Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Ryan Miller ready for pre-Olympic test vs Penguins

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will head to First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also¬†watch the game online.

The last time Ryan Miller played between the pipes, the Buffalo Sabres embarrassed him. That was captain Steve Ott’s assessment after the Colorado Avalanche cruised to a 7-1 victory against them.

That has also been the theme of this season in Buffalo. Miller has been strong for the most part, but the team in front of him hasn’t been able to take advantage of that. Perhaps he can take some comfort in the fact that he’ll be playing for a far better squad next week.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,200 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $275. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Miller was one of the main reasons the United States made it all the way to the gold medal game in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Naturally, he made the team again and there’s a good chance he’ll be handed the starting job again over Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick. Before he goes to Sochi though, he’ll be fiercely tested tonight.

The Penguins feature Team Canada’s best player in Sidney Crosby and one of Russia’s top forwards in Evgeni Malkin. So this should naturally make for a pretty intense warmup for the American netminder.

Miller has dealt with the Penguins once this season and turned aside 31 of 33 shots in what was ultimately one of his 21 regulation losses. Which brings us to elephant in the room: Even when his stint with the United States is done, his return to the Buffalo Sabres will probably be short-lived.

Assuming he’s not dealt before the break, the conventional wisdom is that he will be before the trade deadline. Which makes this potentially one of his final starts for the team that drafted him in 1999.

There was a time the Buffalo Sabres were great and though he might not a part of it, it’s only a matter of time before they rise again. For now though, maybe Miller can stand up and make a statement going into the Olympics. And maybe his teammates will play a tough contest against the superior Penguins.

If that happens, perhaps Miller can add to his franchise lead with a 284th victory. The damage to Buffalo’s season is already irreversible, but they can at least make it so that if Miller is gone soon, he would have left on a high note.

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the (brief) 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.

Here’s the Jurco goal:

Patrick Kane‘s 2-1 goal might have hurt the most, actually, as it quickly dissolved a tying tally by¬†Ondrej Palat:

Update: The Lightning decided to put Vasilevskiy back in net to begin the second period. Interesting.

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.