Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins

Alexei Kovalev officially headed to KHL

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There were plenty of rumors that Alexei Kovalev was headed to the KHL this summer. Now, we have official word that former Penguins’ skilled winger is headed to Atlant Mytishchi in Moscow. The newly signed deal will send Kovalev to his native Russia for the next two seasons and very likely could spell the end of his North American career. Some would say a year or two too late.

Kovalev was acquired by the Penguins midseason in hopes that he would inject some offense into a team that was replacing the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. In 20 games down the stretch, Kovalev only scored a pair of goals and five assists as he failed to meet short-term expectations in the Steel City. Atlant’s General Director talked about the move to bring Kovalev to Moscow (via Google Translate):

“We have long fought for Kovalev and we’re very glad that we could still come to terms with such a talented striker. We hope that Alex can reveal a wealth of potential in the Kontinental Hockey League, and thereby help to Atlant to fight for the highest places in the next championships.”

If this is truly the end of the NHL line for Kovalev, he’s had a great career in North America. Taking a brief look back, the insanely talented Russian has put up 428 goals and 596 assists in 1,302 regular season games. After bouncing between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins a few times, he ended up in Montreal for parts of five seasons, Ottawa for parts of two, and finally back to Pittsburgh for his last 20 games. The 38-year-old was drafted 15th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers and broke into the league during the 1992-93 season. Over the course of his career, he scored 20+ goals in twelve separate seasons including a 44 goal, 95 point campaign in 2000-01. For a man known for his inconsistency, he consistently put up goals just about everywhere he went.

It was no secret that the Penguins weren’t interested in bringing Kovalev back for the 2011-12 season. He was a disappointment for the Ottawa Senators for the majority of his two years in town and continued the trend when he reached Pittsburgh. He’s been on the free agent market since July 1st but there hasn’t been much interest in North America—and if there was, they weren’t willing to spend the same amount of money that the KHL offering.

He’ll be remembered as one of the most skilled players over the course of his career. Hockey fans would be hard pressed to come up with too many players who had more pure talent than Kovalev. Hopefully he’ll be able to regain the fire with Atlant Mytishchi.

2016 Lady Byng finalists: Barkov, Eriksson and Kopitar

Slovenia forward Anze Kopitar, left, and Sweden forward Loui Eriksson battle for the puck in the second period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The low penalty minutes and high point totals are in, and thus we have the 2016 NHL Awards’ three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy: Aleksander Barkov, Loui Eriksson and Anze Kopitar.

OK, the actual definition for the award is that it goes “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Same difference, eh?

Barkov really made a breakthrough this season with the Florida Panthers, scoring 59 points versus just eight penalty minutes. He only has 34 PIM in 191 career regular season contests.

You can see Eriksson and Kopitar representing their respective countries in this post’s main image. Eriksson enjoyed his best (and maybe last?) season with the Boston Bruins while Kopitar hopes to win the 2016 Selke as the Los Angeles Kings’ defensively adept – yet apparently courteous – forward.

It’s unclear who wins this “fight,” but one would assume it wouldn’t be a dirty one.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 of Islanders – Lightning, Penguins – Capitals

Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) starts to celebrate his goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) and Kris Letang (58) during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Can Sidney Crosby and the Penguins even things up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals? Will the Lightning avoid dropping both games at home against the Islanders? We’ll find out on NBC.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media(reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.