PHT Morning Skate: Rangers get second chance to eliminate Montreal

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Like the Montreal Canadiens before them, the Chicago Blackhawks were able to stave off elimination last night when faced with a 3-1 series deficit. They certainly didn’t make it look easy as the Los Angeles Kings pushed them to the bitter end in the double-overtime contest, but the Blackhawks have lived to fight another day.

The series switch off again today, which means that we’re back to the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 6: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers [New York leads 3-2] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist squandered his first opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but his strong effort earlier in the series has afforded him two more chances.

Lundqvist was yanked just 28:58 minutes into Tuesday’s contest after allowing four goals on 19 shots. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it would have been interesting to see if Lundqvist could have shrugged off his rough start as the Rangers rallied back from a 4-1 deficit after he left the game, but backup Cam Talbot couldn’t hold onto the lead.

“I pulled [Lundqvist] because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It did for a while. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”

At the same time, yanking him prevented the situation from getting out of hand and potentially hurting his confidence. Now Lundqvist can come back tonight fresh and refocused. He’s not the only Rangers player that needs to do that.

“We didn’t give [Lundqvist] too much help,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi acknowledged.

For Montreal, all eyes will be on Max Pacioretty, who scored 39 goals in the regular season, but has been on-and-off in the playoffs. He struggled in Game 4 and called on himself to bounce back for Game 5. He did just that by scoring a goal and an assist, but the Canadiens need sustained production out of him.

Montreal doesn’t have any margin for error left and can’t count on another seven-goal outing led by a hat trick from an unlikely hero like Rene Bourque. Ultimately, the Canadiens top players will probably make or break them and that puts the pressure on Pacioretty.

Montreal’s defense needs to step up too, which had a nasty breakdown midway through Game 5 when the Rangers scored three unanswered goals in less than five minutes. That kind of stretch would have sunk the team on another night.

Even if Carey Price had been healthy, he wouldn’t have been able to bail out his teammates entirely during that stretch, but it’s not like rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski was blameless. He certainly has made some great saves along the way and deserves a lot of credit for coming into a high pressure situation and holding his own despite his lack of NHL experience. Still, Tokarski will have his hands full tonight if Lundqvist and the Rangers defense bounce back.

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.