Goalie Nods: Rangers’ Skapski gets second NHL start

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Skapski starts vs. Sabres

Mackenzie Skapski will make his second career NHL start tonight as the New York Rangers visit the Buffalo Sabres. The 20-year-old got his first NHL win with a 24 save performance defeating the Sabres 3-1 on Feb. 20. Skapski was 12-7-3 to go along with a .914 save percentage and a 2.38 in 24 AHL games prior to being recalled.

Anders Lindback gets the nod for Buffalo.

Elsewhere…

Blackhawks at Sharks: Corey Crawford vs. Antti Niemi

Leafs at Canucks: Jonathan Bernier vs. Eddie Lack

Panthers at Hurricanes: Dan Ellis vs. Cam Ward

Canadiens at Islanders: Carey Price vs. Michal Neuvirth

Jets at Lightning: Ondrej Pavelec vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Wild at Blues: Devan Dubnyk vs. Brian Elliott

Devils at Coyotes:Cory Schneider vs. Mike Smith

Flames at Avalanche: Karri Ramo vs. Semyon Varlamov

Predators at Kings: Pekka Rinne vs. Jonathan Quick

Goalie nods: Neuvirth starts second straight for Isles

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Don’t call it a controversy

The Islanders will start Michal Neuvirth for the second straight game tonight against the Leafs — but it isn’t a sign of potential goalie drama.

Tonight is the first of the Isles’ back-to-back set, which culminates tomorrow with a crucial tilt against the Rangers. Jaroslav Halak will face the Blueshirts, a team he’s fared well against this season, going 3-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA and .935 save percentage. Tomorrow’s game also represents the fifth and final meeting of the season between the two New York-based clubs, and a chance for the Isles (and Halak) to beat the Rangers in four of the five meetings.

As for Neuvirth, tonight’s game gives him a chance to make up for his debut — a shootout loss to the Panthers on Saturday, in which he allowed three goals on just 18 shots.

For Toronto, Jonathan Bernier will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

Oilers at Red Wings: Ben Scrivens vs. (no Detroit starter yet)

Ducks at Canucks: (no Anaheim starter yet) vs. Eddie Lack

Preds at Coyotes: (no Nashville starter yet) vs. Louis Domingue

Pens at Sharks: (no Pittsburgh starter yet) vs. Antti Niemi

Goalie Nods: Hutchinson gets a sixth straight start

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Michael Hutchinson gets the nod in Nashville

Michael Hutchinson will look to right the ship tonight in Nashville. The Jets’ goaltender allowed three goals on 17 shots in a loss to the Senators on Wednesday. Hutchinson has lost three of his last five games while posting a 2.57 GAA and .906 save percentage. The Jets have not won in Nashville this season and will look to avoid a third straight loss to the Preds.

Pekka Rinne, who has lost four in a row, gets the nod for Nashville.

Elsewhere…

Blues at Leafs: Brian Elliott vs. Jonathan Bernier

Stars at Lightning: Jhonas Enroth vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Islanders at Panthers: Michal Neuvirth vs. Dan Ellis

Sabres at Capitals: Anders Lindback (unconfirmed) vs. Braden Holtby

Avalanche at Blue Jackets: Semyon Varlamov vs. Curtis McElhinney

Canadiens at Coyotes: Carey Price vs. Mike Smith

Penguins at Kings: Marc-Andre Fleury (unconfirmed) vs. Jonathan Quick (unconfirmed).

Canucks at Sharks: Eddie Lack vs. Antti Niemi

Leafs’ Panik latest to be fined for diving

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Toronto forward Richard Panik has become the seventh player to be fined for diving this season, the NHL announced on Thursday:

Panik was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 824 at Montreal on Feb. 14. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident during NHL Game No. 936 at Washington on Mar. 1.

Capitals defenseman Mike Green received a minor penalty for holding on the play, at 10:57 of the second period.

Here’s video of the incident against the Caps:

With that, Panik joins Islanders goalie Michal Neuvirth (fine occurred while with Buffalo), Montreal’s P.K. Subban, the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Florida’s Vincent Trocheck and Nashville’s James Neal as the seven players to be publicly outed as divers, under new rules put forth by the league this season.

NHL on NBCSN: Lightning kick off homestand against Sabres

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Buffalo Sabres at the Amalie Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The trade deadline has past and with it, every player knows where they stand for the rest of the season. The Lightning got a significant reinforcement on Monday in former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn and with that settled they’ll have to look to each other in their final push before the playoffs.

Tampa Bay’s first step to that end will be to try and sweep this three-game homestand against Buffalo, Toronto, and Dallas. Those are squads that are out of the playoff picture and consequently the Lightning should be able to take these games. If they successfully secure those six points then they’ll be in a strong position against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens when they meet on March 10.

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It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Lightning will run the table though. After all, they’ve been merely treading water since the start of February with a 6-5-2 record. They’re also still missing defenseman Matt Carle, who hasn’t played since Jan. 15 due to an abdominal injury.

Additionally, while the Buffalo Sabres look terrible on paper — especially after trading away Brian Flynn, Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell, and Michal Neuvirth on Monday — they might not be the pushovers some are expecting. Buffalo as a team doesn’t have much left to play for in 2014-15 and from a long-term perspective, it probably would be best for the franchise if the squad remained in 30th place to secure either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 draft. However, on an individual level they have plenty of motivated players.

Take goaltenders Chad Johnson and Anders Lindback for example. They’re coming off rough stints with the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars respectively, but now find themselves in a situation where they have a legitimate shot at competing for the starting gig. They’ll want to make the most of this opportunity to prove that they still have value on an NHL squad.

They’re not alone either. Buffalo is full of guys that are playing for their future or at least their pride. Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting for Tampa Bay as we move towards the postseason, so while the Lightning are expected to win this game, they certainly need to be careful or else these important two points will slip away.