Marian Gaborik

Game of the Week preview: Rangers try to avoid repeating nightmare finish

You’ll have to excuse Rangers fans if they’re starting to look a little more pale and they’re not eating normally they way the did earlier this year. They’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach and it’s one they’re a bit too familiar with. In case you’d forgotten, and if you’re a Rangers fan you’re punching your computer screen upon reading this, the Rangers lost out on a playoff spot on the last game of the season last year, losing to Philadelphia in a shootout. With the win, the Flyers made the playoffs and the Rangers were out. Philly, of course, went on to the Stanley Cup final where they lost to Chicago.

Rangers fans and perhaps some players as well thought “that could have been us” when seeing the Flyers roar through the Eastern Conference playoffs on the way to a shot at the Stanley Cup. With that sort of motivation you’d think the Rangers would be doing everything in their abilities to make sure they don’t miss out on the party again.

Things had been looking positive for the Rangers on that quest to make the postseason until recently. The Rangers have lost three of their last four games and as we’ve seen elsewhere in playoff races any cold streak like that hurts. For the Rangers it’s knocked them down into a points tie with the Sabres, but the Rangers hang on to the eighth spot thanks to tiebreakers going in Buffalo’s favor.

When tomorrow’s game drops the puck in Philadelphia, the Rangers could see the Sabres ahead of them by one or two points and the Hurricanes hot on their heels trailing them by one or two points. Three teams vying for two spots in the playoffs makes playing the regular season feel like the playoffs because every game from here on out is huge. To the Rangers credit, they’re still very confident in themselves. Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants has this to add from coach John Tortorella.

Though coach John Tortorella certainly expressed things he did not like about Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Islanders and Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Buffalo, he also told his team he and his coaching staff believed in the players and had their backs during the team meeting. And the players certainly believe, with four regular season games remaining, that controlling their destiny is key.

“We’re not in the 13th or 14th spot,” Tortorella said. “We’re right in the middle of it. We’ll respond the right way. I have full faith in them.”

Confidence is a big thing to have, and for the Rangers that all starts with Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has been other-worldly this season with 11 shutouts and standing out as a potential Vezina Trophy finalist. When the offense has gone through the motions and the injuries to their top players like Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, and Ryan Callahan it’s been Lundqvist that’s held it all together for the Rangers.

It’s a familiar juxtaposition considering that last season’s playoff chances went by the wayside thanks to the Flyers beating Lundqvist in the shootout and this year it’ll all fall on his shoulders again to keep the team locked in place for the playoffs. As King Henrik goes, so do the Rangers. We’re sure he’d love to see the Rangers drop another seven spot on Philly tomorrow to send the message that they won’t be going away quietly.

Then again, if you’re thinking things will be that easy for New York, you haven’t been watching them much this season. After the game against Philly, the Rangers wrap the season with games at home against Boston, Atlanta, and New Jersey. Boston still is fighting for a better seeding atop the East while Atlanta and New Jersey (especially) will be looking to spoil their plans. If the Rangers playoff hopes come down to that game against the Devils, Rangers fans might want to find a safe place to hide out for the night lest the nightmares of last year come roaring back all over again.

Las Vegas hires former Panthers director of player personnel Scott Luce

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  Director of scouting Scott Luce of the Florida Panthers smiles before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.

Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.

Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.

Report: Avalanche bring Rene Bourque in for a PTO

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 27: Rene Bourque #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 27, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After announcing the hiring of Jared Bednar as their next head coach, the Colorado Avalanche have brought in forward Rene Bourque on a professional tryout, according to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail.

Bourque became an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of July, after his six-year contract worth a total value of $20 million expired. The annual cap hit on his previous deal was $3.333 million.

He spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring three goals and eight points in 49 games. He was placed on waivers at the end of February.

During the 2014-15 campaign, he spent time with the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and the Blue Jackets, before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of that season.

Panthers need to keep Luongo rested and refreshed after offseason hip surgery

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) reacts after New York Islanders Thomas Hickey scored the game-winning goal during overtime in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in New York. The Islanders won 4-3. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
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This post is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo has provided an encouraging update on his comeback from offseason surgery.

At the age of 37 and with 926 regular season games under his belt, Luongo had hip surgery earlier this summer. There was discussion at the time that he might not be ready for the beginning of the regular season in October, but it appears there is reason for optimism with his rehab.

The Panthers open the season at home against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 13.

“I started skating Aug. 5 and there has been slow progression but we’ve ramped it up here the past week or so and it has been good,” Luongo told George Richards of the Miami Herald.

“I’m not 100 percent; it’s a five month rehab. But I’m feeling better than I thought I would. I thought it would be a slower progression, especially on the ice. It has gone fairly quickly and I’m happy about that. If the season were to start tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t be able to go. But I feel good where I’m at and I’m excited about it.”

Because of Luongo’s age — he’ll celebrate his 38th birthday next April, just before the playoffs begin — the Panthers made a prudent move in free agency by signing James Reimer to a five-year deal, worth a total value of $17 million.

To add further depth at the goalie position, the Panthers also brought in Reto Berra.

The Panthers, at least based on what GM Tom Rowe has said, are in no rush to bring Luongo back until he’s ready.

“Everything will be determined by how Lou gets through the offseason with his rehabilitation. Right now, it’s going really well. We’ll take it one day at a time. We don’t want to rush him back. We want him to come back on his schedule and just make sure we’re doing everything the right way,” said Rowe in July.

Signing Reimer is a move for the future, both long and short term.

He could, this season, take a considerable amount of games as a reliable No. 2, which could help keep Luongo’s energy levels up. And that should be very beneficial for the Panthers, considering Luongo still had a very good season as one of the oldest starters in the league.

Last season, Luongo appeared in 62 regular season games for the Panthers. He posted strong numbers, with a .922 save percentage. He followed that up in the post-season with a .934 save percentage in six games.

He saw plenty of playing time, more than 3,600 minutes. He faced more than 1,800 shots. It all took a toll, as he expressed fatigue in the playoffs.

The expectation is the Panthers make it back to the post-season, perhaps do some damage, too.

Having a rested and refreshed Luongo in goal would certainly help their cause.

‘He doesn’t seem to get rattled’: Blues officially name Alex Pietrangelo team captain

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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The news leaked a day early, but on Thursday the St. Louis Blues made it official: Alex Pietrangelo is the 21st captain in the club’s history.

Selected fourth overall in 2008, Pietrangelo has played 459 games for the Blues, with 51 goals and 255 points in that span. He takes over the ‘C’ from David Backes, who signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent this summer, following the Blues’ run to the Western Conference Final.

“Watching him perform when the game is on the line, he doesn’t seem to get rattled,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong of Pietrangelo, as per the club’s website.

“As the captain, you have to answer questions, the tough questions when games are over. I really like his personality, his demeanor to his teammates, to the coaching staff and to the media. He’s someone that has the respect of everyone.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the end of July, Pietrangelo praised Backes for the impact he had on the young defenseman as he was developing with the Blues.

“I think being so close with Dave over the five years he was captain, I’ve learned a lot from him just kind of sitting back and seeing how he operates on a daily basis,” said Pietrangelo.

“Not only on the ice but off the ice, which is a big part of it trying to keep the locker room together and doing the off-ice stuff.”

The Blues also announced that Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk were named as assistant captains.