NWHL season preview: Five games to watch in Lake Placid bubble

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Michelle Jay, NWHL
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The single-elimination Isobel Cup Semifinals will be shown live on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET. The winners of the semifinals will advance to the Isobel Cup Final on Friday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. ET. In addition to coverage on NBCSN, live coverage will stream exclusively on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The NWHL begins its bubble season in Lake Placid on Saturday, culminating on February 5 on NBCSN with the fifth Isobel Cup. Last season’s title game, slated between the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps, wasn’t played after the league paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This season will last 13 days, with the Isobel Cup finalists playing nine games in 13 days. That’s a lot of hockey, especially for a league that’s traditionally played one or two games a week per team. There’s plenty to keep an eye on, but here are the five games we like.

Metropolitan Riveters vs. Toronto Six – Saturday, January 23

The first game in Toronto Six history happens to open the Lake Placid bubble where they face the Riveters. The first game of the season is worth watching for a lot of reasons, including our first glimpse of NWHL action since last March, but the first chance to see the Six makes it the biggest highlight.

Boston Pride vs. Minnesota Whitecaps – Saturday, January 23

The Isobel Cup that never was. The Pride and Whitecaps waste no time getting to the unfinished business from March 13, the day they were supposed to compete for the league championship. Both teams will tell you it doesn’t matter who they play, but if you don’t expect spice when these squads take the ice you’re not paying attention. A lot has changed; Minnesota won’t have Nicole Schammel and the Pride have eight new players. The spirit and the energy won’t change any time soon, though.

Connecticut Whale vs. Metropolitan Riveters – Sunday, January 24

The Riveters are reloaded and the Whale believe they’ve turned a corner. Both teams can tend to be overlooked, with the Whale as the only original five team to have never won a title and the Rivs facing struggles following their title in 2017. Both are looking to make noise in a league filled with Bostons and Torontos and Minnesotas. Also, who doesn’t love a geography-based rivalry?

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(Photo by Michelle Jay)

Boston Pride vs. Toronto Six – Tuesday, January 26

The Pride and Six rivalry doesn’t even exist yet on the ice but their Twitter banter has sure set up the next chapter of the epic Boston and Toronto hockey saga. Toronto is an expansion club but expected to compete, and the Pride are the reigning regular season champs and will have you believe they would have raised Isobel if not for the pause.

That, and former Pride forward Emily Fluke has made her new home for the Six; just if Twitter wasn’t a good enough revenge factor.

Toronto Six vs. Buffalo Beauts – Thursday, January 28

Buffalo hasn’t had a team nearby since the NWHL began, and now the historically-Canadian heavy team has serious competition with Toronto nearby. It’s fair to assume these clubs will butt heads for years to come, so their first introduction should be a lot of fun.

MORE: Full 2021 NWHL schedule

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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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

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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

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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.