NHL makes its official-unofficial return to Winnipeg tonight

The last time a NHL game was played in Winnipeg that featured the hometown team standing front and center was April 28, 1996 when the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the playoffs in six games. While there have been preseason games that have come back to Winnipeg over the last few seasons, tonight’s preseason match-up at the MTS Centre will be something special as there’s a home team to root for once again.

The Winnipeg Jets host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and while it’s a split-squad affair between the teams (the other half of their rosters are in Columbus to face each other) it makes the return of the NHL a real and tangible thing for fans in Manitoba. If you think they’re not excited about that, you’d be completely wrong.

Patrick Williams of NHL.com gets the word from Jets coach Claude Noel heading into tonight’s coming out party.

Noel admitted his team is in uncharted waters, to some extent, given the city’s NHL history and the significance of the game.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Noel said. “I have a pretty good idea of what to expect for the Montreal game. I think it will be good. I think it will be enthusiastic. If it’s anything like our first practice, goodness, I thought our first practice was fabulous.”

A potential pitfall for the home team would be trying to impress the crowd or over-complicate the game. Noel, however, sees the possible distractions as positive challenges to his club.

“I think it’s all good,” Noel said when asked about the game’s significance possibly affecting his club. “I don’t think it will be a distraction. I think, if anything, it will be a big help for us. I think you’ll be able to see who is nervous, who has trouble in front of this excitable crowd. Those are the things that you want to look at and see how the response is.”

The Jets (and Blue Jackets) roster for tonight’s game is available from the guys at Illegal Curve (PDF) and the hometown fans will get a look at their starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec as well as likely starters in Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Alexander Burmistrov, captain Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien as well. 2011 first round pick Mark Scheifele will also get a chance to show the home fans what he’s about as well while hometown guys Troy Bodie and Jason Gregoire look to impress and win jobs.

It’s just a preseason game, but to see the buzz and excitement that’s coming out of Winnipeg for it is outstanding to see. Given that it’ll likely be a packed house for the game tonight, it’s doubtful you’ll see another preseason game played this year with this much excitement surrounding it.

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.