NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks host Rangers on Rivalry Night

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the New York Rangers at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers haven’t faced each other since March 2012 in Chicago. For all the things that have changed since then, most of the faces on the ice are still the same.

The key difference this time around comes with the Rangers and their battle to be a playoff team in the Metropolitan Division. The one consistent thing about them of late is how inconsistent they’ve been. In their past 11 games, they’ve gone 6-3-2 with five shootouts mixed in with only one of those against a Western Conference team. That means they’re helping dole out extra standings points to foes in the East and that surely won’t help at the end of the season.

source: Getty ImagesFor the Rangers to get things turned around they’ll need their superstars to play the way they’re capable of. Henrik Lundqvist has had an off season posting career-worst numbers in save percentage and goals-against average. Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan have dealt with injuries which has hampered their numbers, but they still need to be better.

Having Mats Zuccarello and Brad Richards lead the team in scoring probably wasn’t something the Rangers counted on this season, but that’s how things are right now. If the star players can get things going, fortunes will change quickly in the Big Apple.

As for the Blackhawks, they’re 4-0-3 in their last seven games with losses to the Blues, Sharks, and Islanders. We’ve raved recently about their offense and none of that’s changed in the past two days. Patrick Kane is still dominant, Patrick Sharp is still piling up very handsome goals, and they’re still getting great play from Duncan Keith on the blue line.

What’s not to like lately? Average goaltending.

Over that seven-game stretch, they’ve allowed 17 goals. While they had a 1-0 shutout against the Los Angeles Kings mixed in, there’s no doubt coach Joel Quenneville would like to see Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta step their game up.

Of course, this is just a minor complaint considering how well the Blackhawks have played this season, but they’ve got competition atop the Central Division and Western Conference. The St. Louis Blues trail them by two points in the Central and they’re two points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot overall in the West.

Every point counts out West so they can’t afford to even slip up and lose in overtime or a shootout. No stress though, gang.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.