Pre-game reading: On the urgency of the Caps, who won’t ‘be the same’ next year

— Up top, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan talks about the upcoming trade deadline. The way his team has been playing, it’s no surprise to hear he doesn’t expect to be very busy.

— The Caps are in the second year of a two-year window, and the urgency to finally win a Stanley Cup couldn’t be higher. Says MacLellan: “That doesn’t mean that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got to give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be the same.” (

— The Montreal Canadiens, no longer a sure bet to make the playoffs, are one of the teams eyeing Arizona center Martin Hanzal, reports Pierre LeBrun. Hanzal is a pending unrestricted free agent. The 30-year-old has 15 goals and 10 assists in 50 games this season. (TSN)

— Hockey history buffs will enjoy this story on Billy Coutu, a.k.a “Wild Beaver,” who was banned by the NHL for life after attacking a couple of referees in 1927. Coutu tried to resurrect his career in the minors, but with little success. (Sports Illustrated)

— Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz stayed hot last night with a goal and an assist against the Coyotes. “I’m making more plays off the rush, in the zone,” he says. “I’m definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that’s how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well.” (CSN Chicago)

— Tomorrow’s outdoor game in Pittsburgh is a big one for the Flyers — but not because of the spectacle of the event. To stay in the playoff race, Philadelphia badly needs the two points. “Honestly, it’s business first,” says head coach Dave Hakstol. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.” (CSN Philly)

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    Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

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    MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

    Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

    Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

    He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

    Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

    The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

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    Players of the Night:

    Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

    Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

    Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

    Highlights of the Night:

    Bravo, Johnny:

    Kane’s hat trick goal:



    Factoids of the Night:


    Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

    Capitals 6, Islanders 3

    Predators 4, Avalanche 2

    Sharks 7, Flames 4

    Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

    Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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    Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

    But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

    The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

    They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

    Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

    New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

    He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

    The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

    Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

    There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

    Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

    Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

    Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

    “He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

    The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

    And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

    That’s good news for Rangers fans.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Ducks lose Bieksa for 2-5 weeks


    ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa will be out for two to five weeks after surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand.

    Bieksa is having surgery Friday, the Ducks announced.

    The 36-year-old Bieksa has eight assists in 59 games this season for Anaheim, which is fighting to get into playoff position with three weeks left in the regular season.

    Anaheim recalled defenseman Korbinian Holzer from its AHL affiliate in San Diego before facing the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center on Friday night.

    The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and made five straight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals last season. But Anaheim (35-24-12) began this weekend out of playoff position and in fourth place in the Pacific.

    More AP NHL: