NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings, Coyotes fight for playoffs in doubleheader action

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The Detroit Red Wings host the Boston Bruinns from Joe Louis Arena at 8:00 p.m. ET followed by the Los Angeles Kings hosting the Phoenix Coyotes from Staples Center at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The season is winding down quickly and that means many games come with a little added pressure. Two of those come your way tonight on NBCSN.

It starts in Detroit where the Red Wings have a tenuous hold on the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Wings have a one point lead on Columbus and are two points ahead of Toronto, three ahead of Washington, and four up on New Jersey. There are just enough games for everyone that any loss can be a playoff dream-killer and that puts the Bruins in a special sort of position.

The Bruins’ next two games are with the Red Wings tonight and the Maple Leafs tomorrow. As the top team in the Eastern Conference they’ll have a strong hand in helping shape who they’ll get to face in the first round of the playoffs. That means their choice of which game to start Tuukka Rask or Chad Johnson could have major ramifications.

The Red Wings have played a bit more consistent lately due to the play of Gustav Nyquist, they’ll be getting Pavel Datsyuk back from injury soon, and Jimmy Howard has been strong and steady. That sounds like the kind of team no one wants to face in the playoffs. The Bruins will hope Jarome Iginla will have flashbacks of facing the Wings in postseasons gone by and try to do his part to keep them down.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Things are a bit dicier out West for the Phoenix Coyotes.

source: Getty ImagesThe Coyotes fell out of the second wild card spot last night after losing in a shootout to Winnipeg while the Dallas Stars blew out the Washington Capitals. The Coyotes and Stars each have 85 points, but the Stars have four more regulation/overtime wins. Making up ground in that category isn’t likely, so it’s up to the Coyotes to do it the old-fashioned way and just win.

Standing in their way tonight is a team that’s made life miserable for them in the Los Angeles Kings and the Coyotes are catching them at absolutely the wrong time. L.A. has won 14 of the past 18 but are coming off a loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

Coyotes-Kings games bring out a lot of bad blood and perhaps that spark is what Shane Doan and Thomas Greiss need to close out strong. They’ll have to do their part to wrangle Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and their hated nemesis Dustin Brown to make it happen. Even if they do that, Jonathan Quick is still back there to keep them off the board.

It might not be the playoffs yet, but these games are as close as it will get until then.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.