2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two

Under Pressure: Brad Richards

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, we pick … Brad Richards

Brad Richards is probably used to pressure.

For years, he’s been making big money — stemming in part to his Conn Smythe run with the Tampa Bay Lightning — but largely because he’s often been one of the most prolific offensive players in the NHL. Either way, his consistently large checks (Cap Geek estimates his career earnings at $85.78 million) often meant that being a very good scorer, but rarely top-10, left people occasionally disappointed. If nothing else, he’s been in “prove it” mode, especially recently.

But in Chicago, he’ll face a different kind of pressure.

From “overpaid” to a bargain?

Following being bought out by the New York Rangers, the 34-year-old is now a low-risk, high-reward bargain at a $2 million cap hit. Any money-related questions will instead revolve around “can he make big money next summer?”

Instead, the bigger pressure will come from proving that he can cure what’s been ailing the Blackhawks in bad times and even some good times as well: not having a quality second-line center.

While there’s a chance that Teuvo Teravainen might grab the role he’s being groomedfor, the expectation is he’ll need to acclimate himself to the NHL game and should find himself in the AHL for at least portions of the 2014-15 season.

In other words, the Blackhawks would prefer that Richards can be their short-term second-line center. So what are the odds he pulls it off?

A lot rests on Coach Q

That’s a tough call. If you can set aside Richards’ rather disconcerting work in the last postseason or two, he at least put up the kind of boxcar numbers you hope for; he scored a very nice 20 goals and 51 points for the Rangers last season. Anything in the realm of that production would be great for Chicago, especially since a second-line gig could mean working with some combination of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and so on.

Most signs point to Richards needing to be sheltered, though, which makes the argument that it’s imperative to put him with a guy who gets a lot of offensive zone starts in Kane (both were in the top five in easiest zone starts last season). While Richards’ possession stats look very good in the regular season — and glaringly worse in basically every measurable way during the postseason, for whatever reason — he also played what seemed like an offense-only role that might limit his versatility if his skills really are declining as much as it appeared at times during the Rangers’ deep run.

The burning question

It’s weird to imagine a guy taking a cut in salary as someone who might be a scapegoat, but Richards lands into a situation that could be lucrative … unless he just doesn’t “have it” anymore.

Basically, if he thrives, he can make a lot of money and maybe even win a second Stanley Cup. If he flounders, Richards could find himself as someone facing blame if Chicago gets eaten alive when he’s on the ice during the postseason.

With all that in mind, there’s a lot riding on the 2014-15 season for Richards, even if the potential spoils of victory would come in about a year or so.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Islanders – Game 3

New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin (17) flights near the net with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24),center,  and defenseman Victor Hedman (77), of Sweden, during the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) falls on the ice. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to take the series lead for the first time against the New York Islanders, who are trying to regain the advantage on home ice at the Barclays Center after a split in Tampa Bay. You can catch Game 3 between these teams on NBCSN (7 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Strome saga continues, will be a healthy scratch for Game 3

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

 

Anisimov out six to eight weeks after undergoing ‘successful’ wrist surgery

Chicago Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov tries to handle a rebound from Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Artem Anisimov on Tuesday underwent successful surgery on his injured right wrist, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.

“We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks,” said team physician Dr. Michael Terry in a statement.

The news comes eight days after the Blackhawks were ousted in the first round, eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in last summer’s blockbuster deal for Brandon Saad, the 27-year-old Anisimov enjoyed the second 20-goal season of his career and fell just two points shy of his previous career best of 44 when he was with the New York Rangers.

He played the bulk of this season on a line with two highly skilled players in Patrick Kane, the league-leader in points with 106, and Artemi Panarin, named as a Calder Trophy finalist on Monday.

In March, Anisimov was named to Russia’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, although the recovery schedule outlined above should allow plenty of time for Anisimov to be physically ready for the tournament when it begins in September.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who won’t be champs in 2016

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

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The Pittsburgh Penguins may hold a 2-1 series lead over the rival Washington Capitals, but they will be without defenseman Kris Letang for a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday.

Perhaps for the Capitals, the absence of Letang — suspended one game for a high, late hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3 — on the Penguins blue line can provide an opportunity to help swing the series back in their favor heading to Washington and home ice in Game 5.

“He’s the backbone of their defense,” Capitals blue liner Karl Alzner told CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“He goes back for pucks and gets them out of his zone with a pass or a flip. He transitions the puck and logs key minutes on their PP.”

In addition to seven points in eight games this post-season, which puts him into a tie for third among defensemen in the playoffs, Letang is also among the leaders in ice time, averaging 29:13 per game.

So yes, that’s a significant loss at this juncture of the series, even if for one game.

The Penguins were already without Olli Maatta for Game 3. He was injured on that late, high hit from Brooks Orpik. That forced Derrick Pouliot into the lineup for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Justin Schultz, who the Penguins acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, figures to be next in line for Pittsburgh with Letang out.

Schultz entered the league with plenty of hype surrounding him, billed as a dynamic offensive defenseman. But nothing seemed to pan out for him in Edmonton, there were growing concerns about his play in his own end, and his time there ended with a trade prior to the deadline.

This could mean added minutes, too, for Trevor Daley, who played 22:20 in Game 3.

Between Pouliot and Schultz, they have a combined two games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.