Cody Hodgson #19 of the Buffalo Sabres gets off a shot against Alex Kovalev #27 of the Florida Panthers at First Niagara Center on February 3, 2013 in Buffalo, New York. Florida won 4-3.
(February 2, 2013 - Source: Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)

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.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.