Rangers’ Lundqvist: Struggles in second half ‘more challenging’

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Henrik Lundqvist liked how he started the season. The 37-year-old New York Rangers goalie wasn’t so pleased with how he played toward the end.

He was 15-12-7 with a 3.19 goals-against average during the first half while earning his fifth All-Star appearance. After that, however, he had just three wins in 17 starts to finish with fewer than 24 wins for the first time in his career.

”It was more challenging than I expected it to be and that’s something I have to learn from obviously,” Lundqvist said Sunday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, New York. ”There were so many games I felt good, but where we are right now, good is not going to be enough. You need to play great to win.”

Lundqvist ended the season with 449 career wins, losing his last six tries at No. 450. His 52 starts were his third-fewest – including the shortened 2012-13 season – and his 3.07 GAA and .907 save-percentage were also the worst of his career.

”I think of how good he was in the beginning of the year and he was an All-Star,” general manager Jeff Gorton said. ”It didn’t go well for our team from the trade deadline on and he’s no different than any player. … The guy is still a great goalie.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There were a lot of ups and downs for the Rangers in the first full season of a makeover that began at the previous year’s trade deadline. They finished 32-36-14 in the first season under coach David Quinn, getting just five wins in their last 21 games (5-10-6) after stars Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes were dealt at this year’s deadline.

New York finished seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.

”We all understood the situation we’re in, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think we couldn’t have had a better season,” Quinn said. ”For the most part, these guys were very coachable, tried to do everything we asked them to do.”

There were some bright spots as Mika Zibanejad had career highs of 30 goals and 44 assists, Chris Kreider (28 goals, 24 assists) tied his career high in goals, and Pavel Buchnevich (21 goals, 17 assists) had a breakout season. Also, Ryan Strome finished with 18 goals and 15 assists in 63 games since being acquired from Edmonton.

”We were consistently hard-working,” Kreider said. ”Everyone took great strides as individuals. Now it’s just building on that and not looking back.”

Gorton was also pleased overall with what he saw from his rebuilding team.

”You saw a team that competed really hard every night,” he said. ”I think that’ll bode well as we go forward.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into the offseason:

BETWEEN THE PIPES

While Lundqvist struggled, young backup Alexandar Georgiev took advantage of a boost in playing time. The Bulgarian-born 23-year-old was 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA and two shutouts in 32 games. He was 8-4-4 with a 2.58 GAA over 16 starts after the All-Star break and could push Lundqvist for more playing time next season.

Also, Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin, selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, could join the franchise this summer after finishing his last season with the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg. He has gone 71-12-10 with a 1.49 GAA the last three seasons with Saint Petersburg.

THE YOUNGSTERS

Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, the team’s first-round selections in the 2017 draft showed some flashes as they adjust to the NHL.

Chytil, 19, finished with 11 goals and 12 assists in his first full season while moving from center to left wing, though he had just a goal and three assists in his last 23 games. The 20-year-old Andersson had two goals and four assists in 42 games.

FREE-AGENT FRENZY?

The Rangers could choose to hasten their rebuild with some moves in free agency, with Columbus’ Artemi Panarin and San Jose’s Erik Karlsson possible targets.

New York also has decisions to make with some of their own players, with Buchnevich leading the list of restricted free agents. Brendan Lemieux showed flashes after coming over from Winnipeg in the Hayes deal, and Vinni Lettieri, and defensemen Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo are also on the list. Also, Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast will be unrestricted free agents after next season.

WATCH THE DRAFT BOARD

The Rangers have stockpiled draft picks this year with 10 selections, including three first-rounders for the second straight year. Barring any trades, this will make it three straight years with multiple picks in the first round after four straight years without any.

Unless they win the draft lottery, the Rangers aren’t going to get Jack Hughes. However, other strong centers that could be available include Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach

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The Buzzer: Bobrovsky and Blue Jackets are on fire

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha

What a game by the big Red Wings winger.

It was all about five in Detroit on Sunday. That’s how many games the Red Wings have now won in a row, and that’s how many points Mantha collected. Mantha generated the first hat trick of his NHL career, and added two assists for his first five-point game.

Mantha came into Sunday with 19 goals, so he also crossed the 20-goal barrier, finishing the night with 22 goals and 45 points on the season. He has a solid chance to meet or exceed last season’s career-highs of 24 goals and 48 points.

2. Darcy Kuemper

There were three impressive shutouts on Sunday, so we’ll just go in order of who got the most saves, so apologies to Rangers’ netminder Alexandar Georgiev, who finished the afternoon with 29 saves to blank the Flyers.

Kuemper generated a 39-save shutout in gaining an absolutely crucial win for the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, and he’s really been dragging Arizona through a lot of low-margin-of-error games lately. Really, Kuemper has been one of the best netminders in the NHL since the calendar turned 2019, and he’s giving Arizona a decent chance to beat some enormous odds.

Kuemper now has five shutouts in 2018-19, and has generated two in his last three games, only allowing two goals overall during that span.

3. Sergei Bobrovsky

It’s been a bumpy season for Bob, to say the least, but he’s coming up big in some absolutely clutch moments for the Blue Jackets.

Bobrovsky generated a 38-save shutout on Sunday, just one behind Kuemper. Like his Coyotes colleague, Bobrovsky has been red hot lately. Bobrovsky now has three shutouts in his last five games, and four in his last seven. He’s only allowed seven goals overall in his last seven games.

Bobrovsky’s won five games in a row, and also seven of his last eight. The Blue Jackets’ prospects have risen from possibly missing the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs after going all-in, to maybe avoiding the Lightning in the first round, and possibly going into the postseason with some swagger.

Things tend to change when “Vezina Bob” comes back into the picture, eh?

Highlights of the Night

From Anthony Mantha’s five points to that sweet Patrice Bergeron to Brad Marchand shorthanded goal, the Red Wings – Bruins game had some of Sunday’s best action, so enjoy the full highlights:

Factoids

  • More on this in a future post, but the Calgary Flames clinched both the Pacific Division and top seed in the West by beating the Sharks on Sunday. So, the Lightning get home-ice throughout the postseason, while the Flames get that edge through the West playoffs.
  • This means that the Sharks and Golden Knights will face each other in what could be a fierce Pacific second vs. third seed series in the first round.
  • That sweet Brad Marchand shorthanded goal was his 26th, setting a new Bruins record, so watch it in isolation if you’d prefer:

Scores

New York Rangers 3, Philadelphia Flyers 0
Arizona Coyotes 4, Minnesota Wild 0
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Buffalo Sabres 0
Detroit Red Wings 6, Boston Bruins 3
Calgary Flames 5, San Jose Sharks 3

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.

Rangers’ Georgiev impressive in shutout of Flyers

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In the twilight of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career, it appears the New York Rangers can rest easy knowing they have a capable heir-apparent to begin filling his legendary shoes.

Alexandar Georgiev is a name the Rangers will be hoping can continue an upward trajectory, and the 23-year-old showed another flash of his skill on Sunday afternoon on NBC, shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 on Star Sunday.

Georgiev turned aside 29 shots on his way to his 13th win of the season and second career shutout.

The Rangers came into the game losers of six straight against the Flyers and were at risk of getting swept by their Metropolitan Division rivals for the first time since the 1984-85 season. That didn’t happen as David Quinn’s young side — the youngest current roster in the NHL at 25.7 years — put together a solid performance, winning their second consecutive game for the first time since Jan. 19 when they won three straight.

Scoring on Sunday came from the Rangers current fountain of youth, with 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, 25-year-olds Ryan Strome and Brady Skjei all finding twine for the Blueshirts. A 21-year-old Brett Howden assisted on two goals.

The Flyers entered Sunday fresh of being eliminated from playoff contention 24 hours earlier after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. The emotion letdown of that was pretty evident from a team dealing with those thoughts and the fatigue playing the second half of a back to back brings.

Philly put in a valiant effort down the stretch. Changes at general manager and head coach will be a big story of the season, as will an eight-game losing streak where they ended up sitting in last place in the NHL. But they showed some promise after clawing back enough points to be relevant until the eve of the final week of the regular season. From Jan. 10 to March 11, they produced the third most points of any team in the NHL, trailing only the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues.

The Flyers will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven years – after making the postseason 16 times in the prior 17 seasons from 1995 to 2012.

Like Georgiev and the Rangers, Carter Hart appears to the be future in Philadelphia. He didn’t have his best outing on Sunday, allowing three goals on 25 shots, but has been a revelation in a town known for its burgeoning goalie graveyard.

Hart came into the game with a .940 save percentage over his past five games.


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

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pride will be at stake between the Rangers and Flyers when they meet in the first game on Star Sunday on NBC.

The Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after a tough 5-2 loss on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been out of contention for a while, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years.

“I think the poor start is the reason that we’re in this position,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s game. “Every year it feels like it’s the same story. We need to figure it out…we know we can make the playoffs and be a dangerous team, but we can believe whatever we want. We just have to go out there and make it happen.”

For New York, stopping the Flyers’ six-game winning streak against them — including their three previous meetings this season — will be top of the order. The Flyers haven’t swept the season series since the 1984-85 season.

Philly put up a valiant effort this season after firing the general manager and head coach they began the season with. The Rangers began the season on a rebuilding foot, having brought in David Quinn while selling off several key pieces at the trade deadline.

Despite where both teams find themselves, there won’t be lacking for motivation.

“You want to win hockey games, especially when you’re playing a division rival,” Quinn said.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 31, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Vladislav NamestnikovFilip ChytilVinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyLias AnderssonRyan Strome
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenBoo Nieves

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

FLYERS

James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Ryan HartmanScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Michael RafflCorban KnightPhil Varone

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

The Buzzer: Moves like Bobby Orr

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Clinching playoffs

  • The Jets clinched a playoff spot, and in doing so, greatly improved their chances of winning the Central Division.
  • The Bruins became the second team in the East to stamp their ticket, and it sure looks like they’ll have home-ice advantage against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Saturday was very kind to the Bruins.

The latest Hurricanes celebration

For people with no sense of humor, this is just madness.

Three Stars

1. Kyle Connor, and the Jets, really

You could probably give three stars to three different Winnipeg Jets and call it a night, but that would be a disservice to a busy day in the NHL. So let’s consolidate their great performances into the number category, starting with Connor.

The soon-to-be-rich winger generated a hat trick and an assist on Saturday, helping Winnipeg dominate the Predators. Connor hit a new career-high with 32 goals thanks to this game, while his 61 points also represent a career-high. He’s now a two-time 30+ goal scorer, and pretty much two-for-two in that regard, as he only played 20 games in 2016-17.

Kevin Hayes was the other Jets player who generated four points during this game, in his case getting there with one goal and three assists. Hayes now has 52 points in 2018-19, the first time he’s crossed the 50-point barrier during his already-solid NHL career. He now has 10 points in 13 games with Winnipeg, and while he’s different stylistically from Paul Stastny, it’s possible – and scary for the rest of the NHL – that the Jets once again made a big upgrade at 2C via the trade deadline.

Hayes would jostle with Connor Hellebuyck for second star consideration, if I hadn’t copped out made the decision to consolidate the Jets into one star position.

Hellebuyck pitched a 33-save shutout against the Predators on Saturday. If you exclude a relief appearance on March 21 (where he allowed two goals on 20 shots on goal, and didn’t get a win or loss), he’s won four games in a row, and has two shutouts in consecutive starts. This hasn’t been the easiest season for Hellebuyck, yet with a .932 save percentage in March, it seems like he’s heating up at the perfect time.

2. Brendan Gallagher

Of course, by opening things up, it now means splitting hairs between other players who enjoyed great nights.

Gallagher feels like a nice catch-all, Kyle Connor-style, for the Canadiens who scored seven goals to help them earn a big win against the Minnesota Wild. Gallagher generated two goals and one assist, while both Tomas Tatar and Max Domi enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Another player who generated a noteworthy one-goal, two-assist night was Teuvo Teravainen, who helped the Hurricanes win against the Wild. thus opening up the opportunity for Carolina to roll out its “March Madness” victory celebration.

Gallagher gets the edge against those other three-pointers by managing such a volume of hard work (nine SOG) and getting the game-winning goal.

3. Alexandar Georgiev

For the second time this season, Georgiev won against the Maple Leafs while making at least 40 saves. On Feb. 10, he stopped 55 shots and only allowed one goal to beat Toronto. On Saturday. Georgiev turned aside 44 of 45 shots as the Rangers beat Toronto in overtime.

With tensions high for many regarding the Maple Leafs, losing to the Rangers will only add to the strain. But, really, the Maple Leafs played well enough. Sometimes you run into a goalie who has your number, which is maybe the case with Georgiev and the Buds.

Highlights

There were a lot of great moments during Saturday’s games, even by the standards of what is typically the busiest night of the hockey week. For the sake of your browsers, here are three that stood out, whether by being great clips or just plain fun.

To start, a fun one: Blake Coleman did something of a Bobby Orr “impression” in scoring in a shootout. The stakes were obviously monumentally lower than a Stanley Cup-deciding goal, but hey, the Coyotes would argue that it was significant, as this deals a blow to Arizona’s playoff hopes.

(Artturi Lehkonen scored a great diving goal, too.)

From a great Connor goal (the one where he faked-out P.K. Subban and beat Pekka Rinne) to some fantastic saves by Rinne, Jets versus Predators provided enough highlights to be worthy of plunking the whole thing down.

With apologies to this great dish from Dylan Larkin to Anthony Mantha for an overtime-winner, this Jared McCann goal was the most unusual of the going-backward and/or no-look moments from Saturday, and it actually had more competition from Brayden Schenn.

Ugh, both the Schenn and Mantha goals were so good, it’s tough not to have second thoughts.

Factoids

Scores

NJD 2 – ARI 1 (SO)
NYI 4 – PHI 2
COL 4 – CHI 2
OTT 4 – EDM 3 (OT)
NYR 2 – TOR 1 (OT)
MTL 7 – BUF 4
BOS 7 – FLA 3
CAR 5 – MIN 1
WPG 5 – NSH 0
STL 4 – TBL 3
PIT – DAL 2
CGY 3 – VAN 1
DET 3 – VGK 2 (OT)
LAK 4 – ANA 3 (SO)

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.