NHL on NBCSN: Devils host Capitals as both try to keep playoff hope alive

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New Jersey Devils host the Washington Capitals at the Prudential Center at 7:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

People say desperate times call for desperate measures. If that’s the case tonight in Newark, the Devils and Capitals will both be reaching deep into their respective bags of tricks.

The Capitals are currently four points behind Columbus for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and the Devils are five points back. Both teams need a win tonight to keep their fading hopes alive of reaching the playoffs and, likely, facing the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Both teams have had their issues lately.

For Washington, much of the grumbling has centered around Alex Ovechkin’s struggles at even strength. The reigning league MVP went the month of March without an even-strength point and has been getting crushed for his league-low plus/minus rating of minus-36.

While Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, he’s done the bulk of his damage on the power play. If the Capitals are going to stick around in the playoff race, they have to find a way to get Ovechkin and the rest of the top line working 5-on-5.

For now, at least, he won’t have Jay Beagle centering his line as coach Adam Oates has put Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom with Ovechkin. It’s the ultimate “put all your eggs in one basket” move.

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

The Devils have their own problems to worry about. Despite Cory Schneider having played outstanding for most of the season, he’s been cold lately. With Martin Brodeur there to back him up, that would ideally mean things stayed steady. Instead, Schneider’s play has been equal with Brodeur’s and that’s not a good thing considering the future Hall of Famer is nearing the end of his career.

What that’s meant for New Jersey is they’ve needed to score more goals. That task has been fine for the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Adam Henrique but contributions from others have been a bit scattered. Travis Zajac netting a hat trick against Florida was a good sign, but they need more and from many others.

One thing the Devils have to find a way to do is avoid going to the shootout. They’re 0-11 in shootouts this season and while they’ve lost three of the past four games, all three losses came in the skills competition.

The biggest “What if” question Devils players and fans could wind up asking themselves is, “What if they won half of those shootouts?” If they did, they’d be right in the mix for the postseason with Columbus and Detroit instead of desperately needing a win to stay in the hunt.

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.