Kovalev: Panthers pushed me to retirement

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Alex Kovalev used to be an elite player and he put together an NHL career that lasted for 1,316 games. He sought to extend his career with the Florida Panthers this season, but he only ended up playing in 14 contests with them.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon called it a “mutual agreement that we wanted to go in a different direction, that’s all.”

Not so, according to Kovalev, who finally made his retirement official last week after going a month without playing.

“I didn’t have a choice. That’s what has kind of been the frustrating part,” said Kovalev in a Montreal Gazette report. “Started the season good and everything was going well and, all of a sudden, they started pushing me away.

“And I just never understood the idea and what exactly happened. They never really explained to me — the things they’ve been telling me, just didn’t really make sense.

“You know what, what can I do? They’ve done their part. They gave me a chance to go back to the NHL. It’s just I feel bad I have to kind of decide to retire on somebody else’s terms, not mine.”

Everything went south for the Russian-born forward when he was called by the Panthers on Feb. 24, his 40th birthday, to be informed that they would no longer use him.

“They just said something about timing was bad and I’m not fitting in the first two lines and out of respect to me they can’t put me on the third, fourth line … which doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

Kovalev isn’t done playing hockey. He’ll go to Europe and look for a new job.

“I’ll just probably go to Switzerland,” Kovalev said, who isn’t too keen on returning to the KHL after his 2011-12 stint with the Moscow Oblast Atlant.

If this is truly the end of his NHL career though, he retires with 430 goals, 1,029 points, his name on the Stanley Cup, and three All-Star game selections. Still, Kovalev has some regrets.

“At this point, you can say I made a bad decision going to Ottawa instead of staying in Montreal (after the 2008-09 season),” he said. “Maybe I would still be playing here.”

Leaving Montreal marked the beginning of the end of his career as his production sharply declined in the years following his departure.

He participated in a Canadiens alumni game yesterday.

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.