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The biggest worry for the Rangers? It’s the defense

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The biggest worry definitely isn’t goaltending, because there’s still Henrik Lundqvist back there.

It’s not up front either. The Rangers have some good, young forwards, and they’re about to add Pavel Buchnevich to the mix.

That defense, though. That’s where things could get dicey next season, assuming the group they have right now is the one they still have in October. Currently, the eight defensemen are Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Dylan McIlrath, Brady Skjei, and Adam Clendening.

Perhaps the biggest concern will be replacing Keith Yandle. He finished fourth on the Rangers last season with 47 points (42 assists) in 82 games. In the process, he earned himself a big contract with the Panthers.

The Rangers also lost Dan Boyle to retirement, which means the two d-men that played the most power-play minutes for them in 2015-16 are no longer there. Clendening, signed as a free agent, is an offensive specialist, but he’s only 23 and the Rangers are his sixth NHL team.

Let’s just say there’s a reason many still expect GM Jeff Gorton to make a move. He hasn’t ruled one out, either. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name gets mentioned a lot, but then, his name gets mentioned a lot in Boston and Detroit, too. The Blues might just keep him anyway.

In addition to replacing Yandle, also of great concern is the declining play of both Girardi and Staal, two workhorse defensive specialists with plenty of hard miles on their bodies. Girardi is 32 now, and he’s signed through 2019-20 for a cap hit of $5.5 million. Staal turns 30 in January, and he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $5.7 million.

The hope going forward is that Girardi and Staal won’t decline any further (or might even bounce back a little), and that McIlrath, 24, and Skjei, 22, can become full-time NHLers while gaining the trust of head coach Alain Vigneault. Both McIlrath and Skjei are former first-round draft picks who’ve been developing slowly but surely. In fact, Skjei was the last first-round pick the Rangers made, all the way back in 2012.

As for the Rangers’ best defenseman, McDonagh, don’t be surprised if his workload gets increased a touch, especially if there’s no trade for an established puck-mover. McDonagh was a huge part of the 2014 run to the Stanley Cup Final, and he’s especially motivated after this year’s early playoff exit.

“It’s not a good feeling to lose in the first round in five [games] the way we did,” he told NHL.com. “That’s the biggest motivation, kind of that feeling of embarrassment and letting your teammates down, letting your organization down, letting the fans down that appreciate us and watch us all year.”

The question is whether that kind of motivation will be enough to overcome what many feel is largely a personnel issue. Remember that the 2014 team was led by McDonagh, but it also relied heavily on Staal and Girardi, not to mention Anton Stralman, who left for Tampa Bay that summer. If the defense doesn’t improve in 2016-17, or at the very least stay at the same level, the Rangers may very well miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

————

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.

Lightning-Bruins stream: NHL Return to Play round-robin game

Lightning-Bruins stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s round-robin matchup between the Lightning and Bruins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This Round Robin game features several compelling matchups, pitting the league’s best offense (TB: 3.47 g/gm) against the best defense (BOS: 2.39 ga/gm), and two Vezina Trophy candidates (Andrei Vasilevskiy; Tuukka Rask) in a tilt between the last two Presidents’ Trophy Winners. Steven Stamkos is once again not expected to play for the Lightning.

The last time these teams met (TB 5-3 win on March 7) they combined for 26 penalties and 94 penalty minutes.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings

Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-0, 2 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-0-0, 0 points)

Scenarios based on Wednesday’s result

Boston wins in regulation
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.

Tampa wins in regulation
• Boston can finish no better than third.
• The other three teams can still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 Seed by beating Philadelphia.

Boston wins in OT/SO
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.
• Boston would need Washington to beat Philadelphia in regulation on Thursday to make that outcome possible for them.

Tampa wins in OT/SO
• Boston could finish no higher than second.
• The other three teams could still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Philadelphia

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Strong third period start helps Panthers stave off elimination

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Mike Hoffman and Brian Boyle scored in the opening three minutes of the third period to lift the Panthers to a 3-2, Game 3 win over the Islanders.

New York leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Friday.

The Islanders gave Florida five power plays Wednesday and the Panthers’ special teams unit made sure to take advantage.

Erik Haula started the scoring with his first of the postseason following an Islanders’ too many men penalty. Hoffman’s shot from the point was blocked by Semyon Varlamov, but the rebound popped out to Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers forward drew the attention of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, opening up space to feed a pass to Haula.

Given the opportunity to end the series, the Islanders kept pushing for an equalizer. It finally came with 3:34 to go in the second as Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted goal No. 2 of the series. But any momentum New York took into the intermission was gone after Varlamov played the puck outside of the trapezoid and was whistled for delay of game seven seconds into the third.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hoffman fired home a shot 34 seconds later and Brian Boyle doubled the lead shortly after.

“I made a mistake on that play, very simple,” Varlamov said afterward. “I should have handled the puck better.”

New York would cut the lead to one when Brock Nelson scored with 1:27 to go, but it wasn’t enough. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 20 saves.

This is Florida’s first postseason win since April 20, 2016 — a span of 1,568 days — when they beat the Islanders in their First Round series.

The Islanders will get a second chance to close out the series in Game 4 on Friday (NBCSN).

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Coyotes-Predators stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Coyotes don’t have long to dwell on Tuesday’s loss. Back at it Wednesday for Game 3 and a series tied 1-1, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet is telling his players to have a short memory.

“We’ll tweak a couple of things, but you have to get a good meal in and get a good night’s rest,” he said. “You win, everything’s great, you lose, everything stinks. That’s the way the playoffs are. The teams that are even-keel are the teams that are successful. We’ll move past this in two minutes and get ready for tomorrow.”

Darcy Kuemper may have a new backup Wednesday as Antti Raanta left Game 2 midway through the second period. The team says he is “unfit to play,” opening the door for Adin Hill to don the baseball cap on the bench.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule