Matthew Lombardi admits he’s nervous about making his Leafs debut tonight

The Toronto Maple Leafs go into the 2011-12 season with plenty of wild cards. From James Reimer backing up his breakout season to their unexpected top line keeping it together and plenty of health questions, the Leafs really could go either way.

Even with some rather big “ifs” floating around, Matthew Lombardi’s battle with post-concussion syndrome ranks as one of the most mysterious (and potentially difference-making). Lombardi scored a great contract to become a significant checking center for the Nashville Predators, but he instead just played in two games before a concussion ended his season in Tennessee.

In what some might consider a surprisingly quick recovery (or semi-recovery), Lombardi will make his preseason debut with the Leafs tonight. Who knows if he’ll really be able to stick with the team from a health and fitness standpoint off the bat, but the Maple Leafs aren’t easing him into the action. He’ll center a line with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel during the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

While he practiced in full-contact drills for a week, this still seems like a surprisingly quick phase in his comeback. Lombardi knows that physical challenges will come sooner or later, too.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Lombardi said on Saturday after a pre-game skate at the Air Canada Centre. “It’s going to be a weight lifted off my shoulders…to get this first game in and then move on and put everything behind me.

“I’m definitely going have some nerves going on but it’s good…It’s been so long. I’ve been so anxious the last couple of weeks. It’s finally here. Getting into a game and putting all the bad stuff behind me and moving forward…

“Mentally, I’ve been preparing to play. I had it in the back of my mind (since being cleared for full contact this week).”

(snip)

“I’m confident I’m healed,” he said. “We play in a game that is physical. There’s always a risk even if I never had a concussion. That’s the way it is.”

Lombardi drew attention during his last season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 09-10, as he scored 19 goals and 53 points while exhibiting great speed and strong versatility. His concussion problems almost made him seem like a throwaway in the deal to bring Cody Franson to Toronto, but the shift-skating center could be significantly more valuable if he can stay healthy.

Of course, the Maple Leafs have plenty of “ifs” going into the season, but a healthy Lombardi could Toronto a more balanced team. We’ll see how things go for him during the next few days to see if that claim is valid, though.

Bruins, Khudobin top Penguins for fourth straight win

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Don’t look now but here come the Boston Bruins.

Thanks to their 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday afternoon the Bruins were able to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings with their fourth consecutive win, all of them coming with backup goaltender Anton Khubodin in net.

Friday’s win ended up being a little more difficult than it looked after 20 minutes.

The Bruins stormed out of the gates and dominated the first period, scoring a pair of goals and limiting the Penguins to just four shots on goal. They held a 3-1 lead in the second period until the Penguins were able to strike back with a pair of goals, including a really flukey game-tying goal from Sidney Crosby that needed to go through two different replay reviews, to tie the game.

But early in the third period David Pastrnak was able to sneak behind the Penguins’ defense on a breakaway and score what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

With that win the Bruins are for the time being in the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins, meanwhile, continue to look like a lost hockey team. Their loss on Friday was their ninth in their past 13 games and they have still just won just 11 of their first 24 games this season.

Friday’s game was also the Penguins’ third consecutive loss.

Defense continues to be an issue, as does depth scoring and 5-on-5 offense.

Things will not get any easier for the Penguins on Saturday when they have to return home for a game against the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It will be the third time the Penguins have played the Lightning this season in the second half of a back-to-back situation. They lost the first two games by a combined score of 12-5.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

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If you are looking for a break from your Black Friday shopping or your relatives in town for the holidays we have something that should work nicely: Some afternoon hockey as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins enter the game having won three in a row, all with backup goalie Anton Khudobin in net. He has allowed just four goals in those three games.

The Penguins, meanwhile, are still trying to find their stride this season and have won just four of their past 12 games. They are still trying to figure out ways to replace some of the depth they lost this summer.

Opening faceoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

You can catch all of the action on NBC or on our NBC Live Stream.

Click Here For The Live Stream

Preview: NHL On NBC: Bruins’ Khudobin looks for fourth straight win in matinee matchup against Pens.

New York Rangers reveal 2018 Winter Classic jerseys (Photos)

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The Buffalo Sabres already revealed their look for the 2018 Winter Classic earlier this week, and on Friday the New York Rangers gave us our first look at what their uniforms will look like for the Jan. 1 game to be played at Citi Field in New York.

[Buffalo Sabres reveal 2018 Winter Classic jersey (Photos)]

Have a look, both in the picture at the top showing the front of the uniforms, as well as the picture just below showing the back.

Thoughts on the Rangers’ look?

The 2018 Winter Classic is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET faceoff at Citi Field in New York, the home of the New York Mets.

This year’s game will be the 10th anniversary of the annual New Years Day game.

Related: Buffalo Sabres reveal Winter Classic Jerseys 

NHL on NBC: Bruins’ Khudobin looks for fourth straight win in matinee matchup against Pens

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It’s Black Friday, which means that the NHL on NBC will air a matinee game. This afternoon, the Boston Bruins will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 1:00 P.M. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Bruins are in a weird goaltending situation right now. Tuukka Rask, who’s been their starter for the last few years, has taken a back seat to Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin is a career backup, but he’s looked terrific over the last week or so. The 31-year-old has won three consecutive games (all on the road) over Los Angeles, San Jose and New Jersey. In those three contests, he’s allowed just four goals.

“We’re playing with our hearts,” Khudosin said of the team’s recent winning streak, per the Boston Herald. “That’s how we’re playing. Right now, I think we put everything into one game. We’re focusing on that one game that we are playing. After the game, whether it is lose or win, we go on to the next game. I think that’s really important. It’s always hard work (that) pays off. When guys are playing like this, they’re not scared of the puck. They block the shots, they’re laying down to do whatever. Then there is always going to be positive result.”

Here’s an injury update for the Bruins:

Things have been going better for Boston than they have been for Pittsburgh recently. The Penguins have lost two games in a row and four of their last six contests. They’re coming off a 5-2 loss to rookie sensation Brock Boeser and the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.

“For us, we just have to find the consistency, something we show at different times,” captain Sidney Crosby said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “A couple mistakes here and there end up hurting us. We had some tough bounces. You have to work through your bounces at some point.”

In six games since Nov. 10, the Penguins scored five goals against Buffalo and four goals against Nashville. If you take those two games away, they have just seven goals in the remaining four contests.

Things won’t get any easier for them on Friday afternoon, as they’ll face a tough Boston team without superstar center Evgeni Malkin, who is dealing with an upper-body injury. He’s day-to-day at this point.

Enjoy the game!