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Penguins push Blue Jackets out of top 8, and other East bubble updates

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As much as the Blue Jackets look bold in adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel during the trade deadline and not moving Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, one thing doesn’t look different. They’re still seemingly going to need to finally solve the riddle of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now, it’s true that both the Penguins and Blue Jackets could both make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s almost certain that three playoff spots will boil down to four teams: Columbus and Pittsburgh, plus the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens. With things as tight as they are right now, there will probably be some serious twists and turns until the 2018-19 regular season ends on April 7.

It’s chilling to the Blue Jackets to realize that, if the playoffs began on Tuesday night, they’d be on the outside looking in. Painful stuff to absorb shortly after betting big on a deep playoff run.

With that in mind, the Blue Jackets have to hope that Tuesday represents the dark Second Act before the heroes prevail in the end, partying with Wookies.

So let’s break down Tuesday, when “The Penguins Strike Back.”

Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 2

Columbus loaded up, while the Penguins have also mortgaged a portion of their future by recently giving up picks for Nick Bjugstad/Jared McCann, and making questionable moves including adding derisive defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

Tuesday represented the first of three remaining games against the Penguins, with the head-to-head games closing off with a home-and-home series on March 7 and 9.

The Penguins stunned what must have been an-at-first elated Blue Jackets crowd with a 3-0 first period. Pittsburgh must have been fearing that they’d squander another lead like they did against the Flyers at the 2019 Stadium Series when Columbus wound that edge down to 3-2, but the Pens ultimately won. Evgeni Malkin‘s game-winner was surely one Bobrovsky would like back:

So far, the Blue Jackets have lost both of their games against the Penguins this season, which must really bug John Tortorella — who hasn’t been shy about sharing his hatred for the Pens.

The Blue Jackets found no solace looking at the scoreboard, either.

Hurricanes 6, Kings 1

The main drama here revolved around whether the Hurricanes would come up with another riff on “bunch of jerks.” Carolina won easily, and yes, they did present something new to troll those who grumble at those win celebrations.

Canadiens 8(!), Red Wings 1

Although Monday’s regulation loss to the lowly Devils must have been frustrating, you’d almost expect a less relentless rendition of the Canadiens to close out back-to-back games.

If Montreal was fatigued, they had a funny way of showing it, as they absolutely demolished Detroit. Any worries about back-to-back losses to cellar dwellers went away during Montreal’s five-goal second period.

***

There was quite a bit of movement in the skintight standings:

Metro 3: Hurricanes: 34-23-6, 74 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, 63 games played

WC 1: Canadiens: 34-23-7, 75 points, 32 ROW, 64 GP
WC 2: Penguins: 33-22-8, 74 points, 32 ROW, 63 GP

Ninth place: Blue Jackets: 35-24-3, 73 points, 35 ROW, 62 GP

While Tuesday represents the worst-case scenario for Columbus, the Blue Jackets’ current position is misleading, as they can win that game in hand and then move back in front of everyone.

There are possible situations where this wouldn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blue Jackets’ (or Hurricanes’) fate comes down to if they can beat (or at least wrestle some standings points away from) the Penguins, as Carolina and Columbus each have two games remaining against Pittsburgh.

(In case you’re wondering … Columbus faces Montreal and Carolina once more, while the Habs and Hurricanes face each other one more time.)

Anyone who genuinely believes they know which of these four teams will secure the three East spots is probably bluffing. If Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is wrong about his confidence in his own team standing tall, then that gamble would end up become an enormous bust.

Tuesday made that reality feel more possible, but expect things to change, possibly almost every night.

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.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Panarin changes everything for Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The last time a New York Rangers player cracked the 80-point mark in the NHL was a decade ago.

Then, Marian Gaborik was a much younger version of his self and putting up impressive seasons as a marquee player.

Since then, the Rangers haven’t really had that sort of offensive pizazz. That hasn’t always stopped them from having success, of course. But adding a guy who has the potential to hit the 100-point plateau at just 27 years of age could figure in moving that success to the next level.

Being the team playing in an attractive destination and with mountains of cash on July 1 presents a wealth of opportunities in the free-agent market and for the Rangers, it was their lucky year.

Signing Artemi Panarin long-term as he just enters the prime of his career, is the single biggest get of the summer. For any team.

Panarin brings elite scoring to a club that needs it amidst their (now accelerated) rebuild. But Panarin is so much more than just premium point producer.

His possession numbers are off-the-charts good. He’s a responsible player at both ends of the ice, creates more goals than allowed when he’s on in five-on-five situations and creates more high-danger chances than are seen against him. Furthermore, in terms of goals above replacement, Panarin was 10th in NHL this past season.

And this season, Panarin doesn’t bring a bad full of distraction with him.

Last year, questions swirled all year about his future. There will be none of those this time around.

Instead, he’s likely to be paired with Mika Zibanejad and perhaps even Kaapo Kakko in what could be something of a mega line in terms of scoring and shutting down the opposition.

Panarin is that x-factor. He brings so much to a team and he’s now in a position to lead a much younger Rangers team into what appears to be a bright future.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

2018-19
32-36-8, 78 points (7th in the Metropolitan Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Artemi Panarin
Jacob Trouba
Kaapo Kakko
Adam Fox
Greg McKegg

OUT: 
Neal Pionk
Kevin Hayes
Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Spooner
Fredrik Claesson
Connor Brickley

RE-SIGNED:
Pavel Buchnevich

2018-19 Summary

It was understood going into this past season in the Big Apple that by the end of it, the New York Rangers would be on the outside looking in.

A sell-off during the end of the 2017-18 season pointed to a re-build that would likely take a couple of seasons to fully mature.

And thus, the on-ice product for the Rangers was much less about winning games as it was about putting some of their young guns in positions to grow.

Alexandar Georgiev, for instance, was given 30 starts between the pipes as the Rangers let Henrik Lundqvist‘s heir-apparent get well-acquainted with the No. 1 spot he will one day own.

He showed well on a poor team, with the 23-year-old posting a respectable .914 save percentage.

Others, too, were given a chance to develop. The likes of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Tony DeAngelo, 23, Filip Chytil, 19, and Lias Andersson, 20, saw significant action.

Everything was following the simple stream that is a slow rebuilding process. Well, at least until June.

In June, the Rangers found out they’d be picking second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft after moving up four spots from the six-best odds at the draft lottery. Welcome, Kaapo Kakko.

They’d acquire the rights to Jacob Trouba (and eventually sign the blue line stalwart to a seven-year deal.)

And then July 1 came and Artemi Panarin was handed $81 million over the next seven years.

The rebuild that was rolling along at a typical methodical pace suddenly slammed into sixth gear. The Rangers now added a bona fide superstar forward, a potential superstar forward and a top-pairing defenseman to the mix.

General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t messing around, announcing his intentions to the rest of the league with his wallet open wide.

So now, the Rangers have smashed the fast-forward button. There’s no talk anymore about another growing season. Instead, the narrative has shifted to a team that could compete for a playoff spot at minimum, especially if Lundqvist can bounce back and retain his crown as ‘King’ in one final hurrah in his storied career.

The Rangers have kept pace with the New Jersey Devils and their own aggressive summer. The Metro is quite the division — perhaps the best in hockey — and the Rangers should be right back in the mix in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

PHT Morning Skate: Aho reveals offer-sheet decision; Ristolainen to Red Wings?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Sebastian Aho reveals why he signed an offer sheet from the Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20, from 1 to 31. (The Sporting News)

• Should the Red Wings trade for Rasmus Ristolainen? (The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s agent says they gave the Flames a fair offer back in June. (Sportsnet)

• Overlooked teams in fantasy for 2019-20. (NHL.com)

• The All-Decade Team for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Breaking down the format for a potential 2021 World Cup of Hockey. (Sportsnet)

T.J. Oshie is healthy and ready to take another run at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

• When adding staffers, NHL Seattle must navigate complex minefield with those currently under contract elsewhere. (Seattle Times)

• Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Who are the biggest Penguin killers in the NHL today? (Pensburgh)

• NHL “nowhere near a resolution” on allowing players to compete at 2022 Winter Olympics. (Inside the Games)

• NHL teams as dog breeds: The complete list of hockey dogs. (FanSided)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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