Jason Zucker

Tonight on NBCSN: No. 9 Denver closes out WCHA season with Nebraska Omaha

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It’s the final weekend of WCHA action and the No. 9 Denver Pioneers need a strong finish to stay in the hunt with Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. Having to go on the road to Nebraska Omaha to take on the Mavericks (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) won’t make it easy.

The Pioneers are led by coach George Gwozdecky and head into this weekend’s series losers of two of their last three games. After losses to both Wisconsin and North Dakota, the Pioneers will look to the Shore brothers Drew (Florida Panthers) and Nick (Los Angeles Kings) as well as Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild – pictured) to buoy their offense. Denver needs one win this weekend to lock up finishing third in the WCHA.

Scoring goals isn’t usually a problem for Denver, however. Stopping pucks is their bugaboo. Sophomore Sam Brittain (Florida) has been their main man in goal since returning from injury. When Brittain hasn’t been getting the start, freshman Juho Olkinuora has been the best of what Denver has in goal. If DU is going to make a run through the WCHA playoffs and to the NCAAs, it’ll need to be Brittain that leads the way.

Nebraska Omaha comes into tonight’s game in the middle of the pack in the conference and trying to avoid potentially falling to eighth in the WCHA. Finishing sixth or better earns them home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs next weekend and a better chance of winding up in the Final Five in St. Paul.

source:  The Mavericks are led by legendary coach Dean Blais. You might recall Blais from his effort coaching the 2010 American World Junior Championship team to the gold medal over Canada. The Mavericks, meanwhile, have had their ups and downs this season and come into this weekend losers of three of their last four.

Sophomore Matt White (pictured) has been their superstar on offense this season with 17 goals and 39 points. Meanwhile junior Terry Broadhurst and freshman Jayson Megna are also 30-point scorers for the Mavericks. Freshman and Penguins draftee Josh Archibald has had a quietly good season with 10 goals. Bryce Aneloski (Ottawa Senators) leads the way on defense and provides some scoring touch as well with six goals and 20 points.

In goal, the Mavericks are splitting duties up between freshman Ryan Massa and senior John Faulkner. Massa has gotten three more starts and put up much better numbers than Faulkner. Expect Massa to get the call for UNO down the stretch, freshman or not.

Video: Chris Kreider doesn’t just fight Cody Eakin, he hits him with his helmet

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Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers almost seemed destined to be a wild affair, and so far, the two teams aren’t disappointing.

For one thing, Chris Kreider and the Rangers were open about “not forgetting” Cody Eakin‘s hit on Henrik Lundqvist, something Eakin realized heading in. The Stars had their own irritations coming into this game, as they clearly weren’t happy with their loss to the Buffalo Sabres and their shaky play overall.

So, yeah, plenty of reason for this to be a rowdy affair.

Kreider is delivering in particular, with the most memorable moment being his strange fight with Eakin, which you can see above. SBNation’s Pat Iversen points out that Kreider probably should have been ejected for hitting Eakin with a piece of his equipment, a violation of Rule 53.

As many know, Kreider has even more of a reputation for “interacting” with goalies, as he did once again with Antti Niemi:

The Stars currently lead the game 5-3, so it’s been a busy one on the scoreboard, too.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Short-lived return? No Tyler Ennis for Sabres tonight

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres takes a shot on goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on October 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Tyler Ennis‘ return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Monday after a 30-game absence seemed like a breath of fresh air. Tuesday, then, represents letting the air out of the balloon.

The Sabres announced that Ennis wasn’t out for warm-ups heading into tonight’s Sabres – Toronto Maple Leafs game. It certainly gives the impression that his groin injury isn’t fully healed.

Ennis contributed a goal to Buffalo’s 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Monday and nearly scored another in “lacrosse” style:

When healthy, he’s been a 20-goal, 40+ point player for Buffalo lately, so he was missed. The team tweeted out Ryan O'Reilly‘s comments about Ennis’ return mere hours ago, so you get the impression that it was a surprise for many:

Maybe it’s just a minor setback?

Update: The Sabres deem it a “precautionary scratch,” according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. So maybe file this under minor setback. We’ll see.