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Can any other NHL team top Golden Knights’ near-perfect homestand?

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The remarkable thing about the Vegas Golden Knights is that their achievements transcend “great for an expansion team.”

After going 8-1-0 after a 7-0 throttling of the Colorado Avalanche, they’re absolutely in the mix as one of the best teams in the NHL so far in this young 2017-18 season. (For more on their latest win, check out this post.)

There’s even a highly specific thing they might have mastered better than any team will this season: a near-perfect, long homestand. The Golden Knights won six of seven games on a homestand that just completed, passing this test with flying colors.

As with many Cinderella stories in sports, there is an opportunity for that “record scratch” moment coming soon: the Golden Knights play six in a row and eight of their next nine games on the road. The standings might balance themselves out as their schedule does.

This post asks a different question, though: can any other team match or exceed what the Golden Knights accomplished? There are a lot of six-game homestands out there, and long runs, but not a ton of home runs of seven-or-more. For the sake of brevity, this little thought experiment will keep things very specific: these runs must include at least seven home games in a row.

Let’s take a look at the handful of teams who have a chance, and allow this to be a reminder of just how special this accomplishment is for the Golden Knights. (If this post misses any home runs that exceed seven games and haven’t happened yet, drop a line or a comment.)

Calgary Flames: In falling 2-1 to the Dallas Stars on Friday, the Flames began a seven-game homestand on a sour note.

They’ll need to win six in a row, then, to match what Vegas just did. One thing in their favor: no back-to-back sets during this run of home cooking.

Winnipeg Jets: If my eyes don’t deceive me, the Jets boast the longest homestand of this season (or at least the longest one that remains on the schedule). From Jan. 30 – Feb. 20, the Jets play a whopping 10 straight games at home.

It’s amusing to compare two strong but polar opposite home-ice advantages: Vegas vs. Winnipeg in the bitterest months of winter.

Arizona Coyotes: From Feb. 15 through March 3, the Coyotes will enjoy a seven-game run at home. They also play nine of 10 in Arizona stretching back to Feb. 10.

The undeniable question hanging over all of that is: will they be in any real position to take advantage of that stretch, or will they be more interested in the trade deadline around that time?

Carolina Hurricanes: Here’s hoping that locals start to notice something rather interesting forming with the Hurricanes by early 2018 at the latest.

Starting on Jan. 30, the Hurricanes play eight straight (and 11 of 12) at home. For all we know, this could be the stretch that pushes them from middle-of-the-pack to the exciting, rising club many picture in their heads when they note the slew of talented, young players on that roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have an eight-game homestand from March 3-20, also playing 10 of 11 in Tampa Bay from Feb. 26 – March 20. If the Bolts are playing anywhere near as well then as they are now, they might just provide themselves a big enough cushion to contemplate resting stars like Steven Stamkos a bit in late March or early April.

***

There are plenty of teams that play a staggering majority of their games at home during certain stretches, but only a few qualify for the specific task of trying to top what Vegas just accomplished.

You can bet that PHT will keep an eye on the peaks and valleys that all 31 NHL teams face in their respective schedules. Sometimes a run to the playoffs could come down to harvesting these opportunities or wasting them amid slumps.

The Golden Knights have a long way to go before the playoffs become a truly realistic goal, but they’ve already accomplished a lot, including possibly enjoying the most successful homestand of any NHL team in 2017-18.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


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

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Eric Lindros’ famed No. 88 retired in Philadelphia

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No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans.

The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number.

And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes.

The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center, raised to hang next to the names of Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.

“Without any doubt, this is the highest honor the organization can bestow on one of its members,” said Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who addressed the packed house. “Take a look at the rafters, only five players out of 600 to have ever worn the orange and black, and now that number will be six.

“When we raise your number in a few moments, know you’re back where you belong, and this time, it’s forever.”

Moments earlier, Lindros stood at center ice, waving at the standing ovation that engulfed the arena that encircled him.

“Wow. Haha. This is crazy,” Lindros said, peering out into the sea of orange and black as he followed Holmgren at the center-ice podium. 

“It’s no secret that when I left Philadelphia, it was under less than ideal circumstances,” Lindros said, crediting Holmgren and his wife Kina with helping him move.

Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season due to a contract dispute with Clarke and the organization.

Lindros was crushed by Scott Stevens in the playoffs in the previous season and was only cleared to play the following December. The Flyers had offered, and Lindros refused a two-way qualifying offer. Lindros, instead, wanted to be traded, with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs the preferred destination after his once-strong relationship with Clarke had deteriorated. Clarke refused to trade him at first, but finally did so in the following offseason, not to Toronto, but to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001.

“Both, in their own ways, have taught me to move on, put in the past any differences of opinion, any hard feelings,” Lindros said. “It was time to remember the great moments I experienced here in Philadelphia, the friendships I’ve built in this great city and the respect I have for the fans of this team.”

Lindros was a member of the ‘Legion of Doom,’ a line that consisted of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg that dominated opponents and altered the game of hockey in the 1990s. Lindros acknowledged several people, including former general manager Russ Farwell, who brought Lindros, Mark Recchi and Rob Brind’Amour into the team and drafted Mikael Renberg.

Lindros also thanked Clarke, and said LeClair should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindros was one of the most physically gifted and dominating players to ever play in the NHL, a man who towered over most, skated better than most and score better than most.

Lindros won the Hart Trophy during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He played 486 games in Flyers threads, scoring 290 goals and amassing 659 points.

In 2016, Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


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

Roberto Luongo could return to practice soon

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The mandatory off week for the Florida Panthers appears to have done wonders for injured goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers No. 1 netminder has “turned a corner” as he continues to rehab a lower-body injury, Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said on Thursday.

The Panthers practiced for the first time since their mandatory break on Thursday, and although Luongo is still on pace for a return early next month, the news was good to hear for a team nine points adrift of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I think he’s turned a corner a little bit,” Boughner told reporters after the team’s practice. “He’s showing some good improvement here in the last few days. We’re excited to hopefully get him back out on the ice during a practice at some upcoming point.”

Luongo hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he was injured in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.

The news of Luongo’s pending return was probably a little music to the ears of James Reimer.

Reimer has started Florida’s past 16 games, posting an 8-6-2 record with .924 save percentage during that span, but ran into the break losing four of his previous five starts.

Still, Reimer has performed admirably in Luongo’s absence, as he bounced back from an unfavorable start to the season that saw Luongo regain the starter’s reins.

The Panthers will have five games in-hand on Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered Thursday occupying the final spot. They play the Los Angeles Kings live on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET.

The Panthers return to action on Friday when they host the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.

Reimer is expected to start No. 17.