold on a playoff spot. But with three minutes left, Benoit Pouliot collided with Henrik Lundqvist, forcing the New York goaltender’s neck to snap backwards. He was tended to on the ice by the Rangers’ trainer and finished the game, but admitted the neck started to stiffen in the last few minutes of the game.

The Rangers have been playing well as of late; they’re currently riding a 3-game winning streak at the most important time of the season. But no matter how well the 18 skaters are playing in front of him, the Blueshirts can ill-afford to lose King Henrik for any period of time. Lundqvist described the play to reporters after the game:

“The tough part here is that I really didn’t see him coming,” said Lundqvist, who did not meet with members of the media until a full hour after the game was over. “My head was leaning forward and I took a pretty hard hit there. But we checked everything, X-rays were good, it’s just that my neck is very stiff and sore. We’ll see how it is when I wake up tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be sore for several days.”

Lundqvist said that he never blacked out from the hit, and he did not hit his head when he fell backwards. He admitted that it was difficult for him to play the final three minutes because his neck kept getting stiffer, and it was becoming very hard for him to turn his head.

As to whether or not he will be able to play Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, Lundqvist — who has started 16 consecutive games — said, “My goal is to be ready on Sunday.”

It certainly sounds like the Rangers are taking every precaution with their prized goaltender. In real-time, it looked like the type of incident where a player could suffer whiplash—which possibly explains the stiff neck. Anyone who has ever been in a car crash can tell you a neck injury can be worse the next morning than immediately after the incident. We’ll probably know more about the extent of the injury tomorrow morning.

Quote machine John Tortorella was asked about the play during his post-game press conference on Friday night. He answered with the candor we’ve come to expect:

“He’s OK. It certainly wasn’t intentional, it was just a hockey play, but he’s OK.

You’re talking to a guy who thinks “that’s hockey.” We try to take care of the blue [crease], we try to get to their blue, and when there’s contact, I think that’s part of the game. We certainly don’t want to lose or goalie or (for him) to get hurt, but I’m not going to sit up here and whine about that stuff. I think too much whining goes on. I think that’s a big part of hockey is trying to make plays there.”

The most important thing here is Lundqvist’s health, but it’s refreshing to see a coach in a post-game interview acknowledge an injury can happen in the normal course of a game. Increasingly, coaches are quick to point the finger and campaign for a punishment to settle the score. Tortorella wants his team to play with grit in passion in front of the net and understands when an opponent does the same. We hear over and over with the headshot debate about “players making a hockey play.” It may come off as empty rhetoric, but in this case, a hockey player was just making a hockey play in the crease.

Agent: Kucherov blasted Bolts out of frustration from missing playoffs

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Quite the situation developing in Tampa Bay.

Earlier today, the translation of Nikita Kucherov‘s interview with Sovietsky Sport hit social media and caught a number of people by surprise. In it, Kucherov said some of his Lightning teammates of “got their money and stopped working” this season, then complained about a lack of consistent linemates.

And that’s not all.

When reached for comment, Kucherov’s agent — Dan Milstein — didn’t deny the remarks were made. Instead, Milstein told the Tampa Bay Times they came out of frustration after Kucherov and the Bolts failed to make the playoffs.

More:

Here’s the full text of Kucherov’s remarks to Sovietsky Sport (translation courtesy the Times):

“Some guys overstayed in team. They’ve got their money and stopped working. They knew there’s no competition for their positions and the organization is not going to take someone else. They played not really well this year. You can see it in their stats and way of play. When we played together and I made a pass, they even were not expecting this. That’s why this season was hard for me despite good stats.

“We had great chemistry with [Vladislav] Namestnikov and [Steve] Stamkos at the start of the season. We understood each other really really well. And then Stamkos was injured, I was very upset. I think those nine games were my best in the NHL. After that coaches started shuffling lines. Partners were changing like in a kaleidoscope. It was very hard to get used to it, because guys didn’t play at Stamkos level. It’s hard to explain how I played with them. We had a lack of understanding of each other and there were some problems. I was suffering torments all season, because I couldn’t find perfect chemistry with other partners after Stamkos injury. We played with Jonathan Drouin once, and it was good. But coach didn’t put us together again for some reason.”

It’s unclear who Kucherov is referring to in the opening graph. He had numerous linemates this year, as mentioned in the second graph. As for the money angle, the most recent Tampa Bay forwards to get lucrative paydays were Alex Killorn (seven years, $31.5 million) and Stamkos (eight years, $68 million), both of whom were signed last summer.

Kucherov, as mentioned above, signed a three-year bridge deal at $4.766 million annually in October, then went out and provided the Bolts with terrific value. He emerged as a Hart Trophy candidate down the stretch, finishing the year with 40 goals (second only to Sidney Crosby) and 85 points (fifth-most in the NHL).

But while Kucherov had a great individual effort, the same couldn’t be said for the Bolts. Injuries and inconsistency derailed what was supposed to be a promising campaign, given the club advanced to the Cup Final two years ago, and the Eastern Conference final last season.

If there is a bright side to any of this, it’s that Milstein told the Times Kucherov wants to remain in Tampa Bay long term.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Wednesday, April 26

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

After disposing of the Calgary Flames in the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will look to take down another team from Alberta, while two red-hot goalies, Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne, go head-to-head.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

Green will be judged on progress of Canucks’ youngsters

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Expectations have officially changed in Vancouver.

Whereas the last few years the Canucks have tried to stay competitive and make the playoffs (failing miserably the last two seasons), the plan now is to develop their youth with an eye towards the future.

“I’m not sitting up here and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year,'” new head coach Travis Green said today.

“But I will tell you we’re going to get better.”

Green was hired after four seasons as head coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Utica. He understands that the Canucks need to keep injecting youth into their lineup. He knows that’s why he was hired, despite his lack of coaching experience in the NHL.

“We need to get younger, that’s no secret,” he said.

So, for Green, it will not be wins and losses that he’s judged on for the next year or two. Instead, it will be the progress of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, Brendan Gaunce, Olli Juolevi, Jonathan Dahlen, and any other youngsters in the organization.

A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games as a player, Green is not expecting this to be a smooth ride. Young players make mistakes. They are inconsistent. They can be immature. Sometimes they progress, only to regress.

“You have to let them learn on the fly, some of them,” said Green. “You have to give them rope. You want them to swim, you don’t want them to sink. (But) you want them to go through adversity as well. I think it’s good for young players to go through adversity.”

Green started his coaching career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. Combined with his AHL experience, he believes he’s learned a thing or two about getting through to younger players.

Not that he’ll be Mr. Nice Guy all the time. He intends to push his players. He’s more than willing to make them uncomfortable, if that’s what he thinks is required.

“I want my players to be accountable,” he said, “in what they do, how they prepare, how they practice. But I think if you build relationships and you communicate with players, they appreciate it — especially today’s player. I don’t play a lot of mind games. They always know where they stand. At the end of the day, when I was a player, you always wanted to know where you stood.”

The end goal — whether it’s two years down the line, or even three or four — is to produce a winning team that can compete for a championship.

“We know where we’re at,” said Green. “I know the management group understands that, I feel confident in that. But hey, I want to win. No one likes winning more than me. I want to see our team get better. I want to start the process and push the envelope with these players, and see improvement.”

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks

Report: Vegas’ first-ever game will be preseason tilt in Vancouver

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to be busy this fall, and they’ll reportedly start their work north of the border.

Per the Review-Journal, Vegas has finalized its preseason schedule and, pending league approval, will play its first-ever game on Sunday, Sept. 17 against the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights have submitted a loaded, compacted preseason schedule, which makes sense. The players selected in June’s expansion draft will have little to no familiarity with one another, meaning head coach Gerard Gallant has a massive task in trying to build chemistry.

More, from the Review-Journal:

On Sept. 19, they’ll travel to Colorado to face the Avalanche at Pepsi Center followed by a trip to San Jose Sept. 21 to face the Sharks at SAP Center. The road portion of the preseason concludes at Anaheim against the Ducks Sept. 24.

The first of the three home games at T-Mobile will be Sept. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings. The other home games are Sept. 28 against Colorado and Oct. 1 vs. San Jose.

Vegas team officials wouldn’t comment to the Review-Journal about the preseason schedule. According to the report, the timing of the Vancouver game hinged on the dates for the Canucks-Kings games in China this fall (Sept. 21 in Shanghai, and Sept. 23 in Beijing.)