Tonight on NBCSN: Red hot Sabres and Avalanche clash in Buffalo

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Rewind a couple months ago and if we’d told you that tonight’s Sabres-Avalanche game in Buffalo (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) would be a battle between teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs, you would’ve laughed. Instead, that’s right where we are and both teams come into the game playing great lately.

Buffalo has won nine of their last 12 games and most of that credit is due to superstar goalie Ryan Miller. Miller’s outstanding play in the second half of the season has saved the Sabres’ year and has them sitting four points back of the Capitals for eighth in the East. While Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville’s offense carried them early in the year, they’ve gone cold of late.

The addition of Cody Hodgson to the team has helped balance out their lines, but he’s yet to score a point as a Sabre, something that source: APhad Hodgson practicing on the fourth line yesterday. If Hodgson’s arrival has done anything of late, it’s inspired Tyler Ennis to play better. He scored twice in the Sabres win over Montreal including a spectacular highlight reel special.

Colorado, on the other hand, we’ve already seen this week winning in overtime against the Ducks. In that game, Gabriel Landeskog (pictured) showed why he might be the favorite for the Calder Trophy scoring the game-winner. Landeskog’s play along with how well Ryan O’Reilly has played all season have given the Avs a young push they’ve needed. The play of those guys has even inspired Paul Stastny to play better this season.

That said, if there’s a guy the Avs have to thank for playing better in the second half it’s Semyon Varlamov. He’s playing big, strong, and confident in Colorado now and it’s paying off for the Avs as they’re in the mix for the seventh and eighth spot in the Western Conference. While Colorado will have to duke it out with Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Calgary if they can keep playing how they are now, they could wind up clear of the dog fight going on now.

Rangers make changes after loss in Anaheim

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The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.

Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.

The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.

As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”