Pekka Rinne, Marian Hossa

Tonight on NBCSN: Predators and Blackhawks meet in possible playoff preview

Funny how things change over time. The last time the Predators and Blackhawks met back in mid-February, it turned out to be the low point of the season for Chicago according to CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers. When they get together tonight at United Center (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), both teams are in a more familiar situation jockeying for playoff position.

Chicago comes into tonight’s game two points back of Nashville for fifth place in the West while the Predators are one point behind Detroit for fourth. To say that Chicago and Nashville could wind up dancing with each other in the first round in the playoffs is true. Both teams have seven games left, but the Blackhawks will have to do things tonight without Jonathan Toews (concussion) and Duncan Keith (suspension).

While Keith is sitting at home keeping himself in shape during his time off, Toews is getting closer to returning. After participating in his first practice in two weeks yesterday, things are looking up for the Blackhawks’ captain. Patrick Kane is making sure Chicago keeps winning by scoring seven goals over the last 12 games. The Blackhawks are hoping to make it six straight wins tonight.

Nashville, meanwhile, is in a slight funk. Although they dispatched of Winnipeg last night, the Predators have lost four of their last six games. The losses have prevented Nashville from capitalizing on Detroit’s struggles of late and they’ve been unable to leap frog them in the standings.

Oddly enough, the source of their recent struggles has been all-world goalie Pekka Rinne. Rinne’s woes against Edmonton and Pittsburgh may have been bothersome to fans, but not so much for coach Barry Trotz. Rinne rebounded nicely against the Jets stopping all but one shot in a 3-1 win. Meanwhile, new-old guy Alexander Radulov is showing that his belated arrival was worth waiting on as he’s got a goal and an assist in two games.

If tonight’s game is to be a true playoff preview, expect to see a no holds barred throwdown as both teams would love to get to fourth and earn home ice in the first round.

Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Panthers center Vincent Trocheck have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From the NHL:

Crosby led the League in goals and points (5-3-8) in three games as the Penguins (26-18-7, 59 points) earned four of a possible six points to secure the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

Karlsson led the League in assists and ranked second in points (0-7-7) in three games as the Senators (24-23-6, 54 points) won one of three starts for the week.

Trocheck notched six points (3-3—6) in three games, helping the Panthers (31-15-6, 68 points) widen their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points.

Related: Red-hot Crosby could make Pens a flawed (but dangerous) dark horse

Malkin to miss third straight game with lower-body injury

Evgeni Malkin
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Evgeni Malkin‘s “nagging” lower-body injury will keep him out at least one more game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said this morning that the star center will sit out tonight at home against the Ducks. Malkin already missed two contests this weekend in Florida. His status is day-to-day.

The Penguins lost, 6-3, in Tampa on Friday, but rebounded Saturday with a 3-2 OT win over the Panthers.

Pittsburgh’s next game after tonight’s is Wednesday at home versus the Rangers.

McDonagh out with concussion after Saturday’s altercation with Simmonds

Ryan McDonagh
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The New York Rangers will be without Ryan McDonagh tonight at home to New Jersey, the club announcing this morning that the defenseman is out with a concussion.

McDonagh left Saturday’s game in Philadelphia following an altercation with the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds that ended with McDonagh taking a punch to the face from Simmonds.

Simmonds received a match penalty and was thrown out of the game, but did not receive any supplemental discipline.

Given the standings, the Rangers can ill afford to lose McDonagh for long. They play in Pittsburgh Wednesday, followed by three home games against Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

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Lucic’s plan is to ‘remain a King’ for remainder of career

Milan Lucic, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis
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Tuesday night, Milan Lucic will play his first game in Boston as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

It should be an emotional return for the big 27-year-old winger. In an interview with the L.A. Times, he recalled his time with his former club fondly, saying how great it was to be a “part of one of the best-ever eras to be a Bruin.”

A pending unrestricted free agent, Lucic also commented on his contract negotiations with the Kings.

“Nothing to get excited about,” he said. “There’s been two or three little talks here and there. My plan is to remain a King and hopefully finish off my career here. Like I said, I go day by day and you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Lucic has 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games this season. Though the Kings reportedly want to keep him, the question is whether they can find the cap space to make it happen.

Los Angeles already has Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Quick locked up long term. Plus, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson will require new deals after next season.

Related: Why Lucic is an interesting pending UFA