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.

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.