Devils facing ‘big challenge’ trying to clinch playoff spot vs. Maple Leafs

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NEWARK — The New Jersey Devils saw all of your preseason predictions placing them in last place (*raises hand*). That helped fuel this season’s mantra — New Jersey Devils vs. Everybody — that they continue to carry into Game 81 — a game where they can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While you’d think the “Us Against the World” mentality would have subsided a bit as the Devils played their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture and Taylor Hall played his way into the MVP conversation, but it’s business as usual as they look to extend their season beyond this weekend.

“It hasn’t changed. It’s just keep doing the same thing,” head coach John Hynes said after Thursday’s morning skate. “It’s not about that. We have to make sure that we’re ready to play a game tonight and get to our identity and really test ourselves against a real good team.”

[NHL Playoff Push: East field could be set; Predators eyeing Presidents’ Trophy]

As the Devils began to exceed expectations, the tenseness of the playoff race saw them slip up in January where they went 3-6-2 as the calendar turned to 2018. The team had a talk, and the overriding message to the players was to start having fun and not allow the pressure to get to them.

“It just seemed to be from the start of training camp we we’re all in on what we had to do,” said Hall. “Last year was a bit of an eye opener for all of us here at the organization, not just the players, but the coaching staff. We all kind of took a step back and figured out what we had to do better.”

Things began to change in the middle of February, as did Hall’s season, which went from strong to Hart Trophy-worthy.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The 26-year-old Hall has never played postseason hockey, and following years of disappointment in Edmonton, Thursday night that can all change.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s what we wanted at the start of the season,” said Hall. “Coming into the season, if you were to tell me that Game 81 we’d be playing in a clinching game, I would have taken that in a heartbeat. It’s really exciting for our group, for our organization and for our fanbase. It’s been a fun ride so far this year and the improvements that we’ve made as a team, and you’re seeing individuals improve over the course of a year as well, it’s really exciting for our franchise.”

From Hall to the rookie campaigns of Will Butcher and Nico Hischier to Keith Kinkaid saving the season after Cory Schneider’s injury to Brian Boyle’s come back from an early-season cancer diagnosis, there are many different stories to pick from the 2017-18 Devils season. Now, for the first time since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, they’re on the verge of being back in the playoffs, a place they feel they deserve to be.

“We’ve worked hard. We’ve earned our spot so far,” said Boyle. “But nothing’s done yet. We’ve got a really good team that’s coming in here and we have a big challenge tonight.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.