NHL on NBC: Sad-sack Sabres host Pittsburgh

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Happy Hockey Day in America! Be sure to check out PHT throughout the day as we bring you features and previews of all the events, including a nine-hour NHL block of programming across NBC and NBC Sports Network.

Pity the Buffalo sports fan – so optimistic, then so disappointed.

The Bills start out 5-2, lose eight of their next nine, and finish 6-10.

The Sabres add millions upon millions to the payroll, and entering Sunday’s home game versus Pittsburgh (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) have approximately the same odds of making the NHL playoffs as, well, the Bills do of making the NHL playoffs.

Happy Hockey Day in America, Buffalo!

The Sabres enter Sunday’s game coming off their fourth straight defeat, 4-3 in a shootout to Montreal on Friday at the First Niagara Center. The loss dropped Buffalo into a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference, leaving coach Lindy Ruff to state the obvious.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed, embarrassed,” Ruff said. “We’ve dealt with a lot, but to be where we’re at is a big disappointment.”

The Penguins have dealt with a lot this season as well – specifically the absence of captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) for all but eight games, plus the extended absences due to injury of forward Jordan Staal and defenseman Kris Letang.

However, unlike Buffalo, Pittsburgh will almost certainly be making the playoffs.

The Penguins earned a big win over in-state rival Philadelphia on Saturday, defeating the Flyers 6-4. It was an odd affair, highlighted by a pair of shorthanded goals scored less than two minutes apart — Jordan Staal scored 4-on-5, Matt Cooke scored 3-on-5 — with the guy that put Pittsburgh shorthanded, Pascal Dupuis, realizing how big a victory it was.

“That’s huge,” Dupuis said. “[The Flyers] were ahead of us in the standings, and you want to catch teams, especially down the stretch like that. It was a big win for us.”

The Penguins will look for a second consecutive win Sunday against a Buffalo team they’ve enjoyed success against this season. Pittsburgh embarrassed Buffalo the last time out by an 8-3 score, highlighted by a five-point effort from Evgeni Malkin, who also notched a hat-trick. That outing was especially tough for both Sabres netminders — Ryan Miller allowed five goals on 15 shots and backup Jhonas Enroth didn’t fare much better, allowing three goals on 11.

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.