Cam Tucker

Video: Hurricanes fans give Bryan Bickell standing ovation after he announces retirement

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In his final home game with the Carolina Hurricanes, fans in Raleigh gave Bryan Bickell a standing ovation during the third period of Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

Bickell, who was diagnosed in November with Multiple Sclerosis, has announced he will retire at the end of this season. The Hurricanes finish their schedule off Sunday in Philadelphia.

He took to the ice to salute the crowd, his teammates and opponents as they stopped to salute him in a very touching moment.

Afterward, he explained the decision to retire.

“The biggest thing is my health, and I don’t want to take risks,” said Bickell, per the Raleigh News and Observer. “It’s tough to leave, but I’m excited about life after hockey, and I want to be healthy. To watch my kids grow will be important.”

That wasn’t the only emotional moment across the league Saturday.

Craig Cunningham was honored with a ceremonial puck drop prior to the Coyotes’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

Cunningham had part of his left leg amputated in order to prevent infection after a medical emergency just before the start of an AHL game in November. Despite that, Cunningham has since returned to the ice.

From ESPN:

Cunningham smiled widely as he shook hands with players from both teams before leaving the ice. But his biggest smile of the day might have come earlier, when — while wearing a special prosthetic for skates — he skated around the Gila Arena ice and even did a little stickhandling with a puck along the way.

Tonight also marked the final NHL game for Panthers forward Shawn Thornton, who is retiring.

His teammates payed a special tribute to him after a 3-0 win over Buffalo.

From the Miami Herald:

Thornton’s teammates waited for him at the mouth of their tunnel, their sticks held high as he skated onto the ice one last time — this time as the first star honoree.

“I wasn’t sure if they were making fun of me or being sincere,” Thornton joked afterward.

“The way these guys have treated me the last couple days, I can’t say enough, can’t thank them enough. You try and be a good teammate; you try and, you know, do what you can. Obviously they definitely appreciated it, so thank you to them.”

Babcock: No update on Frederik Andersen, but ‘ideally he’ll start tomorrow’

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There was no shortage of drama between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

The Maple Leafs came back to win, clinching a playoff berth and officially eliminating Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders from contention.

However, there is concern for the status of Toronto’s starting goalie Frederik Andersen, who left the game early in the second period after a collision with Tom Sestito in front of the crease and didn’t return.

In his first season with the Maple Leafs, Andersen has been solid with 33 wins, four shut outs and a .918 save percentage in 3,800 minutes.

Mike Babcock didn’t have an update on Andersen after the game, saying only that, “Ideally he’ll start” in the team’s regular season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

While the Maple Leafs have locked up a playoff position, tomorrow’s game is still important because it will determine which team they face in the opening round. They’re currently third in the Atlantic with 95 points. The Boston Bruins have the same point total, but their regular season is over.

A single point for the Maple Leafs on Sunday would ensure they remain third in the division and would pit them against the Ottawa Senators.

However, a regulation loss to the Blue Jackets would mean the Maple Leafs fall into the second wild card spot, per the Toronto Star. That would put them up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who have won nine of their last 10 games and lead the league with 118 points.

Curtis McElhinney took over from Andersen and made some huge saves — none bigger than a left-pad stop on Sidney Crosby in the final minute to preserve the win. His performance didn’t go unnoticed.

“In a big game, that’s important to our players and our team, but to our city, as well,” said the coach.

Report: NHL Draft lottery expected to be held April 29

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With the playoff picture now completely set, teams that didn’t qualify can turn their attention toward a key date coming up in their prolonged offseasons.

That date is April 29, when it’s expected the NHL Draft lottery will take place, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet on Saturday. It’s a significant time for those teams at the bottom of the standings, as they look to land one of the prized top prospects in the draft two months later.

There is a wrinkle this year, with the addition of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

As you will recall, the new expansion franchise will receive the same odds as the team with the third fewest points in the standings during this season, which means they can pick no lower than sixth overall in the first round.

More from Sportsnet:

The top prospect available this year is still Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings, whose season was limited to 33 games because of an injury at the start of the year. He scored 20 goals and 46 goals for Brandon. Patrick also missed the first round of the playoffs with a lower-body injury as Brandon fell in four games to Medicine Hat.

While Patrick has been the top-rated prospect for more than a year, Swiss forward Nico Hischier has made a charge since having a terrific showing at the World Junior Championship. Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads this season and added seven points in six playoff games before his team was eliminated by Rouyn-Noranda in Round 1.

The Colorado Avalanche have long since clinched the worst record in the league this year, giving them the best odds at securing the No. 1 overall pick.

The Canucks are 29th in the standings, following a loss in an epic battle to the Coyotes earlier this week. (It was far from epic.)

This year’s NHL Draft goes June 23-24 in Chicago.

Maple Leafs win a thriller over Penguins, clinch last playoff spot

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Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in perhaps one of the craziest and dramatic games of this NHL season.

They’re off to the Stanley Cup tournament, following a 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They secure a playoff spot in Game No. 81 of their season, against No. 81 Phil Kessel. Coincidence? Yes.

But let’s take it from the top:

— Kessel, facing his old team, opened the scoring to quiet the crowd at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs answered right back 29 seconds later on a goal from James van Riemsdyk.

— Toronto’s starting goalie Frederik Andersen left the game in the second period and didn’t return after Tom Sestito cut in front of the net and caught Andersen in the head with his hip. Curtis McElhinney came off the bench to replace Andersen — in the biggest game of the season.

Jake Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead early in the third period. The puck deflected off two Toronto players, including Jake Gardiner in front, to get through McElhinney.

— With just over five minutes remaining in regulation, the Maple Leafs tied the game on Kasperi Kapanen‘s first career NHL goal. Perfect timing.

Connor Brown scored his 20th goal of the season and the eventual winner less than three minutes later. Just like that, Toronto was in the lead, exactly where they need to be.

— McElhinney made a potential season-saving stop against Crosby, flashing the left pad on a one-timer attempt from the league’s leading goal scorer with 48 seconds left. Crosby had another shot from almost the identical spot on the ice with 10 seconds left, but his attempt was blocked.

Auston Matthews then picked up the puck off that blocked Crosby shot and fired it into the open Penguins net to secure the win. That’s goal No. 40 of his impressive rookie season. He’s the first player since Alex Ovechkin to hit that mark in his debut season. That gave the youthful Maple Leafs three goals in the final 5:30 of the third period. Crazy.

And now the Maple Leafs await word on the status of Andersen. There was no update during the game.

Islanders defeat Devils, remain alive in playoff race (Updated: They’ve been eliminated)

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Updated: The Maple Leafs have defeated Pittsburgh, securing a spot in the playoffs and eliminating both the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning from contention.

The New York Islanders are still mathematically alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

They defeated the New Jersey Devils by a score of 4-2 on Saturday, moving — at least for now — within a point of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot.

The Islanders have one game remaining on their schedule. They’ll close out the regular season against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

Now, everything right now depends on what happens between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, who were late in the second period and tied 2-2 in a very eventful contest as of the writing of this post.

A Maple Leafs win tonight and they clinch the final playoff spot in the East.

But the Islanders made things interesting with five consecutive wins. They can once again thank their goalie, Jaroslav Halak, for this latest victory.

The score flattered New York, which was outshot 39-20 — and 14-4 in the opening period. Puck possession numbers? Those were largely in favor of the Devils, but Halak was the great equalizer in this one.