Chicago Blackhawks v Los Angeles Kings

TGIF: Four NHL games to watch this weekend, and the Super Bowl

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Halford note: This is usually Brough’s bag, but he’s en route to Sochi so you’re stuck with me. Let’s do this.

Saturday: Philadelphia at Los Angeles (4 p.m. ET)

Dry Island reunion party! Though to be fair, only a handful of Flyers remain from the team Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were dealt from three years go, so it’s more like a get-together luncheon than full-on reunion. Probably still be open bar though. Anyway, I mentioned this on Twitter last night but it bears repeating: Claude Giroux’s back-check (sorry, “back-check”) on Daniel Winnik’s shorthanded goal wasn’t the best:

Saturday: Ottawa at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Battle of Ontario! Still fun to watch, but this rivalry has lost its edge in recent years. There used to be a time when Sens-Leafs would guarantee either a bench brawl, spitting allegation or a Toronto player taking out one of Ottawa’s Swedes (be it Tie Domi on Magnus Arvedsson, or Mark Bell on Daniel Alfredsson.)

Of course, Ottawa’s Swedes also had a history of taking out Toronto players. *cough* Alfredsson on Darcy Tucker *cough*

(BTW, the fact Tie’s Domi hit on Martin Havlat is basically footnote here illustrates how dirty this rivalry used to be.)

Saturday: Chicago at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

I should stop writing every intro this way! But in this instance, the exclamation point is warranted — ‘Hawks-Sharks is a really good matchup. The ‘Hawks skunked the Sharks 5-1 in San Jose in the first meeting this year but the Sharks returned the favor three weeks ago, winning 3-2 (in a shootout) at the United Center for their first victory in Chicago in three years.

There is an issue at hand for San Jose, however. With Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture out of the lineup, the team is struggling to score:

source:

For you math majors, that’s seven regulation goals in six games. Yeah, the Sharks ran into a brick wall named Ben Scrivens in Edmonton, but they failed to do much against Calgary (the NHL’s third-worst defensive team) or the Jets, who allow 2.87 goals per game.

Sunday: Detroit at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET)

NBC’s Game of the Week! (Can’t stop, on a roll.)

Here’s a question: Could any team be less enthused about NHLers participating in the Olympics than Detroit? I know the Blues and ‘Hawks are sending 10 players to Sochi compared to Detroit’s nine (now that Johan Franzen is out), but the Blues and ‘Hawks are somewhat healthy whereas Detroit is like one big human bruise. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are banged up, Jimmy Howard’s knee has been an issue and Alfredsson turned 41 in December. If there’s one team that could use a break to recharge the ol’ batteries and gear up for a playoff push, it’s the Wings. Instead, they’re sending over 39 percent of their active roster to Russia for two weeks.

Sunday: Super Bowl XLVIII — Seattle vs. Denver (3:30 p.m. ET)

Football predictions on a hockey blog! After very little deliberation, I’m taking Seattle by a score of 24-20. In a somewhat related story, my hometown of Vancouver has become a Seahawks mecca in recent weeks. Heck, even the New York Times wrote about it. It’s gotten to the point where people that previously had zero interest in football are getting curious. Like my wife, who yesterday asked me “what’s up with that Richard Sherbert guy?”

Tuukka Rask leaves game for Bruins

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 7: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks up at the video on the scoreboard after making a save against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Times are a little tough for the Boston Bruins right now with losses in three consecutive games and speculation regarding the future of their coach.

What they do not need at this point is any kind of a significant injury to a key player, so it has to be a concern that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask had to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the second period.

He was replaced in net by backup Zane McIntyre.

The Bruins have yet to offer an update as to why Rask left the game or what his status is. He allowed two goals on 22 shots before exiting.

Even though he has been slumping in recent weeks Rask’s play for most of the season (he entered play on Sunday with a .920 save percentage on the season) has been a big reason the Bruins have climbed back up the goals against rankings after doing little to improve their defense over the summer.

Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

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This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Goalie Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on January 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.