Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back 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.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

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 twice 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

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

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There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(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*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

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.