New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30), of Sweden, stops a shot on goal by Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader (8) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, in New York. The Rangers won the game 1-0. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NHL on NBC: Red Wings, Rangers fight to cling onto playoff spots


NBC continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign today when the New York Rangers host the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden at 12:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBC, you can also watch the game online.

If the Rangers and Red Wings have one thing in common, it’s that they both need these two points. If the season ended today, Detroit would advance to the playoffs with the second Wild Card spot while the Rangers would be the third seed in the Metropolitan Division, but they are only holding onto those spots by the smallest of margins

In terms of points, the Red Wings are tied with Columbus, but they have played in one less game. Detroit trials Columbus in the ROW tiebreaker, so a regulation loss today would cause the Red Wings to lose their grip on the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Rangers aren’t much better off with their one-point cushion.

At least New York isn’t dealing with any major injuries. That’s a foreign concept to the Red Wings this season.

Right now, they’re trying to get by without some of their key players, including forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They probably would be sinking fast at this point if it wasn’t for Johan Franzen, who has stepped up with six goals and 11 points in five contests since the Olympics. His linemate Gustav Nyquist has chipped in with two goals and eight points in six contests.

Since Detroit acquired him on Wednesday, David Legwand has rounded out that line.

“Leggy’s a real smart player, plays well defensively, and offensively he can make plays. He’s just a real good player, a good centerman in this league,” Nyquist told the Detroit News.

“And Mule (Franzen) — we all know he can shoot the puck and score some big goals. He’s been on fire, so that’s huge for us.”

They will need that trio to stay strong today as the Rangers have plenty of offensive weapons to use against the otherwise depleted Red Wings. Mats Zuccarello is back from a hand injury and Martin St. Louis recently made his Rangers debut, joining forwards Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash.

That’s quite a bit for goaltender Jimmy Howard to deal with as he tries to bounce back after allowing seven goals in his last two starts.

He shouldn’t have any trouble getting motivated though. Detroit hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1990 and have naturally become accustomed to a certain level of success. So have the Rangers for that matter after advancing to the postseason in seven of their previous eight campaigns.

They both realize that in a race this tight, either team could easily end up missing the playoffs by a single point. A game like this could end up making or breaking them.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”