Havlat excited about Czech mates in New Jersey

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Ignoring all the awesome Czech-related hockey puns out there, let’s just cut to the chase — Martin Havlat is excited to reunite with a number of his countrymen in New Jersey.

“I’m happy to be on a good team where I actually know a few guys. That should make it easier at the start,” Havlat told the Star-Ledger, one day after inking a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Devils. “One of the main reasons is the opportunity.

“And for sure a few of the Czech boys help. That was one of the reasons, too.”

Havlat, 33, will now be reunited with three teammates from the Czech contingent at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Patrick Elias. It means New Jersey is now home to four of the 34 Czechs that played at least one NHL game last year, which is a pretty significant amount.

It’s Havlat’s bond with Elias, though, that seemed to play the biggest role in signing with Jersey. From the Star-Ledger:

The connection with Elias is deepest. They live in nearby towns in Czech Republic (Brno and Trebic), vacation together and attend soccer matches and tennis tournaments. Their wives are also friends.

“The first time we played together was at the 2002 Olympics, but we didn’t actually play on the same line,” Havlat recalled. “After that we played in the World Cup in ’04 and had a great tournament together.. Then we played in the world championships on the same line and it was great. Then during the lockout we played 20 games for a team (Znojmo) back home here.

“We’ve always had great chemistry together. If I can say there are one or two players that I’ve actually had chemistry with during my whole career, that’s Patty. So I’m just hoping it’s going to work out well again. I don’t see a reason why not.”

Given how little New Jersey paid to acquire his services — $1.5 million is way down $5M he made annually on his last deal, though the buyout from San Jose played a role in the discount — Havlat could be a real boon signing for the Devils. Despite being hobbled by injury throughout most of the last two years, Havlat still managed to score 12 goals in 48 games in ’13-14 (works out to 20 over an 82-game season) and isn’t that far removed from his 2011-12 campaign, when he scored 27 points in 39 games for the Sharks.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

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Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff hopes are basically squashed, but Sunday should provide plenty of motivation: giving the Pittsburgh Penguins grief.

The two rivals will face off on NBCSN tonight with the Penguins hoping to improve their situation in the three-team Metropolitan race for the division crown (and, failing that, at least one round of home-ice advantage).

The Penguins must fight injuries and a cross-state rival. There should be plenty of talent on the ice, too, so this should be a fun one.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Video: Doc Emrick takes a look back at Joe Louis Arena memories

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Sunday’s overtime win against the Wild wasn’t the last hurrah for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, but that time is rapidly approaching.

The Red Wings have four more dates at the historic building:

April 1: vs. Maple Leafs
April 3: vs. Senators
April 8: vs. Canadiens
April 9: vs. Devils

With the playoffs out of reach, Red Wings fans must grapple with the end of an era.

To help with that cause, Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena, which you can enjoy in the video above.

And, if it helps make the future look a little rosier, take a look at highlights from Sunday’s victory.

Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

Wild’s struggles continue with OT loss to Red Wings

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Well, the good news for the Minnesota Wild is Sunday’s game in Detroit wasn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as their game on Saturday. They were at least competitive in this and took the game to overtime to earn a point in the standings.

The bad news is the result was pretty much the same — another loss in the standings.

Thanks to Andreas Athanasiou‘s 17th goal of the season 1:52 into the overtime period, the Red Wings were 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon, sending the Wild to their 11th loss in 14 games this month.

The game continues Minnesota’s late-season collapse that has seen the team lose its stranglehold on the Central Division and play some of its worst hockey of the season with the playoffs just around the corner. They have collected just seven out of a possible 28 points in the standings this month and still sit seven points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the division after Sunday. The Wild led the division by five points at the start of the month.

As bad as another loss is, this was far from the Wild’s worst game during this recent stretch. They limited Detroit to just 19 shots on goal, they had their chances to win it. But at the end of the day nobody in Minnesota wants to hear that right now because it’s still a loss, and it still looks like a team that is struggling to find answers on the ice. Not really the type of thing you want to see at this time of year.

Minnesota actually entered the third period with a 2-1 lead but let it slip away early in the period on a Tomas Tatar power play goal 55 seconds in. The Wild had their share of chances late in the game only to have Jimmy Howard make a couple of huge stops on Eric Staal and Jason Zucker in the final minute.

Staal did score his 26th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.

As for the Red Wings, the win is their fourth in their past six games (and the fifth with at least a point during that stretch) while Henrik Zetterberg continued his recent strong play recording another assist.

Defenseman Mike Green also scored in the win.