NHL on NBC: McAvoy excelled even as goal drought continued

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There was a period of 27 days when Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne had more goals this season than Charlie McAvoy.

The Bruins defenseman, who scored seven in each of his first two NHL seasons, had not recorded a goal in his first 50 games this season and had last lit the lamp in Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. So you could imagine the weight that was released when he netted the winner Wednesday against the Blackhawks.

“It’s nice. It was tough. It weighs [on you],” McAvoy said. “As much as you don’t want to say, you think about it and your confidence and everything. You feel like you can contribute a set amount and sometimes when it’s not there it takes a bit of a hit. But I said to these guys ‘thanks for keeping my confidence high,’ they all do. Everybody was saying it’s coming, it’s coming. Their response there was pretty neat. They were all busting my chops. Hopefully from there [I get] a little bit more confidence and maybe see more things go in for me.”

[COVERAGE OF BRUINS-RED WINGS BEGINS AT 12:30 P.M. ET – NBC]

While McAvoy’s goal drought weighed on him, the other parts of his game were just fine. He now has 20 assists and 21 points, second among Bruins defensemen, and leads the entire team with 23:12 of average ice time. His positive possession stats (52% Corsi via Natural Stat Trick) show that he’s been valuable in his top-pairing role, even if the goals weren’t there.

“He does a lot for us,” said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. “Just from talking to him, he was getting a little anxious about [not scoring]. That’s natural and to be expected. But he hasn’t let it affect what he rest of the way, as far as being a great defenseman for this team and shutting down other team’s top lines and moving the puck and doing everything else well.”

The Bruins enter Sunday’s afternoon matchup with Detroit (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC) with the most points in the NHL, but within the Atlantic Division the Lightning are on their heels five points back. Saturday’s win over Arizona gives Boston six in a row with an upcoming schedule that is very friendly to them. With Tampa on the rise, no team can be overlooked as they try to keep a hold on the division lead.

Mike Emrick and Brian Boucher will call the matchup from Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. Kathryn Tappen hosts studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.  

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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.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.