Pre-game reading: Radulov has been a real hit in Montreal

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— Up top, Tuukka Rask is focused on getting the Bruins back to the playoffs. He’s gonna have to be good, and busy, especially if Anton Khudobin can’t find some consistency in the backup role.

— Has any player resurrected his reputation more than Alex Radulov has this season in Montreal? “The big Russian forward has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most popular players, if not the most popular,” writes the Montreal Gazette. It sounds like Radulov was a real hit Wednesday when the Habs visited Montreal Children’s Hospital to spread some Christmas cheer. He forgot his teeth, which is always good for a few laughs. (Montreal Gazette)

— Pierre LeBrun breaks down the Los Angeles Kings’ situation ahead of the expansion draft. “It’s a given that Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin will be protected.” What’s in question is whether they’ll protect a fourth defenseman, Brayden McNabb, which could leave forwards like Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, and Trevor Lewis unprotected. A tough decision for GM Dean Lombardi, who still has to get Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson signed to extensions. Shedding Gaborik’s cap hit may actually be advantageous for the Kings, which makes you wonder if Vegas would bite. (ESPN)

— The statistics don’t look good for the slumping Detroit Red Wings. “Particularly alarming has been their inability to generate shots, a category in which they currently sit 30th in the league. They’re 26th in overall shot share as a result, sandwiched between the Senators and Canucks, and in a rather unfamiliar neighborhood.” Indeed, the playoff streak may be coming to an end in the Motor City. (Sportsnet)

— Todd McLellan on coaching Connor McDavid: “I think coaching a superstar from the start of his career is probably a little easier than taking a job where your team’s superstar has already been in the league for seven or eight years and he’s in his prime and you have to figure him out. We’re growing together as a team, a coaching staff and a superstar.” An interesting remark, and probably a fair bit of truth to it. Recall all the hand-wringing when new coaches have taken over the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and especially the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin. (CBC.ca)

— Remember the name Cale Makar, who’s making quite an impression with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Some believe the 18-year-old defenseman should have been invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp. Makar was not draft-eligible in 2016. Where he’s selected in 2017 remains to be seen, but one NHL scout said he “has skill that could make him best defenseman in North America for the draft.” (TSN)

Enjoy the games!

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.