NHL on NBCSN: Wild, Hawks battle for series title

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Blackhawks became the first team in the NHL to secure their spot in the postseason on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take it easy over the final weeks of the season.

“We’ve had a good year to date and we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished,” coach Joel Queneville said in a CSN Chicago report. “But we still want to get better in games, and that’s the important thing. Finishing as high as we can is a priority as well. That’s where the motivation is.”

The Blackhawks are still in a battle for the first seed, but there’s no question that Minnesota needs these points more. The Wild have opened up a six-point lead on the ninth place Phoenix Coyotes, but they still have a shot at the Northwest Division title and the third seed that will come with it.

Even if they can’t best the Vancouver Canucks in the divisional race, only five points separate eighth and fourth place in the Western Conference, so every win counts when it comes to playoffs positioning. Then of course there’s the reality that if the Wild get on a losing streak now, they could still miss the playoffs entirely.

Playing against Chicago has been tough for any team this season, but the Wild actually enter this game with a chance to win their season series. They eked out a shootout victory over Chicago back in January to bring an end to the Blackhawks’ initial six-game winning streak. Chicago got its revenge last month when Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad led the Blackhawks to a 5-3 victory.

This will be the last meeting between these two squads in the regular season and is consequently both squads final chance to make an impression on the other before a possible playoffs series.

Probable goaltenders: CHI – Corey Crawford (15-4-4, 2.01 GAA, .922 SV%) | MIN – Niklas Backstrom (20-10-2, 2.44 GAA, .913 SV%)

Top scorers: CHI – Patrick Kane (20-26-46, 38 GP) | MIN – Mikko Koivu (9-24-33, 38 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Chicago – Forwards: Dave Bolland (lower body), Patrick Sharp (shoulder)
Minnesota – Forwards: Dany Heatley (wrist), Matt Cullen (lower body) Goaltenders: Josh Harding (symptoms related to multiple sclerosis)

Dion Phaneuf trade pays early dividends for Kings

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

If nothing else, Dion Phaneuf knows how to make a first impression.

Think back to when Phaneuf burst onto the season as an NHL rookie. He scored 20 goals during his first season in 2005-06, which still stands as a career-high, and he enjoyed 50 and 60-point seasons in the next two years. During his first three seasons (2005-06 to 2007-08), Phaneuf collected 159 points, tying him with Brian Rafalski for sixth-most among defensemen. No other blueliner was even close to his 54 goals during that same span.

Between that scoring prowess and such a tendency to throw hard hits that his last name became a Kronwallian verb, it seemed like Phaneuf was destined to be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger, or maybe the next Rob Blake.

… That’s not how things turned out, of course.

Phaneuf’s been known as much for a shaky contract as anything else lately, which is part of the reason Blake was able to get the Ottawa Senators to eat 25 percent of his salary to make a trade happen.

[Trade: Senators send Phaneuf to Kings.]

At the time, it was a puzzling deal, with the main takeaway being that the Senators get to save money while the Kings hope to rejuvenate Phaneuf. So far, that rejuvenation has been remarkable, even if small sample size red flags pop out so much, they practically poke you in the eye.

Still, it’s been a cool, under-the-radar story. Through four games, Phaneuf already has three goals for the Kings. All three have come on the power play; Phaneuf scored in his debut for L.A. and also found the net last night, helping them carve out a 4-3 win against the Jets.

[A deeper look at debuts for Phaneuf, Marian Gaborik.]

Let’s watch all three of his Kings goals.

Phaneuf’s goal in his Kings debut is the anomaly, as he saw an opening for something of a backdoor goal, which isn’t really what you picture if you hear “Phaneuf power-play goal.”

His past two goals have been to type, with slappers from both points getting the job done:

Even skeptics would probably admit that Phaneuf can still fire the puck, so maybe the Kings will find a nice use for one of his enduring strengths.

Again, there really couldn’t be enough signs that this is a brief surge of luck.

Phaneuf has scored his three goals on 11 SOG, which translates to a 27.3 shooting percentage. He brought a 3.5 shooting percentage (in 53 games) with him from Ottawa, and his career average is 5.7 percent.

(You can stretch this out further to absurd PDO numbers and others, if you want to go exploring.)

The most interesting question will come down to how much value Phaneuf can bring to the Kings.

So far, his possession numbers are shaky, much like they were in Ottawa. He’ll get a chance to improve over the long haul, especially if he remains tethered to a solid middle pairing blueliner like Alec Martinez. Phaneuf has spent more even-strength time with Martinez than he has with any other King, Jonathan Quick included, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This brief but compelling surge is actually reminiscent of some other trades for the Kings. As you may recall, both Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla enjoyed brief-yet-notable surges in their swan songs in L.A.

Of course, the stakes are higher with Phaneuf. Even at a discounted rate, his $5.25 million cap hit is frightening, especially when you realize that it runs through 2020-21.

One must grade the trade with Marian Gaborik‘s also-challenging contract in mind, making this all a bit convoluted. If one were to wager, it seems most likely that this move will be remembered as a costly, creative, and somewhat confusing lateral move.

But, hey, at least it the first chapter has been captivating.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

 

Jarome Iginla skates with AHL Providence, still wants to play

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Jarome Iginla is still without a team but isn’t giving up hope just yet on one last ride in the NHL.

The 40-year-old Iginla, who last played in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, was spotted on the ice at Providence Bruins practice on Tuesday, but there’s nothing in the works as far as a deal anywhere, he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver.

Iginla’s name popped up in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this fall, but a hip procedure cost him time on the ice and ultimately a place in GM Sean Burke’s final roster for PyeongChang. (The Canadians are doing just fine without him having reached the semifinals of the tournament.)

Now living in the Boston area after buying a house last spring, Iginla, who played 78 games with the NHL Bruins during the 2013-14 season, was simply taking advantage of a favor from the team. He’s expected to skate with AHL Providence again on Thursday as he continues to see where his body is physically.

Iginla — and for that matter, U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, who’s also looking to continue playing — can sign with any NHL team, but to be eligible to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs a deal needs to be inked before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline next Monday.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Fight Video: Nicolas Deslauriers lands several good shots on Brandon Manning

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Montreal Canadiens may have come out on the wrong end of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime decision in Philadelphia, but Nicolas Deslauriers definitely won his fight against Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning.

This was Deslauriers’ first game since signing a two-year, one-way contract extension worth $950, 000 per year. The 26-year-old has brought a physical presence to Montreal’s lineup, but he’s also chipped in with seven goals. On Tuesday, he made more of an impact with his knuckles than anything else.

Take a look four yourself by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time these two players go head-to-head on the ice. They also fought when Deslauriers was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

If you’re more interested in finding out what happened last night’s game, click here.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Vegas might have best line in hockey; 3 things NHL should take from Olympics

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The rivalry between Canada’s women’s team and the United States women’s team doesn’t have the same bite it did a few years ago. (NBC Olympics)

• American twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson have been playing like they have something to prove. (The Ice Garden)

• Former NHL goalie Jonas Hiller won’t play for team Switzerland anymore. (Swiss Hockey News)

• There’s a group of Kenyan hockey players that want to take part in future Olympic Games. (ESPN)

• The NHL can grow in popularity if they sample three things from the Olympics. (Vice Sports)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• Trade rumors can weigh on a player as the trade deadline approaches. Just ask Tyler Johnson how that feels. (Tampa Times)

• The Rangers will go through a hard time over the next little while, but it could all be worth it in the end. (NY Post)

• Don’t expect the Golden Knights to make big moves before Monday’s trade deadline. (Knights on Ice)

• Speaking of Vegas, they might have the best line in hockey. (TSN.ca)

• Winnipeg has had a hard time trading for players with no-move clauses, but that’s nothing to be offended by. (Jets Nation)

• Even though they won’t make the playoffs this year, the Panthers certainly have a bright future ahead. (Fan Rag Sports)

• As bad as things are for the Montreal Canadiens, they’ll probably get a whole lot worse. (Rabid Habs)

• The San Jose Sharks acquired veteran forward Eric Fehr from the Maple Leafs. (NHL.com/Sharks)

• Is Blues forward Patrik Berglund still a useful player? (Blues Rants)

• The World’s Longest Hockey Game raised over $1.2 million for cancer research this year. (Edmonton Journal)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.