NHL on NBCSN: Tavares’ hottest line in hockey faces Penguins

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New York Islanders host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Islanders gave the Penguins a headache in their 2013 first round series, but they didn’t look like the same team for the first half of this season. The Islanders were 9-19-7 by mid-December even after they tried to give themselves a shot in the arm with the acquisition of Thomas Vanek.

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That’s not the team Pittsburgh will face tonight either. The Islanders’ top line of John Tavares, Vanek, and Kyle Okposo has been great all season, but lately that trio has been overpowering their competition. They’ve combined for 17 goals and 43 points in 11 contests this month. That’s better than any other trio has done over that stretch.

Tavares in particular has been phenomenal with seven goals and a league-leading 18 points in January. As a result, he’s one of just two players that has already reached the 60-point mark.

Of course, the other one and the Art Ross Trophy leader will also be featured tonight. It’s rare for Sidney Crosby to be held off the scoresheet, especially against the Islanders. They’re one of the teams he’d play all 82 games against if he could, given that he has 24 goals and 80 points in 44 career contests against the Islanders.

Which is just a part of the larger problem for New York tonight. Pittsburgh isn’t a team that can be easily overwhelm offensively. The Islanders might have the hotter top line, but the Penguins have the edge in star power.

Pittsburgh is coming off of a 5-1 victory over Montreal to improve to 35-13-2 this season. Even though many of the Metropolitan Division teams have heated up in recent weeks, the Penguins still have a 15 point lead on the division title. With 32 games left in their schedule, anything’s still possible, but if finish below first in the Metropolitan, it would have to be seen as a significant collapse.

By contrast, it would be remarkable for the Islanders manage to make the playoffs. Even after going 10-3-0, they are still last in the division. In other words, they can’t afford to slow down now — not with the Olympic break and then trade deadline coming up. The Islanders are running out of time to prove to GM Garth Snow that they are a team worth keeping intact or even adding to.

A win against a team of Pittsburgh’s caliber would certainly help make that case.

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the hook after very rare Jurco goal

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By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.

You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.

Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.

Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.

Coach Q thinks Anisimov will be back by playoffs for Blackhawks

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The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.

The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:

The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.

Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.

Ducks demote Enroth, so Gibson’s close to a return

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The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.

(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)

While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.

Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?

Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.

He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.

(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.

While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.

With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.