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.

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.