Lundqvist reigns supreme in Game 7 once again

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PITTSBURGH – On a night when the New York Rangers needed Henrik Lundqvist to be at his best, they got it and more.

Lundqvist stopped 35 shots to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 and send them to the Eastern Conference Final.

For Lundqvist, success like this in a Game 7 has become almost routine. After losing his first Game 7 in 2009 to the Washington Capitals, he’s won five in a row. Four of the five wins came by a 2-1 score. You might say the Rangers feel confident with him in goal.

“We thrive on the opportunity,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “You get into those type of games, Game 7, you just get excited for it. You play well, you win the game. You don’t, you’re going home. As much pressure as people might think is on Game 7, I think it’s the opposite. It’s so much fun because it’s going either way.

“And we’ve got Hank – that helps.”

Lundqvist’s effort in sending the Rangers to the next round was well recognized by his teammates, in particular his play in the third period.

“Where they took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender obviously took his game to another level,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He was just able to stop a barrage of opportunities and he was the difference in tonight’s game.”

Lundqvist stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period to help hold down the game for New York.

“That’s an impressive third period,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. “It’s so tough, especially in a Game 7, when you’re leading by a goal and not trying to play safe. You know they’re going to come with a lot of stuff. It’s great to have him back there. It’s great to be in two Conference Finals in three years with him. It’s a great feeling.”

Lundqvist wasn’t just strong in the final period, he made some saves that left the Penguins hoping for some puck luck. One flurry of stops came with five minutes remaining and found Lundqvist trying to stop the Penguins without his goal stick.

Like most of Pittsburgh’s shots on the night, the puck found its way to the King.

“They were coming hard,” Lundqvist said. “I tried just not to think about the result, not think about the consequences – just see it as a challenge for me to just stay in there and focus on the right thing. It was hard because you know it’s getting closer and closer. You need some bounces, for sure, but we earned them tonight by working really hard.

“I was so tired in the end but it was a great feeling when you know it’s a done deal. We did it, we came back from a 3-1. We did really well, we stayed in the moment. We just took it period by period and it helped us get back into this.”

The biggest part of the Rangers coming back from that series deficit was Lundqvist’s incredible play throughout the series. He finished the series with a .940 save percentage and allowed three total goals in the final three games.

With a few days to rest before the Conference Finals, he’s thinking of unplugging from hockey until it’s time to prepare.

“I don’t know I might take a break from hockey and not watch anything and not listen to anything,” Lundqvist said. “We’ll see. It’s been so intense the last couple of days and it’s really important to reload physically and mentally. We’ll see if I’ll watch. I’ve been watching a couple games so I know how they play and I faced them in the regular season so I know what’s coming.”

Safe to say the King has earned a bit of rest.

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.