Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Bruins aim to increase Sabres’ suffering

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Boston Bruins will head to the First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Buffalo is one of just three clubs with only one win this season, along with the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils. If you’re fishing for some kind of silver lining for the Sabres, it’s that they at least didn’t enter the season amid high expectations and they still have their 2014 first round draft pick.

Those are the kinds of “well it could be worse” stories that seem appropriate lately. Buffalo’s 1-8-1 record is bad enough, but its offense outside of Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek has bordered on non-existent. This is a team that gets better as games progress, but only because they’ve set the bar so low with just a single first period goal so far this season.

Related: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league that includes Wednesday and Thursday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $400. Starts Wednesday at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the link.

It’s still early, but rather than that being an indication that there’s plenty of time to stage a comeback, it might just be a reminder that Sabres fans have a long road ahead of them. But at the same time beaten down teams can be dangerous, especially when they’re playing against old foes.

After finishing just shy of the Stanley Cup in 2013, the Boston Bruins have gotten off to a great start. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is excelling, even by his high standards and the Bruins attack has been balanced. They can’t afford to let up though; not with the Atlantic Division looking better than expected.

The Detroit Red Wings have adapted well to the Eastern Conference and the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t been deterred by their Game 7 collapse in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t been quite as good so far, but each team certainly has enough talent to be a threat. With that in mind, banking points now against struggling teams would make life far easier for the Bruins come March and April.

So Boston will look to add to Buffalo’s pain while the Sabres would just like to give themselves and their fans some indication there’s still reason to be hopeful about the 2013-14 campaign.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.