Prized prospect Kreider could join Rangers this season

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Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that Chris Kreider — the Rangers’ 2009 first-round pick that played for Team USA at the 2011 World Men’s Hockey Championships — could be making his NHL debut this season.

Brooks spoke with Rangers GM Glen Sather following the NHL trade deadline, during which Sather alluded to adding “people who are probably going to turn pro at the end of the school year” to the roster.

That seemed specifically directed at Kreider, who is in his junior year at Boston College (and, it must be mentioned, was one of the prospects Sather reportedly refused to part with during negotiations for Columbus’ Rick Nash.)

More, from The Post:

“Absolutely,” [Sather] said, when asked if he expects the 6-foot-3, 225-winger who presents an uncommon blend of size, speed, power and touch, to leave Boston College at the end of the season.

“Absolutely,” Sather repeated, when asked if he intends/expects to sign Kreider in time for him to play this season.

If the Rangers do sign the 20-year-old, the first year of Kreider’s three-year Entry Level contract would be burned regardless of whether he plays a single game for the Rangers or even is placed on the NHL roster.

That is not a deterrent for Sather. It could, however, be additional incentive for Kreider, who has taken an accelerated course load and who is dedicated to getting a degree, to leave school before graduating. The next collective bargaining agreement is certain to feature a more restrictive Entry Level system.

The possibility of bringing Kreider aboard is a big, somewhat unprecedented move as few players have made the leap from college hockey to the NHL in the same season. Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson pulled the trick in 2007 after his University of Michigan team was eliminated from western regionals, but he joined a pitiful Kings team (third-worst in the NHL) and only played five games.

Kreider’s situation would be far different.

If he goes directly to the NHL, Kreider would essentially join the Rangers on the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Boston College is ranked No. 1 in the country and has a good shot of making the Frozen Four, which will be played Apr. 5-7 — the same weekend the NHL regular season ends.

That said, Kreider is unique in that he has experience playing with professionals. He notched three points in seven games at the 2011 WHC playing on a U.S. team featuring Paul Gaustad, Mike Komisarek, Blake Wheeler, James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler and Rangers teammates Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan.

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: