Jason Brough

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell, left, controls the puck against Minnesota Wild left wing Jason Zucker during the second period  of Game 2 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs in Chicago, Sunday, May 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Late-season injuries provide Bickell another shot with ‘Hawks

Bryan Bickell will return to the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup tonight at United Center versus the Blues, marking his first appearance in an NHL game since January.

Bickell was recalled from AHL Rockford yesterday, in the wake of injuries to Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, and Andrew Shaw.

It remains to be seen how long Bickell will remain in the lineup. Hossa and Anisimov are expected back in time for the playoffs, if not sooner. But Shaw is doubtful for Saturday’s regular-season finale in Columbus, bringing his postseason availability into question.

At this morning’s skate, Bickell was on a line with Andrew Desjardins and Dale Weise.

Bickell, 30, had a respectable 15 goals in 44 games for Rockford, but has no goals in 23 games for the ‘Hawks this season.

Rangers’ Girardi is ‘day-to-day’ with upper-body injury

New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi shoots and scores to tie the game during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi will not play tonight versus the Islanders due to an upper-body injury. His status for Saturday’s regular-season finale versus Detroit is also in question.

“I would say day-to-day and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” New York head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters, per NorthJersey.com.

Girardi was hurt late in Tuesday’s game against the Lightning when his former teammate, Brian Boyle, knocked him into the end boards.

Girardi’s spot tonight will be filled by veteran Dan Boyle, who got the night off versus Tampa Bay.

Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei will both remain in the lineup, as Ryan McDonagh is out for at least the rest of the regular season — and quite likely into the playoffs — with a hand injury.

Bergeron: ‘We have to seize it, and go out there and do it’


Here’s the deal for the Boston Bruins:

They need to beat Detroit tonight at TD Garden.

They won’t be mathematically eliminated if they don’t, but they’ll be pretty close. A Detroit victory of any kind would clinch a playoff berth for the Red Wings, leaving only the Flyers for the B’s to catch for the final wild-card spot in the East.

The Flyers host Toronto tonight — a winnable game for Philly, to say the least. The Bruins and Flyers are currently tied with 91 points, but the Flyers have a game in hand.

Even if the Bruins only lose to Detroit in overtime or a shootout, and even if the Leafs somehow manage to beat Philly in regulation, the Bruins still wouldn’t control their destiny.

Look, we’re not going to run down all the potential scenarios here. The Bruins’ website has already done that.

The bottom line is the B’s could really use a win.

“The biggest thing is you have to be confident, and you have to believe,” said forward Patrice Bergeron, per CSN New England. “But at the same time there are no more chances here. We have to seize it, and go out there and do it.”

What happens if the B’s fail to “seize it” remains to be seen.

Certainly, GM Don Sweeney won’t look too good after giving up assets to acquire Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles at the trade deadline, not to mention keeping Loui Eriksson.

And, of course, there will be questions about the future of head coach Claude Julien.

We’re not there yet.

The Bruins finish the season Saturday afternoon at home to Ottawa. No matter what happens tonight, they’ll still be alive when the puck drops in their 82nd game.

A loss tonight, though, and they’ll be hanging by the thinnest of threads.


Former Sabres owner feels vindicated in helping NHL police hits to head

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2007 file photo, Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, right, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wait for  a news conference to begin announcing a New Year's day hockey game in Orchard Park, N.Y.  During the 2006-07 season, a concussion sustained by Sabres co-captain Chris Drury — as a result of a blindside check by Ottawa's Chris Neil — placed hits to the head at the forefront of the NHL agenda. It began with then-Sabres owner Tom Golisano's letter urging NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to re-examine the rules after the league informed Buffalo that Neil's hit was legal. (AP Photo/Don Heupel, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Upon reflection, former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano is pleased knowing the public stink he raised over hits to the head have played a role in cleaning up the NHL game nearly a decade later.

That it took so long for the league to take action is another matter.

“I do have a feeling of vindication,” Golisano told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I feel real good about it. I feel it’s a contribution that at least I helped with.”

Golisano helped push the issue of blindside checks to the forefront of the NHL agenda during the 2006-07 season. He went public in releasing a letter to Gary Bettman, urging the NHL commissioner to re-examine league rules in a bid to outlaw blindside hits.

The letter was prompted after the league informed the Sabres that Ottawa forward Chris Neil would not be disciplined for a hit that led to Buffalo co-captain Chris Drury sustaining a concussion and deep cut across his face. Drury had just released a shot in the Senators zone, when Neil drove in from the right side and used his shoulder to catch an unsuspecting Drury across the jaw.

“There is nothing manly about hitting a player that you can’t see,” Golisano wrote. “There is nothing good to come of a policy that allows exciting, skilled players to be targets for what I believe to be predatory play.”

Concerns were raised further during the 2007 Stanley Cup final, when Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger was suspended for one game after elbowing Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond in the head.

Golisano’s letter became a prime topic of discussion for the league’s competition committee on June 15, according to meeting minutes that were among hundreds of documents unsealed last week as evidence in the class-action concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL by former players.

“Gary Bettman states that the starting point for the discussion needs to be: Is there a problem? How do we define the problem? Do we want to do anything about this problem?” the minutes read.

Rangers forward and future NHL department of player safety chief Brendan Shanahan is quoted saying the league “should come down hard on players through supplementary discipline when they hit `dirty.”‘ NHL Players’ Association representative Stu Grimson said Neil’s hit was difficult to assess because Drury was not “unfairly vulnerable” after he had just taken a shot.

The minutes cite a consensus being reached, suggesting the rule should address whether a hit was late, the player struck was “unfairly vulnerable,” and whether the hitter stalked his opponent and had a prior history of illegal checks.

All these points became part of “Rule 48: Illegal Check to the Head,” introduced to the rulebook for the 2010-11 season.

It took the league three years to put it in writing.

“It’s strange that it took so long,” said Golisano, who also raised concerns at the league’s board of governors meeting in 2007. “That’s too bad, but I guess we can look back at it and say, `At least they did it now.”‘

Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff says there have been discussions regarding several gray areas to what’s deemed an illegal check to the head after Jets forward Bryan Little was sidelined by a season-ending back injury in February. Little sustained a compression fracture to his vertebrae when he dropped his head briefly and was struck by Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman in the neutral zone.

“It’s a fine line,” Cheveldayoff said.

Dr. John Leddy, a University at Buffalo clinical professor of orthopedics, hesitates in faulting the NHL for being slow to react.

“Could it have happened faster? Well, maybe,” Leddy said. “But I don’t think people should be criticized 10 and 20 and 30 years ago for treating concussions differently back then because nobody really knew what concussions were or how serious they were.”

Leddy received funding assistance from the Sabres on concussion research because of his work spurring Buffalo center Tim Connolly’s recovery from head and neck injuries in 2007.

More than 100 former players have joined the class-action lawsuit alleging the NHL had the resources to better prevent head trauma, failed to properly warn players of such risks and promoted violent play that led to their injuries.

Gretzky laments the ‘grinding game’ that the NHL has become

Wayne Gretzky

Last week, we wrote about the possibility that the NHL could have no 100-point man or 50-goal scorer this season.

And then Patrick Kane went wild, piling up eight points in three games to get to 102.

Alex Ovechkin could still reach 50 goals, too. He’s got 47 with three games to go.

But their totals will be nothing compared to the numbers Wayne Gretzky used to amass with the Oilers. In 1981-82, he scored 92 goals and 212 points. In 1985-86, it was 163 assists and 215 points.

How times have changed.

In an interview with the New York Times, the Great One lamented the “grinding game” that he sees today in the NHL.

“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say, ‘Go score,'” he said. “Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes. Defensemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don’t think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”

Of course, it’s hard to blame NHL coaches for coaching the way they do today. The evidence clearly shows that defense wins championships, and that’s what coaches are paid to do — win. Go back and watch some hockey from the 1980s and you’ll regularly see defensive lapses that would get players benched in 2016.

And for the record, it wasn’t all beautiful run-and-gun hockey back in the ’80s. Often it was just plain sloppy, full of hooking and holding and slashing. Compared to today, the players in Gretzky’s era weren’t as fast, they weren’t as strong, and they sure weren’t as fit.

But Gretzky’s words have already struck a chord with many, and that’s something the NHL may want to investigate further.