Alex Kovalev bashes Ottawa media, hints at possibility of eventual NHL return

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If any player knows how tough the Canadian hockey media can be, it’s Alex Kovalev. The mercurial Russian winger spent parts of seven seasons with two Canadian teams: the Montreal Canadiens (2003-04 to 08-09) and the Ottawa Senators (09-10 to 10-11). Fair or not, media members have criticized the talented winger’s perceived lackadaisical nature for much of his career, but that scrutiny reached new heights north of the border.

Kovalev will be far away from those watchful eyes now that he signed a two-year contract to play in the KHL with Atlant Mytischi alongside fellow “enigmatic” forward Nikolay Zherdev. It’s a nice chance to put those things behind him, but if an interview translated by Puck Daddy’s Dmitri Chesnokov is any indication, some of those wounds still fester.

That candid interview covered a wide array of subjects, but the splashiest comments revolve around Kovalev’s critiques of former Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston and the Ottawa media. Here’s the funniest bit for your meme-creating pleasures.

“And the fact I am criticized… There are different journalists. My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don’t watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer. You realize right away what these people do when they write about the NHL.”

(Note to self: 1. Find these Ottawa journalists with bags full of beer; 2. Befriend them.)

Going beyond that hyperbolic and hysterical quote, Kovalev spoke about more tangible things, like the far-from-automatic adjustment of going from the NHL to the KHL. Is he worried that his fate will be similar to Evgeni Nabokov’s aborted 2010-11 season?

The move from America to Russia is not always easy.

“That’s the whole point. I don’t agree with those who say ‘He was a cool guy in America, that’s why he will now beat everyone in the KHL wearing just one skate.’ When you have played almost your entire career on small rinks, it’s not that easy to move to the big ice. The game is absolutely different in Russia, a different mentality.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway is that Kovalev might still have a hunger to return to the NHL. Could he pull a Jaromir Jagr and attempt a retirement tour after a brief sojourn in Russia? It certainly sounds like something he might consider.

“I want people to understand me correctly. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the Russian league. I like the KHL, hockey is improving in the country. It’s all great. But I have played in the NHL my entire life. Yes, right now it is interesting for me to play in Atlant. God-willing I will spend not two but four years in Russia. But in the future I would like to end my career in America. At least one more season and to put a full stop.”

Kovalev would be 40 years old by the summer of 2013, the next time he would be a free agent (unless he follows Nabokov’s example by terminating his contract). Who knows if a team would want him back – you can’t say never when the New York Islanders flirted with Alexei Yashin’s return – but the hockey world should root for a comeback for the chance to watch him speak with those beer-drinking Ottawa journalists one more time.

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the (brief) hook after very rare Jurco goal

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By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.

You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.

Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.

Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.

Here’s the Jurco goal:

Patrick Kane‘s 2-1 goal might have hurt the most, actually, as it quickly dissolved a tying tally by Ondrej Palat:

Update: The Lightning decided to put Vasilevskiy back in net to begin the second period. Interesting.

Coach Q thinks Anisimov will be back by playoffs for Blackhawks

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The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.

The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:

The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.

Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.

Ducks demote Enroth, so Gibson’s close to a return

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The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.

(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)

While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.

Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?

Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.

He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.

(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.

While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.

With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.