Get your game notes: Kings at Rangers

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the New York Rangers hosting the L.A. Kings on Rivalry Night at 7 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Stanley Cup Final rematch…The Rangers host the Kings tonight in the first meeting at Madison Square Garden since the Rangers staved off elimination in Game 4 (2-1 win) of last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The Kings won the series in Game 5 in LA (3-2 in 2OT; series-clinching goal by Alec Martinez) to capture their 2nd Stanley Cup in the last 3 seasons.

• This is the 2nd and final meeting of the season…In the first meeting, NYR won 4-3 at LA back on Jan. 8th during a stretch where the Rangers had ultimately gone 13-1-0 including a California sweep, winning at ANA, LA & SJ in the same season for the first time in franchise history.

• Contrary to the series last postseason, it was New York, not LA, who overcame a deficit in their first meeting this season for the win…down 2-0 in the 1st, NYR scored 4 unanswered goals…Martin St. Louis is credited with the game winner (LA overcame a 2-goal deficit to win Game 1 & 2 of SCF).

• Presidents’ Trophy outlook: No team in the NHL has more points than the New York Rangers…No team has played fewer games than the Rangers…The Blue Shirts are on the verge of being the first team to reach 100 points this season (their first 100-point season since 2011-12; 109 pts).

• Since the inception of the Presidents’ Trophy in 1985-86, New York has won the award twice, most recently in the 1993-94 season, when they went on to win their last Stanley Cup.

• The last 2 Presidents’ Trophy winners had different postseason fates: the Bruins lost in the second round last season while the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup back in 2013.

• Ultimate goals…The Rangers & Kings each look to become the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons since the Red Wings & Penguins met each other in the Cup Final in 2008 & 2009.

• Late-season surges have been the identity of LA in recent years. In each of the past 3 seasons, they have not clinched a playoff spot until the very end
of the season.

• With 10 games to go last season, LA had 88 points and sat 3rd in the Pacific Division.

• What’s also at stake for LA…The Kings can become the first repeat champ since DET won in 1997 & 1998…on the other end of the spectrum, they could become only the 4th team since the 1967-68 expansion to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Cup, joining CAR (2006-07), NJ (1995-96) & MTL (1969-70).

• Best start in franchise history…The Rangers are challenging their best regular season in franchise history…

• For NYR, the last time they won the Stanley Cup (1993-94) was a record-setting regular season in both wins (52) & points (112), both marks still stand as franchise bests. Here is NYR through 71 games in club history:

• Division title…New York needs 12 points to clinch its 1st division title since 2011-12, when they reached the conference finals, and only 2nd in the last 20 seasons.

• With 4 more points, (potentially a win tonight and at OTT on Thursday), the Rangers would secure their 5th straight postseason appearance – their longest such streak since making 10 consecutive trips from 1978-1987.

• Crunch time for LA: Though the Kings are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, they remain on the outside of the playoff picture with 10 games remaining.

• LA opened its challenging 5-game road trip with a 3-1 win vs. NJ last night.

• Though LA has a poor overall road record this season (13-14-7), they have improved of late going 8-2-1 in their last 11 road contests. The Kings only have 3 home games remaining out of their final 10.

• Rangers rolling…Teams might have longer active winning streaks than the Rangers but the Blue Shirts very well may be the hottest team in the league right now…New York has earned a point in 9 of its last 10 (8-1-1).

• During this 10-game stretch, the Rangers have still yet to allow more than 2 goals in a game and have only allowed 2 twice. This is the first time they have accomplished that since Feb. 20 – March 18, 1971 (12 GP).

• NYR in last 10 games: 11 total goals allowed

• Rangers offensive outburst…The Rangers scored a season-high 7 goals against the Ducks on Sunday night (after scoring 6 total goals in their previous 4 games and only 13 over their previous 8).

• The 7 goals at home were the most by NYR at The Garden since Mar. 6, 2011 (vs. PHI).

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Injury alert…The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who suffered a vascular injury in his throat on Jan. 31 vs. CAR (and last played on Feb. 2 vs. FLA), was medically cleared to practice with the team last Tuesday.

• The next step in his recovery was skating with the team this morning, his first organized team skate since the injury. If all goes well, Lundqvist will dress for a practice on Wednesday and fly with the club for a 2-game road trip to OTT & BOS. The Rangers return home for a Sunday matinee game against Washington. It is unclear when he will make his first start back.

• Martin St. Louis (NYR) was originally expected to miss 10-14 days after suffering a lower-body injury on Mar. 15 vs. FLA. No update on his status has been given.

• Another variable in the mix which caused Lundqvist to miss practice on Friday is the fact that his wife, Therese, gave birth to their 2nd child, Juli (both girls), that day…Lundqvist posted to his Twitter account after:

“My little girl is here!!…Everyone is doing great. She did not get the memo of me returning to practice today so we’ll try that again. …”

• Rick Nash on Lundqvist, “For sure it will be great to have our leader back. He’s so competitive; that’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the world. Family comes first; that’s for sure. But now we know he will be back.”

• The Rangers have gone 17-3-3 without Henrik Lundqvist

• Winning with Cam: 27-year old undrafted goalie Cam Talbot, in his 2nd NHL season, has started 21 of the 23 total Rangers games since Lundqvist has been out. Sunday night vs. ANA, Talbot stopped 36 of 38 shots
including all 21 in the 2nd & 3rd period.

• Talbot has gone 7-1-1 in his last 9 start: 1.21 GAA, .961 SV%

• Talbot played in the LA game earlier this season: 3 GA on 31 shots

• Talbot this season: 19-7-4, 2.13 GAA (4th in NHL), .929 SV% (2nd in NHL)

• The Rangers lead the league with 11 shutouts on the season, including 5 by Talbot & 5 by Lundqvist. No other Ranger team has had two goalies each record at least 5 shutouts in the same season.

• Jennings Trophy…awarded to goalie (s) of the team with the fewest goals scored against on the season…the Rangers trail the Canadiens by 2 goals in this category for the league lead…

• Typically shared by 2 goalies (min. 25 GP necessary)…oddly enough, since Henrik Lundqvist entered the league in 2005-06, only in his rookie season has another Ranger goalie even played 25 games in a season (Kevin Weekes; 32) – Talbot has played 32 games this season.

KINGS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Marian Gaborik had 2 assists last night in New Jersey. Now in his 14th season, the 33-year-old was the 3rd overall pick in the 2000 draft by MIN. After 8 seasons in MIN, Gaborik played for the Rangers for 3+ seasons (229 pts in 255 games). He has played for the Kings since March of last season when he was traded from CBJ.

• Gaborik led all players last postseason with 14 goals in 26 games, including 2 in the Stanley Cup Final.

• Mike Richards was recalled from Manchester (AHL) over the weekend, and he played for the Kings last night (0 points, 11:41 TOI) for the first time since Jan. 21st (missed 24 games).

• Richards was waived and subsequently sent to the minors in late January (14 points in 16 AHL games). His last game for Manchester was March 8, and he had since been in Southern California for on and off-ice tests to establish a baseline for his conditioning.

• Richards is in the 7th year of a 12-year/$69 million deal through 2020 (cap hit 5.75M).

• Richards, a 2-time Cup Champion with LA, has been with the Kings since the start of the 2011-12 season.

• LA has struggled to get goal-scoring from captain Dustin Brown. The Ithaca, NY, native has seen his goal production decline in every season since scoring 28 goals in 2010-11.

• He has just 10 goals in 72 games this season (on pace for his lowest total since his rookie season in
2003-04), including 15 straight without a goal (only 1 assist in that span).

• Anze Kopitar factored in all 3 Kings goals last night with 1 goal & 2 assists. He has led the team in scoring each of the past 7 seasons & once again leads LA with 57 points this season.

• Kopitar has points in 3 straight games and 12 points overall in his last 10 games.

• Andrej Sekera scored for the first time as a King last night – he opened the game’s scoring with a goal in the 1st.

• In 12 games w/ LA since being acquired from CAR, Sekera has 3 pts (1G-2A) while averaging 18:42 TOI/G.

• Alec Martinez (concussion) played his first game since Feb. 7th last night (missed 19 games). He had 3 shots on goal and registered 16:23 TOI.

• Martinez scored the Stanley-Cup winning goal last year against the Rangers in double overtime of Game 5.

• Jonathan Quick ranks t-2nd in the NHL with 62 starts this season. Since Feb. 7, his numbers are far more impressive than they were over the first half of the season including 19 saves on 20 shots last night at NJ.

Golden Knights’ Fleury shuns spotlight, keeps going strong

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s postgame routine used to include a call with his father, something that helped him step away from the stress of the game.

He’s had to get used to going without that. His father, Andre, died Nov. 27 after battling lung cancer.

“It’s hard, and took some time to get used to,” said Fleury. “All the guys have been very supportive and kind. The good thing was when I came back, we didn’t talk about it much, we just got back to normal.”

Normal, as in being one of the guys, something he became used to during his 13 years with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Andre “had such a big impact (on Marc-Andre); they talked about the game a lot,” Penguins star Sidney Crosby said of his close friend during his team’s visit to Las Vegas. “We could talk hockey for days, and I think that’s probably something any hockey player can relate to, that relationship with our mom or dad driving us to the rink. You build a pretty close bond.”

Following a rough patch on the ice after his father’s passing, some suggested Fleury’s skills were deteriorating and that the 35-year-old wasn’t handling things between the pipes well at all. He opened the season 11-6-2 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .919 save percentage through Nov. 23. When he returned from an extended leave after his father died, the Golden Knights were in eighth place in the Western Conference. They’ve since climbed to fourth in the conference and are atop the Pacific Division.

Now, as the face of a beloved franchise in one of the most recognizable cities in the world, Fleury does his best to balance life on and off the ice, all while trying to be just another player in the Golden Knights’ locker room.

“I’m a pretty reserved person,” the three-time Stanley Cup champion and five-time NHL All-Star said. “I just want to be treated like the other guys and be with the other guys. That’s how it was for most my career. Maybe Sid took the spotlight a lot, (which) was great. It’s just nice to be one of the guys.”

Which can be tough, considering the 16-year-veteran’s credentials.

With Wednesday’s league-leading fifth shutout, a 3-0 win over Edmonton, Fleury earned his 61st career shutout, tying him for 17th all-time with Turk Broda. His 465 wins rank fifth all-time.

“He’s accomplished so much in his career, but you would never be able to tell with his personality and how genuine and how good of a guy he is,” Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “Basically, he wants to be one of the boys and be treated like any other person. He doesn’t love the attention, but he knows who he is, and he knows what comes with that and he handles it very well.”

Fleury acknowledged he struggled at times to process his father’s death, and still does. But he knew he had to improve mentally if he was going to successfully endure the most difficult season of his highly decorated career.

“Everybody grieves in different ways,” Crosby said. “It’s certainly difficult, I’m sure, but (he’s) got some great memories. It’s something that as friends — as Flower’s family — we’re all gonna try to be there. It’s not easy, but we’ll get through it. He expects a lot of himself. He just wants to win hockey games.”

As of late, Fleury is doing just that.

Since Feb. 15, Fleury is 5-0-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .942 save percentage and appears poised to make another deep playoff run after Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon bolstered the lineup at the NHL trade deadline by trading backup goalie Malcolm Subban as part of a three-way deal that brought in Chicago goaltender Robin Lehner, a 2019 Vezina finalist.

It’s perfect timing, as Fleury is settling back into his comfort zone, being one of the guys on yet another playoff contender.

“He’s as advertised, both on and off the ice,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “You always recognize the talent and the skill and how good a goalie he was. I think when you spend time with him and you’re around him, you realize what a gentleman and what a good teammate and what a good person this guy is. And it’s not an act; it’s real. He’s a special person, and that’s what probably separates him more than even his talent, which is very high-end.”

Panthers have a lot to prove, starting with big test vs. Maple Leafs

Panthers face test in Atlantic third seed race vs. Maple Leafs
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What would be more embarrassing: the Maple Leafs or Panthers missing the playoffs? Because most signs point to the Maple Leafs and Panthers battling for one playoff spot as the Atlantic’s third seed.

There’s no question that the Maple Leafs missing the mark would draw more attention. Yet, as of Thursday, Feb. 27, I’d argue that Toronto would have more excuses than Florida. Not that such a notion would save anyone’s job, mind you, but it feels worth a mention.

Because, really, in a harsher market, there’d be more desperation in the air than the humidity in Sunrise as the Panthers host the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

[Maple Leafs perspective: can their banged-up defense survive?]

Panthers are a lot like Maple Leafs, but with fewer excuses

When you look at all the factors involved, these two teams are remarkably similar in strengths (scoring buckets of goals) and weaknesses (seeking shelter from a blizzard of goals). The biggest difference is that the Panthers’ most important players have generally stayed healthy, while the Maple Leafs feel like the NHL’s answer to Wile E. Coyote.*

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have experienced injuries to Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and the current list features Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Andreas Johnsson.

The point isn’t about the Maple Leafs’ challenges, as they have company among the most bruised teams in the NHL. Instead, it highlights Florida’s lack of excuses. They spent big on Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville yet … from a big picture perspective, their situation doesn’t feel all that different from last season. Prominent Panthers will need to look hard in the mirror if they fall short (particularly GM Dale Tallon, who made another baffling move in shipping out Vincent Trocheck).

* – OK, the Blue Jackets are probably Wile E. Coyote, but the Leafs take a beating, too. Maybe Tom of Tom & Jerry?

Florida has a slightly friendlier schedule, so … again, not many excuses

The Panthers should be deeply disappointed if they don’t hold an advantage over the Maple Leafs after the first week-or-so of March.

A look at the standings cements the notion that Thursday’s game is huge for both teams:

Panthers Maple Leafs Atlantic standings

But the stage is set for Florida to gain ground. While the Maple Leafs play four of their next five games on the road, the Panthers begin a five-game homestand with this crucial contest.

Other contextual situations set the stage for the Panthers to go on a run, if this team has it in them.

The Panthers face the Senators two more times this season, and also have one game apiece against the Devils and Red Wings.

Will the Canadiens sag by March 7, and if not then, by March 26? The Rangers might also run out of magic by March 30, while the Capitals might opt to rest key players during a season-closing contest on April 4.

Of course, the two biggest games seem obvious. Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs in Florida could loom large, especially if it ends in regulation. The two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in Toronto on March 23.

Overall, the Panthers play 11 more games at home versus eight on the road, while the Maple Leafs see an even split (nine each).

No, that schedule doesn’t present a towering advantage for Florida, though it does seem like it’s more favorable. Instead, it makes it clearer that the Panthers have every opportunity to prove themselves, starting with Thursday’s big test against the Maple Leafs.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins hope trade deadline additions get going vs. Stars

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite holding the NHL’s best record, the Bruins added some nice pieces at the trade deadline. They weren’t big-budget blockbusters, but Nick Ritchie and especially Ondrej Kase could serve as “sleeper hits.”

Now they just need to stop hitting the snooze button.

Ritchie faced some growing pains in first Bruins game after trade deadline

Ritchie (traded for Danton Heinen) and the Bruins didn’t exactly earn rave reviews from Bruce Cassidy as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Tuesday.

“[It was] clearly not good enough. I thought some guys came to play and some guys didn’t. [Some guys] didn’t break a sweat, some of them it looked like,” Cassidy said following that loss, via NBC Sports Boston. “I’m sure there was effort [and that] they were trying. They were just in-between, couldn’t execute or whatever. At the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”

A challenging upcoming schedule won’t make it easier to acclimate, either.

The Bruins host the Stars in Boston on Thursday, but then things get bumpy. They play three in a row and five of their next six on the road. Actually, there’s almost a month of road-heavy play, with eight of 11 away from home from Feb. 29 through March 21.

Ritchie noted that everything’s new when you get traded to a new team, and that’s a fair point for any trade deadline addition.

Actually … that concept might be where the Bruins hold a leg up. After all, the Bruins got both Ritchie and Kase from the Ducks, so they have familiarity with each other. (Kase didn’t get to debut yet, but may play on Thursday.)

That familiarity could benefit Ritchie, in particular.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Adding Kase to Bruins is a cause for excitement

If you’re a bit of a “fancy stats” nerd (raises hand), then you’ve looked at Kase as a hidden gem for quite some time. Pick your chart, and Kase will probably come out looking great.

With that in mind, a possible line of Kase, Ritchie, and David Krejci strikes as quite interesting. Especially in tandem with that buzzsaw Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line, and getting depth from the likes of Charlie Coyle.

Krejci provided some insight into playing with Kase a few days ago, noting that Kase is “fast and can score.”

“You kind of have to adjust your game a little bit, but you have to get a feel for each other,” Krejci said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss. “You’ve got to be on the same page with the breakouts, neutral zone. He’s a right-handed shot, so — I’m not sure what’s going to happen (Tuesday vs. the Flames) — but it’s always nice to have a right-handed shot on your line.”

There might be some room for frustration, mind you. Ritchie may create some groans with an ill-timed penalty. Kase’s a player to get excited about, although he might not always get the bounces. The Ducks traded Kase as his shooting percentage was mired at a career-low 5.2 percent, and his career average is modest at 9.5.

But … overall, the possibilities are exciting. Maybe Jake DeBrusk will end up being a better option than Ritchie, but we’ll see.

If they can score against the stingy Stars, that would present one heck of a first (or for Ritchie, second) impression.

John Forslund, Pierre McGuire and analyst Mike Milbury will have the call from TD Garden. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

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.

Coronavirus could hinder NHL plans for China preseason games

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The NHL has not announced plans to hold preseason games in China this fall as they continue to keep an eye on the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re monitoring,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Daly this week, via NHL.com. “It’s hard not to monitor it. It seems to be coming closer to us every time, every day that goes by. Certainly, it impacts what our plans will be in China in the future and in the relatively near future.”

According to NBC News, China’s National Health Commission reported on Thursday 29 new deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths on the mainland to 2,744. The Centers for Disease Control has said the the outbreak has been found in 37 locations around the world, including the U.S.

The NHL last went to China in 2018 when the Flames and Bruins played games in Shenzhen and Beijing. Due to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding, the NHL did not send teams there this past fall. In August, Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals visited Beijing as an ambassador for the league.

Player stick supplies have been affected and a planned PWHPA tour has been canceled due to coronavirus. Two Friday games in Switzerland will be played in front of empty arenas in order to prevent spreading.

As the NHL continues to plan for the 2020-21 season, the longer a lack of an announcement takes, the less of a hope the league returns to China this coming fall for preseason games.

“Obviously we haven’t announced any games there for next year,” Daly sad. “I think there was certainly a hope that we would be able to play preseason games there next year. I would say that hope probably continues to exist, but as time goes on, it becomes far more problematic.”

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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.