Around the Rink – Sunday, March 20th

It might be tough to top the pure hatred exhibited between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins during the NBC Game of the Week, but the five remaining Sunday contests should feature plenty of intensity. Every game has playoff implications, so it should be a fun night of hockey. As always, all start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

5:00 pm

Nashville @ Buffalo

The West’s eighth seed visits the East’s eight seed in a game that is important for both sides. Each team is coming off big Saturday wins, as the Predators rode an outstanding Pekka Rinne performance to beat the Red Wings while the Sabres absolutely crushed the Thrashers 8-2.

Buffalo will extinguish their one extra game in hand over the ninth-place Hurricanes, but could stretch their lead from two to four. Meanwhile, a win for Nashville would (briefly) propel them to fifth in the West.

New Jersey @ Columbus

Much like the Predators-Sabres game, this matches two conference twins, as the Devils rank 12th in the East while the Blue Jackets are in 12th in the West. While New Jersey’s odds are a little better (even though both teams are eight points behind their respective conference’s eight seeds), they both might already be toast. Whoever wins this game still can hold onto their slim dreams, while a loss – especially during regulation – could be the last straw.

6:00 pm

Montreal @ Minnesota

Both teams have been struggling a bit lately, but while the Habs’ main concerns regard their seeding more than earning a playoff spot, the Wild’s potential for a postseason keeps fading. It’s hard to imagine that Minnesota would be able to close the gap in time to make the playoffs if they don’t win this game. Sadly for them, it might be too late even if they do defeat the Canadiens.

8:00 pm

Calgary @ Anaheim

The ninth-place Ducks (83 pts in 71 GP) host the 1oth-ranked Flames (83 pts in 73 GP) in this high-stakes game. While Calgary has more to lose since they only have nine games remaining compared to Anaheim’s 11, both teams find themselves out of the West’s top eight right now. The Ducks could make a nice jump into the sixth or seventh spot with a win tonight, but the Flames aren’t going to make it easy.

Chicago @ Phoenix

The Blackhawks (84 pts in 71 GP) still need to fight to maintain their position in the top eight while the Coyotes (89 pts in 73 GP) have a legitimate chance to win the Pacific Division. After a red-hot run, Chicago is struggling with just one win in their last five games while Phoenix is on a five-game winning streak, so it seems like the Coyotes might have the advantage. At least on paper, anyway.

Flyers could gain in lengthy loss of Andrew MacDonald

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It’s not right to celebrate the injury of Andrew MacDonald, but it’s fair for Philadelphia Flyers fans to at least consider the silver linings.

The oft-criticized defenseman (who was booed during warm-ups during the Flyers’ season-opener) is expected to miss four-to-six weeks after blocking a shot by Edmonton Oilers forward Mark Letestu during Philly’s eventual win on Saturday.

MacDonald, 31, tried to fight through the pain and even briefly returned, gaining praise from teammates and coaches alike. Here’s the painful-looking play that caused the injury:

Flyers fans – and fans of other NHL teams, as almost all have a contract or two they’d like to give the “Men In Black” treatment to – should remember to hate the contract, not the player.

(If you’re going to boo anyone, do so to management, as that bad deal happened right around the time Ron Hextall was transitioning to GM. It’s probably not as much on Hextall, but it’s not inconceivable that he gave a thumbs up, too.)

Anyway, with the 31-year-old on the shelf and his $5M cap hit being IR-bound, the Flyers should have plenty of room to call someone up, if they’d like. That’s where things get interesting, as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac ranks among those pointing out intriguing defensive prospect Samuel Morin as a potential replacement.

Morin, 22, is a towering, Pronger-sized defenseman. He could slide into some of MacDonald’s roles, as both are going to be counted on for their own-zone work more than offense. Even in the AHL, Morin was known for stacking up penalty minutes more than points, although he’s off to a higher-scoring start so far this season.

While MacDonald has struggled from a possession stats perspective (as Flyers fans will likely tell you, possibly loudly), he’s far from alone in that regard. The team is middling in possession categories, and MacDonald doesn’t look all that out of place when you consider “relative” stats in 2017-18.

It will be fascinating to see if Morin can help in that regard, and really, how he fits into the modern NHL.

A defenseman his size will need to work harder to stay in position and not get burned against faster, attacking teams. With the Flyers’ host of fleet-footed, scoring blueliners, Morin could serve as a nice change-of-pace.

(Isaac also points to Mark Alt as an option, if the Flyers feel like now isn’t the time for Morin.)

With three wins in their last four games and a five-game homestand wrapping up against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, the Flyers have a lot of good things going. As promising as the present can be at times, it’s still the future that makes this group most tantalizing. Perhaps we’ll get a glimpse at how Morin might fit into the puzzle, then?

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.

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Coyotes d-man Chychrun back skating after offseason surgery, but no timetable for return

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It’s been a difficult start to the new season for the Arizona Coyotes, as they still search for their first win after eight games.

But they received good news Saturday when sophomore defenseman Jakob Chychrun skated, which, according to Craig Morgan of NHL.com, is the first time he’s done so since he underwent knee surgery at the beginning of August and was sidelined indefinitely.

Chychrun, a left-shooting blue liner with tremendous skating ability and size at 6-foot-3 tall and 200 pounds, had been talked about as a potential top five pick well ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, but he eventually fell down the order all the way to 16th when the Coyotes selected him.

Despite going midway through that opening round, Chychrun made the Coyotes out of training camp at the age of 18 and remained in the NHL for the entire 2016-17 season, putting up seven goals and 20 points in 68 games on a young Arizona team.

While there is reason for optimism with this development, Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet still doesn’t have a timetable for when Chychrun could return to the lineup, which could certainly use a boost.

“I’ve got to give the guy (credit),” Tocchet told the Coyotes website. “When you talk about a commitment level, Jakob Chychrun’s got it. He’s got that commitment level, that accountability. He went to Philadelphia (to rehab) by himself, and he trained there with the proper guy. He’s there every day doing whatever it takes to get back into the lineup. I love that stuff. That sort of commitment is incredible. We need that around here.”

The Coyotes now begin a five-game road trip through the East, beginning Tuesday against the New York Islanders and ending on Oct. 31 versus the Detroit Red Wings.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

‘A wave of nerves’ — Brian Boyle returns to practice following leukemia diagnosis

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Brian Boyle was back on the ice with his New Jersey Devils teammates on Sunday after getting all cleared to participate in practice following his Chronic Myeloid Leukemia diagnosis last month.

“I got the news yesterday … and a wave of nerves came over me,” Boyle told reporters following the skate. “But it’s exciting to get back on a routine and work towards a goal. I’ve got a lot of work to do, as evidence by that practice.

“Parts of it were not too bad. I was a lot better than I thought in some areas. Some of the battles. Just like hands and feet working together that are a little fatigued. The speed of it. Even just the practice — I’ve been kind of by myself for a month. It was an adjustment. Even throughout the practice I felt better, but still a bit of a ways to go.”

The Devils signed Boyle to a two-year, $5.5 million contract this summer. Despite the diagnosis, Boyle was determined to try not to miss any games in the upcoming season.  New Jersey is eight games into its season and has been one of the big surprises early on with a 6-2 record and 31 goals already scored.

Boyle, 32, has yet to play a game for his new team, and it remains to be seen exactly when he’ll get into the lineup, with the club announcing there is no timetable yet for his return. The Devils last played on Friday against the San Jose Sharks and are in the midst of a week-long break in their schedule.

Their next game is this Friday against Ottawa, which should give Boyle a few days of practice — opportunities to continue to improve on his conditioning — before the Devils play two games in two nights next weekend.

Meanwhile, the Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve two days ago, after he was hurt the previous night.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Report: Golden Knights’ Subban ‘probably out weeks’ after injury versus Blues

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The Golden Knights won again on Saturday, but lost goalie Malcolm Subban to an injury in the third period.

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant, as is often the case immediately following a game in which an injury occurs, didn’t have an update on Subban’s condition. He called it a lower-body injury, and said he would know more by Sunday.

However, John Shannon of Sportsnet, citing a team source, reported that Subban will undergo an MRI on Sunday and is “probably out weeks.”

That isn’t good news at all for a Vegas team already without Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still on injured reserve after suffering a concussion.

The 23-year-old Subban, who was picked off waivers by Vegas following his training camp with the Bruins, had a promising start to the season since joining the Golden Knights. Since the injury to Fleury, Subban has played in three games, winning two of those and allowing six goals on 94 shots against. He allowed only one goal on 38 shots last night before leaving the game.

Oscar Dansk came off the bench last night when Subban was hurt, and stopped 10 of 11 shots faced as the Golden Knights picked up the overtime victory, despite getting outshot 49-22.

But any lengthy injury to Subban would really test the depth of the Golden Knights goaltending. Fleury has already been out for just over week. The 23-year-old Dansk made his NHL debut last night, and Vegas doesn’t have Calvin Pickard anymore, after he was traded to Toronto a few weeks ago. Maxime Lagace is still down with the AHL Chicago Wolves.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.