Daniel Alfredsson

NHL schedule: Games to circle on your calendars

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The National Hockey League released its 1,230-game regular season schedule on Friday and, after hours of intense scrutiny, PHT (again, it’s just me) has whittled down its list of must-see games.

In no particular order, they are…

Dec. 1, Detroit at Ottawa: Alfie returns

The longtime Sens captain shocked fans by signing with Detroit at the start of free agency, ending his 17-year career in Ottawa in the most dramatic of fashions.

It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received.

The organization has praised Alfredsson — Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said the club “would never forget Alfie for all the things he’s done,” — but the former captain admitted he expects anger from fans.

Jan. 19, Boston at Chicago: Stanley Cup Final rematch

The Blackhawks and Bruins will meet at the United Center for the first of two Cup Final rematches (the second is on Mar. 27 at TD Garden).

Of note, one of the biggest figures of Chicago’s victory, Dave Bolland, won’t be around to experience the rematch. The Stanley Cup-winning goalscorer was dealt to Toronto at the NHL Entry Draft.

Nov. 27, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Vinny goes home

It’ll be an emotional night in Tampa when Vincent Lecavalier returns as a Flyer.

Lecavalier, who debuted for the Bolts at 18 and spent his entire 14-season career in Tampa Bay, didn’t choose to leave — his contract was bought out during the compliance window, with the club citing salary cap issues.

While Tampa gained cap relief, it lost an important community fixture in the process. Fans will likely give Lecavalier’s a hero’s welcome on the 27th.

Mar. 20, Minnesota at New Jersey: Parise finally faces Devils

The former New Jersey captain was denied a chance to face his ex-club due to the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, but will have a chance next season during Minnesota’s lone trip to the Prudential Center.

It’s going to be curious to see how Devils fans treat Parise, especially since he’s no longer the most recent star to leave New Jersey.

A big chunk of the team that lost the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to Los Angeles is gone — Parise’s in Minnesota, David Clarkson’s in Toronto and Ilya Kovalchuk stunningly retired, then signed in the KHL.

Oct 30, Boston at Pittsburgh: So. Many. Storylines

Let’s see.

The Bruins swept the Pens out of the playoffs.

Zdeno Chara punched Sidney Crosby in his surgically-repaired jaw.

Jarome Iginla signed with the B’s in free agency.

Of note, Oct. 30 is the first of three meetings between the Pens and Bruins next season.

Nov. 30, Vancouver at New York Rangers: Torts is back!

The Canucks will make their first and only trip to the Big Apple early in the year, which will mark John Tortorella’s return to MSG after being fired by the Rangers in late May.

It’ll also mark Alain Vigneault’s first regular-season game against his old club (the Canucks and Rangers will meet in the preseason in Vancouver, mind you) and the first time Vancouver has played in New York since the 2010-11 season.

Honorable Mentions

…Tyler Seguin will return to Boston as a member of the Dallas Stars for the first time on Nov. 5.

…Two years after being traded from Columbus, Rick Nash will return to Nationwide for the first time on Nov. 7, in a game that will also mark Marian Gaborik’s first game against his ex-Ranger mates.

…Los Angeles and San Jose will meet for the first time since their intense playoff series on Oct. 30. Subplot here? Raffi Torres vs. Jarret Stoll.

…In that vein, Ottawa and Montreal will meet for their first time since their controversial playoff series on Nov. 7. Subplots here include Eric Gryba vs. Lars Eller, and Brandon Prust vs. Paul MacLean.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.