Gordie Howe’s 85th birthday sees him in his toughest battle

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Today is Easter Sunday but it also doubles as NHL legend Gordie Howe’s 85th birthday. With aging comes health concerns, however, and Mr. Hockey has a serious one he’s dealing with.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports on Howe’s struggles with dementia that will likely keep him out of the public eye from here on out. Gordie’s Hall of Fame son, Mark, highlights how tough it’s been for his father lately.

“All you have to do is make oatmeal for him in the morning, then have a cookie or apple pie or chocolate ice cream before bed, and then he’s happy,” Mark said. “But if it’s not someone that he knows who’s with him, he really struggles.

“He was watching the Wings game the other night, and after two periods he put on his coat and made to leave. He said he was going to see Sid Abel at the end of the street. That’s the first I’d heard of that kind of thing. But that’s the stage he’s at.”

It’s hard to hear stories like this, especially about someone so revered by the public. For what it’s worth, Mark says Gordie is still physically strong but his memory just isn’t at the same level.

GM Rutherford looks to retool after ‘puzzling’ Pens exit

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jim Rutherford is not ready to blow up the core that’s led the Pittsburgh Penguins to three Stanley Cups in a little more than a decade.

Still, the longtime general manager understands there’s some serious retooling necessary following a second straight playoff flameout.

The issue isn’t just that the Penguins have lost nine of their past 10 postseason games. It’s the way in which they have lost them that’s left Rutherford ”puzzled.”

The fight that defined the group that won consecutive Cups in 2016 and 2017 has all but disappeared. Nowhere was that more evident than in Game 4 of their qualifying series against Montreal, the one that ended with the 24th-seeded Canadiens scoring twice in the third period to capture the best-of-five series in four games.

”You’re waiting for the desperation from the drop of the puck and it didn’t come in the first period,” Rutherford said Tuesday. ”It didn’t come in the second period. And it was even worse in the third period. There’s something wrong if you don’t have the drive in that point in time to win the series.”

Figuring out exactly how things got sideways, however, will be tricky. Rutherford remains adamant he has no plans to part ways with stars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

Yet he also admits captain Sidney Crosby needs more help if the Penguins plan to remain in contention during the back half of his Hall of Fame career.

”Sid’s leadership never changes and his approach never changes, to answer that directly, I have no concerns there,” Rutherford said. ”I think we do need a little more out of some of the other guys and you know, are they in a position to still give that leadership? Whether it be lead by example on the ice or in the room verbally, or do we need some of the other guys to step up and do more?”

Rutherford believed he addressed Pittsburgh’s need to get back to – as coach Mike Sullivan puts it – ”playing the right way” when he shipped talented but mercurial forward Phil Kessel to Arizona last summer for Alex Galchenyuk and signed energetic forward Brandon Tanev in free agency.

While Tanev proved a wise investment, Galchenyuk never meshed and was gone by mid-February and even Tanev’s relentlessness couldn’t overcome the uninspired play of his teammates. Rutherford understands it would be easy to place blame on the four-month layoff provided by COVID-19, but he’s not ready to go there.

”You can make all the excuses you want, but you can’t make those excuses when (a quick playoff exit) happens two years in a row,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford believes the team needs to get younger during what will be an extended offseason. Letang, Crosby and forward Patric Hornqvist are 33. Malkin is 34. All provided moments of brilliance during the regular season. The playoffs, not so much. In nearly 83 minutes of ice time, Malkin collected just one assist. The top power-play unit – one that included both Crosby and Malkin – looked listless for long stretches.

”You don’t need to be around hockey long to see the group of guys we got on the ice and be puzzled about what that happened,” Rutherford said.

Still, he remains confident the team will continue to be in ”win-now” mode as it has been throughout Crosby and Malkin’s primes.

”We’re here to be a contending team and win a Cup,” he said. ”We recognize that window (to win) is getting smaller and smaller, and it’s getting to that point. We realize it’s still open and still doable.”

It will just have to remain doable without some familiar faces. Goaltenders Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are restricted free agents, and Rutherford allows only one will be back next season because the economics to hold on to both don’t make sense. Jarry, a surprise All-Star pick after a stellar first half, figures to be the favorite to remain while Murray – who already has his name on the Stanley Cup twice at age 26 – will likely move on.

The same goes for unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz’s arrival in a trade from Edmonton in February 2016 marked an important point in a makeover that led to a championship parade in mid-June of that year. Yet he and Jack Johnson struggled mightily against Montreal and Rutherford didn’t exactly mount a defense of Schultz’s play when asked to assess their performance as a blue-line combo.

”I know everybody picks on Jack and they have for a long time, but I think in that pairing that Justin Schultz had a lot more to give and it wasn’t there,” Rutherford said.

The rise of rookie John Marino makes Schultz’s departure inevitable. And winger Jake Guentzel – an All-Star for the first time this season – and Tanev offer proof the cupboard behind Malkin and Crosby isn’t exactly bare. Yet it wasn’t enough to stop the Penguins from heading home following an shockingly brief stay in Toronto.

”Did some of the players feel they didn’t want to put in the extra work to stay in the bubble longer?” Rutherford said. ”It’s very disappointing and changes need to be made. Going younger where guys are eager to prove ourselves (is important but we have to make sure we are) doing it cautiously so we can transition on the fly and still be a contending team.”

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020 nhl playoff schedule
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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Montreal at Philadelphia, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 13: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders

Wednesday, Aug. 12: NY Islanders at Washington, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 13: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Chicago at Vegas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 13: Chicago at Vegas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Arizona at Colorado, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Calgary at Dallas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 13: Calgary at Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

2020 nhl playoff schedule

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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.

Jets’ Mark Scheifele on injury: ‘I’ll be back better than ever’

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The injury Mark Scheifele suffered in Game 1 of Winnipeg’s Qualifying Round series against Calgary is fortunately not as bad as it appeared.

Scheifele left 5:29 into the opening game after a collision with Matthew Tkachuk along the boards. It initially looked like he had suffered a serious knee injury, or even worse, was cut by Tkachuk’s skate. He didn’t reveal the exact nature of the injury, but did say he expects to be 100% very soon.

“Initially I thought I tore my Achilles and I was done for six months,” the Jets forward said on a video call with reporters Tuesday.

Tkachuk called the play an “accident.” Jets head coach Paul Maurice went off on the Flames forward in the postgame, describing the play “a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.”

Scheifele doesn’t believe what Tkachuk did was intentional and the two have spoken since Game 1.

“If someone is on the ice trying to cut someone with their skate, I don’t think Matt was trying to do that,” he said.

In their conversational Tkachuk did admit he was out of control and skating too fast before the collision.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“The way I look at it, at the last second, I turned up and it was kind of like a knee-on-knee scenario,” Scheifele said. “The one thing I know — and he talked about being out of control and skating too fast. He took ownership of that. I know for me as a hockey player, I work every single day at being in control, at being in control of where I’m at on the ice and the space around me. That’s what I work on every single day.

“It’s one of those things that’s a learning curve for everyone. You try to be in control all the time. I look at it as a knee-on-knee scenario. That’s just the way the game works. It’s a fast-moving game, but I’m thankful it wasn’t as serious as it could have been. I had a lot of bad thoughts go through my mind that I was going to be out for six months and that my career could be over. That was tough on me, and the worst part was the anticipation of getting some answers. All I could do was thank God that I am on the mend, I didn’t need surgery and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Despite playing only three shifts and now spending his off-season recovering, Scheifele isn’t one to hold a grudge.

“The way my parents raised me you forgive everyone, and that’s all you can do. You wish the best on every person,” he said. “Matt’s a great hockey player and has a ton of work ethic. I have no hard feelings. Obviously, I wish it never happened and I played in the rest of that series, but there is nothing you can do about that now.

“All you can do is wish everyone the best and hope that everyone stays safe and healthy. That’s kind of the only thoughts on my mind. In my mind, I’m just trying to get better, trying to get my body back to 100% and that’s all I can worry about.”

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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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.

Blue Jackets-Lightning stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Tuesday’s First Round matchup between the Blue Jackets and Lightning. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blue Jackets-Lightning stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the second straight season the Blue Jackets and Lightning will face off in the First Round of the postseason after Columbus became the first team in NHL history to sweep a Presidents’ Trophy winner in the opening round a season ago when they defeated Tampa in four games. That victory was the Blue Jackets’ first ever playoff series win after 18 seasons in the league and now a year later these clubs meet again following Columbus’ winner-take-all victory over Toronto on Sunday night.

The Blue Jackets advanced through the Qualifying Round by defeating the host city team, Toronto, in its own building. Columbus bookended the series with Joonas Korpisalo shutouts, sending the Maple Leafs home for the offseason on Sunday night after a 3-0 win.

The Lightning went 2-1-0 in its first three games this postseason, defeating Washington (3-2 SO) and Boston (3-2) before falling to Philadelphia (4-1) on Saturday in a game that determined the No. 1 seed. A victory over the Flyers would have matched Tampa against Montreal in this round instead of this rematch.

WHAT: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Tuesday, August 11, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule