Bryan McCabe, Chris Drury, Mats Zuccarello

Your move, Carolina: Rangers pound Devils 5-2, force Carolina to win their way into playoffs

Call it guts, call it manning up when needed, call it the comeback of Chris Drury if you want to but either way the Rangers did what they had to do today. New York’s 5-2 win over New Jersey gave them a shot at making the playoffs and now they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s game between Tampa Bay and Carolina from Raleigh to see if they can make the postseason.

The Rangers didn’t start off today’s game on the right foot getting down just over two minutes into the game when Nick Palmieri tipped home an Ilya Kovalchuk shot to give New Jersey an early 1-0 lead. Moments later, however, the Rangers would get the spark they were looking for out of captain Chris Drury. Drury put home a beautiful backhand goal after a great feed from Erik Christensen to tie the game at one. Drury made his comeback today after being out since February 3 with a knee injury.

The first period would end with the Devils leading 2-1, however, as Ilya Kovalchuk beat Henrik Lundqvist with a shot with 42 seconds left to play. It would be the last tally the Devils would get on the game however as the Rangers blew the game open in the second. Wojtek Wolski, Ryan McDonagh, and Brandon Prust each netted goals in the second while Vinny Prospal added one in the third to provide the 5-2 final score.  For McDonagh, it was his first NHL goal and for Wolski it was his first goal since February 22. If you needed a definition of a “character effort” this game was it for the Rangers.

Henrik Lundqvist finished the game with 24 saves and closed out his regular season with 36 wins. If the Rangers make the playoffs, the Capitals will have their hands full in dealing with King Henrik and his 11 shutouts this season. He’s more than capable of carrying the team and if the Rangers got hot in the postseason he makes for an imposing figure.

They have to get there first though and that means getting a win from Tampa Bay, Rangers coach John Tortorella’s old team, tonight against the Hurricanes. If Carolina pulls off the win, they’re in the playoffs and for the first time ever there won’t be a New York City-area team in the playoffs. Ever since the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, one of the Islanders, Rangers, or Devils have made the playoffs to represent the Big Apple in one way or another.

It makes for quite the altered perspective for old time fans as you’d have teams from Nashville, Tampa Bay, North Carolina, Phoenix, and three from California in the playoffs and just two Canadian teams and none from New York in the playoffs. Let that sink in a little bit the next time you pile on about how the non-traditional hockey markets stink.

No pressure though Carolina, the task is simple: Win and you’re in.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).