Tyler Ennis

NHL on NBCSN: Stars begin season-defining stretch vs. Sabres

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Dallas Stars host the Buffalo Sabres at American Airlines Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

With just 22 games left, the Stars are at the center of the battle for one of the final postseason positions.

Dallas holds the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but only by the slimmest of margins. Had the Vancouver Canucks or Phoenix Coyotes won yesterday, the Stars would be on the outside looking in again, but they caught a break and now Dallas needs to capitalize on it.

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The Sabres might be out of the running and their franchise player, Ryan Miller, has been traded to St. Louis, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be an easy opponent. Buffalo’s goaltenders have a lot to prove right now as Jhonas Enroth fights to show he’s ready to be a starter and Jaroslav Halak fights for his next contract as he faces the possibility that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Halak isn’t unique in that regard. The Sabres have 11 players with contracts that are set to expire and thus have plenty of motivation to play for at least themselves if not for the team.

“(The Sabres) are a team that hasn’t lost a game since the break,” Stars forward Vernon Fiddler pointed out, per the Stars’ website. “They are playing carefree. They have a lot of young guys with a lot to prove. They have great coaching. We’ve got to be ready for them.”

All the same, this is the type of game that Dallas has to win because getting points is only going to get harder from here. After this contest, the Stars will play five straight games against teams that have either currently possess a playoff spot or are in serious contention for one. Dallas is also starting a stretch of 15 games over 27 days, so these contests will only get harder as fatigue starts to set in.

The Stars make-or-break stretch is starting now and this game could set the tone.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza (90) and Minnesota Wild right wing Justin Fontaine (14) chase the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Minnesota Wild hope to turn things around, yet facing the Dallas Stars certainly ratchets up the degree of difficulty.

On the other hand, sometimes that’s the best way to regain confidence: overcome an especially formidable obstacle.

Whether the Wild flounder or rebound, you can watch the action on NBCSN and stream it via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

After 8-1 loss to Isles, Oilers send Reinhart to AHL, make Schultz healthy scratch

Edmonton Oilers' Justin Schultz (19) and New York Rangers' Dominic Moore (28) fight for control of the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Not surprisingly, Edmonton’s 8-1 loss to the Islanders on Sunday didn’t pass without consequences.

The Oilers announced this morning that defenseman Griffin Reinhart had been sent down to the AHL. Additionally, defenseman Justin Schultz is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight in New Jersey.

Reinhart was a team-worst minus-4 versus the Isles.

Schultz, whose name has been coming up in trade rumors…

…was a minus-2.

“He needs to watch a game and reflect on his play and what his impact is offensively and defensively,” coach Todd McLellan told reporters of the decision to sit Schultz against the Devils.

Darnell Nurse and Adam Clendening, scratches in Brooklyn, will replace Reinhart and Schultz in the lineup.

Turris understands Drouin’s situation, says requesting trade out of Phoenix ‘saved’ him

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Kyle Turris was far from an accomplished NHLer when he requested a trade out of the Coyotes organization. In fact, when he was dealt to the Senators in 2011, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft had just 46 points in 137 NHL games.

Since then, Turris has emerged as Ottawa’s top center, with the promise of a big payday in the summer of 2018 when his current $17.5 million deal expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

It’s for that very reason that he can understand Jonathan Drouin‘s position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It’s tough,” Turris told the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone has mixed feelings, and especially not being an established player. Then people are doubting that you’re doing the right thing, you really have to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do it.”

Though Turris, now 26, took a “lot of heat from the media…and people within the organization” and recalls the time after his trade request was made public as a “tough, tough go,” he believes the opportunity he received with the Sens “saved” him.

As we’ve written in the past, you don’t have to agree with how Drouin is handling things — maybe it ends up hurting him; he still has a lot to prove — but there have been young players who have chosen similar paths, and it’s worked out well for them.

Drouin, by the way, has 40 points in 89 NHL games.

Simmonds tells AV ‘I’m not a dirty player,’ says he had ‘no intention of hurting’ McDonagh with punch

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Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has taken exception to criticisms from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, in the wake of Simmonds concussing Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh with a punch over the weekend.

“Vigneault can say whatever he wants. He’s the coach, that’s his opinion,” Simmonds said, per CSN Philly. “I don’t really care. I’m protecting myself; guy comes to cross check you in the head. I didn’t know what he expected. I had no intention of hurting him and I feel bad about that. That’s not what I want.

“I may play physical and I like to take the body. I fight occasionally. But by no means am I a dirty player, trying to run around and injure guys.”

Simmonds was tossed from Saturday’s game after punching McDonagh, but wasn’t suspended by the league. McDonagh missed New York’s next game — Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils — and the lack of supplemental discipline incident irked Vigneault, who had words for both the officials and Simmonds.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said following the Flyers game, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the Flyers and Rangers play each other on Sunday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Worth circling that one on the ol’ calendar, methinks.