NHL on NBC: Rangers, Devils series heads to New Jersey

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After playing in back-to-back seven-game series, the New York Rangers insist they’re not tired. All the same, we imagine having two full days off before Game 3 on Saturday (1pm ET, NBC) was helpful for them.

The Rangers struggled to overcome the young and underrated Ottawa Senators and then they nearly fell to a reformed Washington Capitals’ squad. Now, after dropping Game 2, it looks like they’re in for yet another lengthy series, this time at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have developed a reputation for being a superb defensive team led by future Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur, but if anything the Rangers have the edge in both defense and goaltending in this series. Brodeur is 40 now and former greats Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski have all retired. However, New Jersey can’t be overlooked.

Whatever they’ve lost defensively since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2003, the Devils have made up for in firepower. Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise have done a great job leading New Jersey’s attack. Patrik Elias is another story, but if he manages to break out before this series is over, then he might prove to be a game changer.

The Rangers will attempt to contain them with their emphasis on shot-blocking and strong goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. That served them well the series opener, but they showed cracks in their armor in Game 2.

The X-factor going into Saturday’s contest is New York’s Marian Gaborik. On Wednesday, he was benched for the better part of the third period after a bad clearing attempt. He doesn’t have a point in this series, but he’s capable of bouncing back in Game 3.

Game 3 Notes:

— Rangers forward Chris Kreider has four playoff goals despite the fact that he’s never played in a regular season game at the NHL level. Only one other player in the history of the league has netted as many goals before their regular season debut.
— New Jersey has only managed to kill 72.2% of their penalties in the playoffs, which is by far the worst success rate out of the remaining teams. They conceded a power-play goal to the New York Rangers in each of this series’ first two contests.
— Rangers captain Ryan Callahan insists he didn’t injure his hand while blocking a shot in the first round. All the same, Callahan has just one goal and three points in his last 12 games.
— In 2011, the Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins led all teams with 377 blocked shots in 25 games. With 309 blocked shots in 16 contests, the New York Rangers are on pace to shatter that mark.

Flyers’ Hart kept injury a secret, expected to miss 7-10 days

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PHILADELPHIA — Carter Hart’s injury happened before the Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. The problem was he didn’t tell anyone about it until after Friday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field ahead of the Stadium Series game (8 p.m. ET; NBC) against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So when Flyers head coach Scott Gordon addressed the media Friday and announced that Brian Elliott would start the game, he had no idea Hart, whom many expected would be starting, was injured. Hart participated fully in the team’s practice and then spoke with reporters afterward and expressed his disappointment with the decision while not giving off any inkling something was up.

Gordon said that Hart’s injury was discovered Friday night by team doctors, one day after the he allowed three goals on nine shots.

“Carter, to his credit, was trying to fight through it [vs. Montreal], and it was a little more severe than he thought,” Gordon said.

The Flyers announced on Saturday morning that Hart would be out a “minimum of 10 days” with a lower-body injury. Gordon said hours before the Stadium Series game it would be more like 7-10 days. Either way, Hart will miss a handful of games and their two losses this week to Montreal and Tampa Bay — which Hart was pulled from both — effectively ended their already-slim chances at grabbing an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

After the injury was been discovered, Gordon looked back at the Canadiens game and could see something was up with Hart.

“I couldn’t tell if he was favoring,” Gordon said. “I don’t necessarily look at just the goals if I’m gonna pull the goaltender. It’s more about how he’s handling the rebounds and I felt like pucks were coming off him funny. Like the third goal, usually he puts that to the corner or he’s tied that up and it popped out in front and Robert Hagg cleared it to the corner. I don’t know if that had any impact. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken with him on the specific shots. It was a shot where he reached up and he got a piece of it but he didn’t handle it. There was a couple rebounds that I thought were kind of awkward. Whether that has to do with it or not, maybe it was on his mind. I don’t know.”

With Hart sidelined, that leaves the Flyers with Elliott and Cam Talbot as their options in net. With a back-to-back next Thursday and Friday against Columbus and New Jersey, that will likely see Talbot make an historic debut. Whenever Talbot gets into a game for the Flyers the franchise will set an NHL record by using its eighth goaltender this season.

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points
Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start
2019 Stadium Series by the numbers
Simmonds’ mind on helping Flyers, not NHL trade deadline
Scott Hartnell Q&A

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Skinner leaves game after leg injury, makes third period return

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For a second there, it looked horrible.

Jeff Skinner, writhing in pain on the ice after a gruesome-looking leg injury and having to be helped off the ice by teammates and then helped down the tunnel by trainers, seemed to be in bad shape.

The 26-year-old got tangled up with newly-acquired Washington Capitals forward Carl Hagelin during the second period of Saturday’s game.

Hagelin got his stick between Skinner’s shin pads and the latter’s left skate picked into the ice, twisting his ankle in ways it should not.

Skinner was in obvious pain as soon as he hit the deck, at one point trying to push with his right leg toward the Sabres bench.

He missed the rest of the second period but remarkably, given the video you just watched, returned for the third, much to the surprise of everyone.

Skinner laughed when he told Buffalo News Sports’ Lance Lysowki that the team has good training staff. Skinner said he felt pain immediately after the play but was fine once he got to the room to test it.

“There’s a lot of things that go through your mind,” Skinner said. “At first you’re just wondering what’s wrong with it. …The tests went pretty well and I was able to come back.”

Skinner has been a godsend for the Sabres with 36 goals, just one off his career-high set two seasons ago when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres splashed for Skinner in the offseason and he’s been worth every penny in the final year of his six-year, $34.350 million contract.

The Sabres sit seven points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference and had just three wins in their past 10 games heading into Saturday.


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

Oilers’ CEO not a fan of Connor McDavid suspension

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The Edmonton Oilers are none too pleased with the National Hockey League’s decision to suspend Connor McDavid two games for his headshot on New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy on Thursday night.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson defended McDavid during a meeting with the media on Saturday before the team took to the ice for their pre-game skate.

“We’re really disappointed with the NHL’s decision,” Nicholson said. “This is a first-time offense for Connor. Everyone knows Connor is a skilled player and I thought he did a very good job explaining what he was doing before there was contact with Leddy.”

The hit in question took place at the 17:32 mark of the first period. McDavid was handed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play. Leddy stayed down for a bit and was summoned for concussion testing but returned for the second period and played out the rest of the game.

McDavid went on to score the overtime winner in a 4-3 win.

Nicholson said McDavid’s intent heading into the hit was to strip the puck from Leddy and when he realized he couldn’t do that, became small and didn’t try to level Leddy.

Nicholson then argued the hit’s principle point of contact (although it clearly was) wasn’t the head.

“I thought the contact started at the chest and there was a deflection into the head but it was a slight deflection into the head,” Nicholson said.

McDavid figured he wouldn’t be suspended prior to the hearing and figured he raised some good points about the hit, but said that once he heard the tone of the voice once in the meeting, he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

“I think a lot of times, you go in and they already have their mind made up,” McDavid said. “They don’t really care what you have to say.”

McDavid said it’s frustrating given that it’s a crucial time for the Oilers. Edmonton sits eight points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard in the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s action. The Oilers battle the Ducks later on in the day, who are one point ahead of them in the standings. Edmonton needs to leapfrog six teams over their next 22 games to head to the playoffs.

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels McDavid deserved better but said the team can’t worry about it right now.

“We just have to keep going,” Hitchcock said. “Fighting the fight isn’t going to do us any good right now.

What goes on, suspension-wise, I’m even sure I know all the rules, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said.

McDavid was non-committal on appealing the decision. Nicholson said he didn’t think McDavid would.


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

Stars acquire defenseman Lovejoy in trade with Devils

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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Stars acquired veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

The Stars sent defenseman Connor Carrick and a 2019 third-round draft pick to the Devils in the deal reached two days before the NHL’s trade deadline.

Lovejoy is an 11-year veteran and defensive specialist who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016. He was second on the Devils with 77 blocked shots while playing a key penalty-killing role. He has two goals and seven points in 51 games this season and 20 goals and 99 points in 524 career games.

General manager Jim Nill called Lovejoy ”an experienced, battle-tested player who has a track record of performing in meaningful late-season games.”

With Marc Methot out after season-ending knee surgery last month and Stephen Johns (neck/head) having not played this season, Lovejoy is a boost to the Dallas defense. The Stars reacquired defenseman Jamie Oleksiak from Pittsburgh in a trade last month.

The trade comes with Dallas seeking to keep pace in the congested Western Conference playoff race in which five points separate the seventh-place Stars and 12th-place Vancouver.

Dallas was 2-4-1 in its past seven games going into Saturday’s home game against Carolina. The Stars were coming off a 5-2 win Thursday over St. Louis that snapped a franchise-record 11-game winning streak by the Blues.

New Jersey was 14th in the 16-team Eastern Conference.

The 24-year-old Carrick had a goal and four points in 14 games with the Stars this season.

Lovejoy was a healthy scratch when the Devils played Thursday against Ottawa. Lovejoy had a plus-one rating in his 51 games, one of only two New Jersey’s regulars in the positive.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports