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NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Bruins; Oilers vs. Kings

The NHL on NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 season with a doubleheader on Tuesday. First, The Boston Bruins will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:00 p.m. ET. To watch that game online, click here

Well, regular-season games don’t get much bigger than this one. The Lightning are in must-win mode if they want a spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ll enter tonight’s game trailing the Bruins by four points (the Bolts have a game in hand) for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. There’s no getting around it, this game is huge.

“It’s down to win or go home,” defenseman Anton Stralman said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s Game 7.

“We’ve still got a chance — that’s all we can ask for. We believe.”

Even if the Lightning win their last four games of the season, that doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. They’ll need a little help along the way because Boston, Ottawa (four points ahead) and Toronto (five points ahead) all have more regulation/overtime wins.

The good news, is that the Bolts will get a crack at Boston tonight and they’ll face Toronto on Thursday.

But beating either team, especially the Bruins, won’t be simple. Since dropping a 6-3 decision to the Lightning in late March, Boston has won five games in a row. If you think the winning streak has made the Bruins forget their terrible performance in that game, guess again.

“It was one of those games where we didn’t show up and they took advantage of that,” center Patrice Bergeron said, per the Boston Herald. “We definitely know how they play and how good they are offensively in their transition and whatnot. We have to build from what we’ve done this weekend.”

Bruce Cassidy’s team should be feeling pretty good about themselves. Not only are they four points up on the Bolts for the final Wild Card spot, but they’re inching closer to a top three spot in the Atlantic Division.

A regulation win over the Bolts would see the Bruins clinch a playoff spot. Pretty simple.

In the late game, it’ll be the Los Angeles Kings hosting the Edmonton Oilers at 10:30 p.m. ET. To watch that game online, click here

For the first time in 11 years, the Oilers will be heading to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean their work this season is over.

Edmonton still has plenty to play for. Believe it or not, an Oilers will in regulation or overtime combined with a Ducks loss to Calgary in regulation would put Edmonton in first place in the Pacific Division.

Obviously, Connor McDavid is the biggest reason for Edmonton’s turnaround this season, but they’ve also received strong contributions from goalie Cam Talbot, Leon Draisaitl and quite a few others.

McDavid and Draisailt, in particular, have been terrific. Both players enter tonight’s game riding 10-game point streaks. It seems like stopping this duo is nearly impossible.

“There’s a camaraderie between the two, they’ve grown up in the organization and they look out for each other and I think they enjoy being with one another. That gives them extra time to communicate on the ice,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Sun.

“Connor’s speed and Leon’s passing ability, you’ve got Leon who can slow the game down and Connor who speeds it up. That makes it tough for the opposition to judge what’s coming at them.”

Both players might not have any playoff experience, but facing them in the opening round won’t be a treat.

In the last three seasons, the Kings have made the post-season just once (they were bounced in the first round). Their lack of winning and inability to score goals has some people wondering if it’s time to give Darryl Sutter his walking papers this off-season.

Sure, the Kings had to deal with Jonathan Quick going down to injury in the first game of the season, but scoring goals was always an issue this season, and that didn’t change on Sunday, when a 2-1 loss to Arizona officially crushed their playoff hopes.

It’s also pretty clear that Anze Kopitar was one of the bigger disappointments this season. Through 72 games, the Kings captain has just 12 goals and 49 points.

“I can’t talk about that right now. It’s definitely too early,” Kopitar said of what his team was lacking this season, per LA Kings Insider. “You can really go down the list. It certainly didn’t help (Quick) going down the first game, and then we just had too many stretches of not playing remotely good enough, and obviously the losses kept piling on. I think coming back after the breaks we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. A lot of guys, I think, with me being on top of that list, I don’t think the production was there the way we expect from ourselves and from each other, and you can go on and on right now. But like I said, it’s a very empty feeling.”

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.

The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Jets’ Wheeler: ‘It just felt right to take a stance’

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the few NHL players to make some sort of an unprompted statement in response to President Donald Trump’s weekend comments regarding NFL players and their protests during the National Anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on Friday the President urged NFL owners to fire players that “disrespect” the flag by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

On Saturday, Wheeler was critical of the President’s comments in a series of Tweets.

On Monday, Wheeler was asked about why he spoke out and ended up talking for several minutes on the subject.

“I think crossing over into the sports world it hits home a little more,” said Wheeler, via the Jets’ website. “I think a lot of people, similar to my wife and I, it has been kind of a slow boil. The rhetoric over and over, he has just kind of gone a little too far too many times. It just felt right to kind of take a stance.

“There have been a lot of players who have felt a certain way, one way or the other, when you start coming into their territory a little bit. Some of the language that he used referencing NFL players, I think that was kind of the last straw for a lot of guys, whichever way they feel about it to voice their opinion.”

Wheeler was later asked if he would support a teammate if they decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler. “I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

His entire media session is available via the Jets.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he supported Wheeler’s Tweets while adding that Wheeler is “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

During NFL games on Sunday pretty much every team took part in some sort of a protest during the National Anthem, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans who remained in the locker room prior to their games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, announced that they will be accepting their invitation to visit the White House just one day after the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced they would not be attending.

Lightning will retire Vincent Lecavalier’s number on February 10

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Monday morning that they will be retiring Vincent Lecavalier’s No. 4 this season, making sure that no other player will ever wear it for the franchise.

His jersey will be lifted to the rafters on Feb. 10 when the Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were one of three teams Lecavalier played for in his career, along with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It is a great honor to have my number retired and I’d like to thank the Lightning organization and Jeff Vinik for recognizing me with this achievement,” Lecavalier said in a team statement. “The Tampa Bay community and our fans have treated me and my family so amazingly that this honor is extra special to share it with everyone. My family and I are very excited for February 10 when we can share so many memories.”

Lecavalier was the No. 1 overall pick by the Lightning in 1998 and spent 14 of his 17 seasons in the NHL with the team.

He is currently the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and goals and the second-leading point producer. He will be the second player to have his number retired by the team, joining Martin St. Louis.

Lecavalier and St. Louis helped lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup during the 2003-04 season. His best individual season was probably the 2006-07 season when he finished with a league-leading 52 goals.