Ruff okay with Sabres going overseas: “Playing’s a good thing”

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While some NHL coaches likely cringe at the prospect of their guys playing during a lockout, Lindy Ruff is of a different mindset.

“My feeling is if you can play, play, whether you’re a half a world away or not,” Ruff told the Buffalo News. “Playing’s a good thing. You can keep your skills sharp.”

The Sabres have players currently playing in Switzerland (Tyler Ennis), Germany (Christian Ehrhoff), Slovakia (Andrej Sekera) and soon, Austria (Thomas Vanek).

For most NHL coaches, the idea of players playing anywhere during a lockout — Europe, lower-tier North American leagues — is a double-edged sword. (The AHL is a different situation, obviously.)

While the competition will undoubtedly keep players sharp, there’s also great risk given the lack of familiarity with teammates, opponents, style of play and — let’s be honest — guys looking to make their marks by targeting NHL stars.

Example: During the 2004-05 lockout, then-RFA forward Scott Gomez joined the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, only to have his season end in terrible fashion — he suffered a broken pelvis on a dirty hit from a guy named Ashlee Langdone, who once racked up 514 PIM in 56 games with San Diego of the WCHL.

From the Anchorage Daily News (Apr. 2005):

Aces winger Mike Scott, reached on his cell phone in Seattle, said he was stationed just inside the gate at the Alaska bench when Langdone hit Gomez. Scott called the check the cheapest shot he has ever witnessed.

“Quite honestly, it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my career,” Scott said. “It was horrible. Hitting from behind, that’s not part of the game, especially to hit a world-class player when you’re a marginal player in the ECHL.

“It’s disgraceful, to be honest with you.”

This current lockout, still in its infancy, has already seen a couple of injuries.

Rick Nash was knocked out of a game with Swiss club HC Davos after suffering a shoulder injury and St. Louis Blues defenseman Kris Russell, playing for Finnish club TPS, suffered a lower-body injury so severe he returned to North America for treatment.

That said, Ruff isn’t a big fan of the alternative.

“I worry more about the guys that are, after a month or so, just playing a little bit of shinny hockey and practicing a little bit,” he explained. “It’s tough to stay sharp. You don’t have that physical challenge. You don’t have the challenge of elite players playing against you, and I think those players have a bigger challenge than those guys that are going and playing.”

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.