Khabibulin has shoulder surgery, out 4-5 months

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Has Nikolai Khabibulin played his last game in the NHL?

The Chicago Blackhawks announced today that the 40-year-old goalie underwent successful surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, news that raised the aforementioned question.

“The procedure went very well and I anticipate a full recovery,” Dr. Michael Terry said in a release. “He should be able to return to hockey in four to five months.”

Khabibulin is a pending unrestricted free agent and has struggled in limited appearances this season. If he can’t return this year, it’s hard to see the four-time All Star catching on with an NHL team next year.

But if he does retire, at least he’ll go out with a Stanley Cup ring (Tampa Bay, 2004).

Blue Jackets get a very badly needed win

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In a vacuum, pummeling the lowly Vancouver Canucks 5-0 didn’t technically mean that much for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After all, they still end the weekend on the outside looking in on the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’re two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the East’s final playoff spot, and while there’s no doubt that things look brighter — Columbus also has a game in hand on the Habs — the Blue Jackets are likely fully aware that they have a long way to go.

Yet, nights like these restore some hope that there truly might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Canadiens and Hurricanes engaging in a three-point game (Carolina won in OT, and did another goofy win celebration) was described as a worst-case scenario for Columbus, but consider the circumstances and Columbus is probably breathing a sigh of relief.

  • The Blue Jackets won after GM Jarmo Kekalainen called them out for not playing “like a team.”
  • Columbus ended a three-game losing streak, and the Blue Jackets were at least able to end a four-game road trip with a win (going 1-2-1).
  • Some of the Blue Jackets’ big guns broke through against Vancouver.

As much attention falls on potentially leaving players like Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, along with newly added players like Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, it was a serious concern that sophomore center Pierre Luc-Dubois was mired in a terrible slump. He looked more like a first-line center on Sunday, however, with a goal and an assist.

While there might be some valid concerns about the Blue Jackets’ team play, it’s been easy to forget just how unlucky Columbus has been lately. With that in mind, it must have been nice to get a bounce or two, such as with this Dzingel goal:

It would certainly comfort Kekalainen to see Bobrovsky play to his potential during this stretch, so Sunday was promising in that regard, as Bob generated a 21-save shutout.

(Josh Anderson had the best Sunday of any Blue Jackets player, scoring two goals and one assist.)

Again, this win doesn’t heal all wounds. The Canucks, after all, aren’t very good, and that’s especially true with Brock Boeser on the shelf. It’s also worth repeating that Columbus remains out of the top eight, even after this win:

WC 1: Hurricanes: 42-26-7, 91 points, 75 games played, 40 regulation/OT wins
WC 2: Canadiens: 40-28-8, 88 points, 76 GP, 38 ROW

Blue Jackets: 41-30-4, 86 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW

Now that the Blue Jackets avoided a “trap game” of sorts against Vancouver, they turn their attention to two challenging upcoming games against opponents with a lot more on the line. They’ll host the Islanders on Tuesday, and then what might be their biggest game of 2018-19: a Thursday matchup against the Habs in Columbus.

Winning Sunday’s game doesn’t bail the Blue Jackets out, but it at least allows them to fight for their season. We’ll see if they can carry this momentum over to these next, much bigger tests.

If nothing else, things look a lot better mere days after their GM aired his grievances, and panic seemed to be creeping in.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks keep slim playoff hopes alive; Grubauer gets Avs a point

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It only made sense that Philipp Grubauer finished the weekend laying down, and exhausted.

After leading the Avalanche to their fourth consecutive win on Saturday, Grubauer was asked to beat the Blackhawks again on Sunday. He fell just short of accomplishing that task, too, but Chicago eventually won 2-1 in overtime.

Blackhawks overcome Grubauer

The winning play was really something. First, Duncan Keith was able to thwart Nathan MacKinnon as the two found each other in a one-on-one situation in three-on-three overtime. Keith then looked far younger than a 35-year-old, as he was able to overcome a 23-year-old speedster in MacKinnon and score a thrilling overtime game-winner.

The effort left Grubauer on his belly, on the ice, and you could forgive him if he took an extra breather after going all-out in willing his team to crucial points.

With both Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog out of the lineup, the Avs have been asking a lot of Grubauer, and he’s mostly delivered. The Blackhawks generated a 42-20 shots on goal advantage, including a 15-3 third period, yet Grubauer was often brilliant, basically dragging the game to overtime.

Grubauer has now allowed two goals or fewer in every appearance since Feb. 12. While his personal four-game winning streak ended with Colorado’s own run, he’s shown why the Avs believed in his ability to become a No. 1 goalie in the first place. That’s refreshing, especially since he’s been a bit up-and-down during his first year with Colorado.

Big win for Blackhawks, almost a win for Colorado

Really, both goalies were great, as the regulation goals came via power-play goals that involved deflections. Corey Crawford had a comparatively breezy night, but he was still sharp in stopping 19 out of 20 shots to help Chicago keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

This win leaves the Blackhawks (76 points in 75 games played, 31 regulation/overtime wins) five points behind the Avalanche for the West’s second wild-card spot.

Grubauer can keep his held high, because this all feels close to a win for Colorado. They’ve strengthened their playoff lead with 81 points in 76 GP (33 ROW), giving them two points of cushion. Now, sure, they might wonder “What if?” in falling short again during an overtime period, but when you consider the back-to-back set and injuries, credit the Avs for gutting this one point out.

The Coyotes were blanked 2-0 against the Islanders on Sunday, leaving them with 79 points in 76 games played, with 32 regulation/OT wins. Meanwhile, the Wild (79 points, 76 GP, 34 ROW) were idle after falling 5-1 to the maddening Hurricanes on Saturday.

So, again, this was mostly a great weekend for the Avalanche, while the Blackhawks can at least daydream about an unlikely run. It’s all a fitting reward, considering how grinding and exhausting this affair seemed at times.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals extend Metro lead by beating Flyers

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The Washington Capitals can enjoy the rest of their Sunday knowing that they won’t have to be worried about being overtaken in the race for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

A 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on NBC ensured they’ll have at least a one-point lead on the division. For the time being, it’s a three-point advantage, with the New York Islanders facing the Arizona Coyotes later on Sunday.

Washington had lost two straight coming into this one, including a 5-4 overtime defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey. That game was one of the best of the season between two powerhouses and the Capitals showed they could still run with the dominant Lightning.

Washington then dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.

So stopping the bleeding in Sunday’s matinee was paramount.

Tom Wilson‘s deflection put the Capitals ahead 1-0 in the first period, a lead that was padded in the second by Travis Boyd on another re-directed shot.

The Flyers, with their playoff hopes all but mathematically gone, battled back to 2-1 through Jakub Voracek on the power play to keep things interesting into the third. The Flyers put up 20 shots in the second period but Braden Holtby was up to the task, finishing with 35 saves in the game

A breakaway goal nearing the mid-way point of the third period by Jakub Vrana sealed it for Washington.

The pursuit of another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin will have to wait, meanwhile.

Ovi has hit a bit of a dry spell as of late, now having gone four games without a marker. With six games remaining, it’s unlikely The Great 8 will be held at bay for the rest of the regular season.

He nearly had an empty netter, but it was defended well by the Flyers and Ovechkin ultimately chose to pass the puck and the play never materialized into anything.

Washington now gears up for a home and home with the Carolina Hurricanes before another test against the Tampa Bay Lightning next 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