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Panthers make it sound like Willie Mitchell’s career is over

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Willie Mitchell hoisted the Stanley Cup twice, played parts of 15 NHL seasons, even found a way back on the ice after a knee injury kept him out for more than a year.

This time, it looks virtually certain that he’s gone for good.

The Florida Panthers don’t expect their captain to be back next season, and one of his closest friends on the team essentially revealed Tuesday that he thinks Mitchell’s career is over. Mitchell missed the final 42 games of this season largely over concern what another brain injury would mean to his long-term health, and it’s been expected for weeks that this season would be the finale.

“Willie’s been a consummate professional,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “He’s been a great captain. He’s won Stanley Cups. He’s given his body and soul to the game. It’s hard. … It’s never easy and I’ll give him all the support he can get.”

It bears noting that no one in the organization came out Tuesday and flatly said that Mitchell is retiring, but the inference was obvious from many. Tallon said he and Mitchell will sit down and talk about several options for his future.

“When I first talked to him and found out what was going on with him, we got a good cry,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, an All-Star in each of his two NHL seasons to date. “It’s a tough thing for a player. Everyone experiences it at some point, that point where you can’t play anymore. … Willie’s really lucky to have had such a great career and do so many great things.”

Mitchell and Ekblad have a particularly close relationship, almost father-son-like in some respects. In Ekblad’s rookie season, Mitchell and his wife took the then-teenager into their home and made him part of the family.

“I’ve learned absolutely everything I’ve learned in the game of hockey, in the NHL, from Willie Mitchell,” Ekblad said. “Learning to be a good person and a good player. Can’t thank that guy enough.”

Mitchell was known to have concussions in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and has spoken plenty in recent years about trying to make the game safer. Mitchell turned 39 last week, and would be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was drafted 20 years ago by New Jersey, and also appeared in NHL games with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and Los Angeles before coming to Florida and being named the eighth captain in Panthers history.

He’s played in 907 games, logging 180 points and 787 penalty minutes with a career rating of plus-119.

“He wasn’t captain by accident,” Florida forward Shawn Thornton said. “You could see it, even in the playoffs, he wasn’t playing but he was around, doing whatever it took, all the intangibles. If anybody needed anything, nobody went without with him around. He was the ultimate teammate.”

Mitchell wasn’t with the Panthers on Tuesday when they cleaned out lockers, packed up their sticks and headed into the offseason. He had been skating with the team at times in recent weeks, but didn’t appear in Florida’s six-game first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders that ended Sunday.

“I’ve played with Willie for many years now,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. “We go way back. Just seeing him every day and knowing that he couldn’t play, it’s something that makes your heart hurt. Just knowing how much he loves to be around the guys, especially this time of year. Being part of a Stanley Cup run is why we play the game. It’s tough to see one of your good friends and teammates go through something like that.”

NOTES: F Jaromir Jagr said his agent will have talks with the Panthers about his future. Jagr reaffirmed that he believes the future is strong for Florida. “Sometimes you have to suffer to move forward in the future,” said Jagr, who will spend part of his offseason training again in Las Vegas. Tallon said he’s confident that Jagr will be back with the Panthers. … Another free agent, D Brian Campbell, said he would like to return to the team next season. Campbell has been with Florida for five years, not missing a single game in that span.

Lights went out during brief – but funny – moment in Bruins game

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The Florida Panthers were on the power play – and dangerous sniper Mike Hoffman had a chance to shoot from the slot – when the lights went out, briefly, at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Now, this wasn’t like the blackout at Boston Garden during the 1988 Stanley Cup Final, when a Game 4 against the mighty Edmonton Oilers had to be replayed in its entirety in Edmonton because of such an outage. In that case, it went wrong for the Bruins, as they had managed a 3-3 tie during the second period of that nullified contest against that dynastic team.

In Tuesday’s case, you could imagine someone, somewhere – probably in Florida – claiming it was all a big conspiracy. For just a moment or two, the lights went out when the Bruins were killing a penalty. This screen grab of Sportsnet’s video (which you can watch fully above this post’s headline) gives you an idea of Hoffman’s location … if you squint a little. Actually, allow some help, as I fight the urge to go full John Madden in telestrator mode:

Apologies to conspiracy theorists, but these things happen. The brightest side is that it wasn’t a situation where a check was about to be delivered, as that could have made for a dangerous moment.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rangers’ Lemieux sets up Kakko for beauty vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers ended the first period up 2-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (watch live on NBCSN; stream here) thanks, in part, to some tremendous passing.

Most impressively, Brendan Lemieux sent a tremendous long bomb of a pass, beating multiple Penguins defenders, to Kaapo Kakko, who scored what might have been his best goal in the NHL so far by finishing the play with great moves.

This marks the first multi-game point streak for Kakko, 18, who also scored a goal against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. The second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft now has five goals and seven points so far in his rookie season, and still has two periods to add more during his 16th game.

The Penguins failed on two power plays in the first period, pushing them to 0-for-28. They haven’t scored a PPG since mid-October.

[More on the Penguins’ struggling power play]

To make matters worse for the Penguins, Artemi Panarin sent a tremendous pass to defenseman Adam Fox for the 2-0 goal with less than 10 seconds left.

Pittsburgh’s been a slow-starting team quite often in 2019-20, and in some cases have been able to rally for comeback wins. We’ll see if they can pull off another one on Tuesday, as it’s been a very weak start, and it’s possible it could have been more than a 2-0 lead for the Rangers after 20 minutes.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Penguins meet Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. 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.

The Penguins are coming off a 3-2 (SO) win on Saturday – a game they trailed 2-0 midway through the second period. It was their third straight game rallying from a multi-goal deficit. Despite earning the win against Chicago, Sidney Crosby left in the third period with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out for this game, and his status beyond that is unknown.

Pittsburgh enters this game on a massive power play drought. They have not scored a power play goal in their previous 11 games, going 0-for-25 in that span. The total drought actually extends to the game prior to that, when they failed on their final attempt, so the Pens are 0-for-their-last-26 overall.

Rangers No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, suffered on Oct. 27 on a hit from Patrice Bergeron. Zibanejad will reportedly not travel with the team to Florida, meaning he is out for at least the next three games. He was leading the team with 11 points in nine games prior to his departure from the lineup.

After alternating starts at the beginning of the season, the Rangers have spent the past few weeks giving chunks of consecutive starts to each of their netminders. Alex Georgiev will get the start in this game – his seventh of the season – after Henrik Lundqvist started the previous three.

[COVERAGE OF PENGUINS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Alex GalchenyukJared McCannJake Guentzel
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Dominik KahunNick BjugstadSam Lafferty
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Brian DumoulinJohn Marino
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Jack JohnsonJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenKaapo Kakko
Greg McKeggLias AnderssonBrendan Smith

Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

MORE: Crosby out vs. Rangers, injury still being evaluated

Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

Stars coach apologizes to Seguin, Benn for post-game comments

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After the Dallas Stars were on the losing end of a 3-2 overtime decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, coach Jim Montgomery expressed some frustration with the current lack of production of his top players, and even though he never mentioned Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn by name it was pretty obvious which players he was talking about.

It was the second year in a row (around the same point in the season) the Stars’ top-two forwards were the focal points of internal criticism, facing even more scathing criticism from team CEO Jim Lites this past December.

On Tuesday, Montgomery said he apologized to the team and the individual players for what he described as an emotional mistake, while also adding, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

That comes via Mike Heika of the Stars’ website.

Following the game on Sunday Montgomery said he was “disappointed” in the production of the team’s top players, and was dismissive when asked if he had seen any signs of progress.

He later added, “They’ve got to decide that they want to be a difference maker.”

Seguin and Benn did not seem bothered by the criticism and acknowledged on Tuesday that they need to produce more. They have combined for just four goals so far this season, though Seguin is still producing some assists and is tied for the team lead in scoring.

Even so, it is always noteworthy when a coach singles out individual players following a loss, especially when it is the team’s best players. Even with the lack of goal-scoring from the Stars’ big-two, they have still won seven of their past nine games and collected 15 out of a possible 18 points in those games to start building some momentum following a disappointing start. A lot of the improvement has been due to their goaltending and some depth players stepping up and producing.

Related: Seguin, Benn facing more internal criticism

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.