WATCH LIVE: Islanders host Blackhawks at Nassau Coliseum

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks will try to rebound after yet another outdoor defeat, as the Islanders look to continue their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders have 44 games remaining this season, 18 of which will be played at Nassau Coliseum. The team left the Coliseum for Barclays Center at the end of the 2014-15 season. They plan to move into a new facility at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, for the start of the 2021-22 season.

The Islanders have been one of the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference and are very much alive in the playoff race. New York has won of seven of their last eight games, including four straight.

There’s been no sophomore slump for Mathew Barzal, who took home the Calder Trophy last season behind 85 points and 63 assists, which were fifth most in the league. He has been particularly hot lately, riding a five-game point streak (6G, 3A).

Meanwhile, Chicago has scored first in eight of their past 10 games, after allowing the first goal in each of their previous 11 games.

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton was a second round draft pick by the Islanders in 2003 (by then Isles GM Mike Milbury) and played all 57 games of his NHL career in an Islanders sweater. He was also the former captain of the team’s AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Islanders
Where: Nassau Coliseum
When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Islanders-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan StromePatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDylan Sikura
Brendan PerliniMarcus KrugerAndreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

ISLANDERS
Anthony Beauvillier – Mathew Barzal – Josh Bailey
Anders LeeBrock NelsonJosh Ho-Sang
Michael Dal Colle – Leo Komarov – Tom Kuhnhackl
Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Devon ToewsScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Maple Leafs’ Tavares to face Islanders for first time

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TORONTO — John Tavares used to be a mainstay of the New York Islanders, eventually becoming their captain.

The 28-year-old center, however, will be on the opposing team for the first time in his career Saturday night when the Islanders visit the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena.

“I assume it will be strange for sure at some level,” said Tavares, who signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs during the offseason. “It’s really hard to say because I’ve never done it before.”

Tavares had a strong warmup for the reunion with his former team, scoring two goals Friday night when the Maple Leafs defeated the Blue Jackets 4-2 in Columbus.

The Islanders also are coming off a win, overcoming 2-0 and 3-1 deficits at home to defeat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 on Friday.

Tavares had 272 goals and 349 assists in 669 games with the Islanders and was their captain from 2013-18.

In 38 games with Toronto, he has 26 goals, and is on a pace that would surpass his career-best 38 goals, set in 2014-15.

“He’s got a stick like a crowbar,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s heavy, heavy on it. He’s got elite hockey sense.”

“He’s getting to the net, he’s making plays,” said Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner, who assisted on both goals by Tavares Friday and scored one himself. “I think everyone knew when he came here how good of a one-on-one player he was. I think when he gets it, it’s just for me to try to find the open space and let him go to work on the people he’s going to work on.”

It figures to be an emotional night in Toronto Saturday.

“You’re in one place so long and you give so much to one place,” Tavares said. “I’m sure there will be many emotions. At the same time, I have to approach it the best way I can, just like any other game. I have to do my best to help my team win and try to play my best and be as best prepared as I can.”

Tavares, who grew up in the Toronto area, has been an important addition to the Maples Leafs, who have matured into Stanley Cup contenders.

“Johnny meant so much to this organization and to us in the room, his friends and teammates,” Islanders left winger Anders Lee, now the team captain, told Newsday. “I think we’re all looking forward to playing the game and seeing him.”

Mathew Barzal had two goals and an assist on Friday for the Islanders, who have won five of their past six games. The Maple Leafs have won five in a row.

“I know he has a lot of good friends in our room,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “They do have a little bit of hurt. They understand it. But they’d like to have him as a teammate and he decided he didn’t need them as teammates anymore.”

The return theme works both ways. Former Maple Leafs, left winger Matt Martin and right winger Leo Komarov, both signed with the Islanders in the offseason, and former Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be returning to their former home rink in Toronto.

Lamoriello became Islanders president of hockey operations after Tavares signed with Toronto.

Maple Leafs backup goaltender Garret Sparks got the start in Columbus Friday, which will set up No. 1 Frederik Andersen for the start on Friday.

Islanders goaltender Robin Lehnert stopped all 10 shots he faced after he took over in the second period from Thomas Greiss, who allowed three goals on 17 shots.

The Maple Leafs and Islanders were both playing their first game since Sunday.

Islanders right wingers Jordan Eberle (stiffness) and Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) did not play Friday.

Looking back at 2018’s top hockey moments (PHT Year In Review)

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

It was an eventful year across the hockey world with several memorable moments that stood out.

Some of them were amazing and improbable. Some of them were sad and devastating. Some of them were just plain weird.

Here we take a look at some of the ones that stood out the most.

Capitals Stanley Cup and summer of celebration

After years of tremendous regular season success and eventual playoff heartbreak, the Washington Capitals finally broke through their second round glass ceiling, exorcised all of their postseason demons, beat their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. By doing so they shook their postseason choker label and Alex Ovechkin picked up the one piece of hardware his Hall of Fame career was missing. Then the Capitals partied like wild throughout the entire summer and lived up their championship season publicly in a way few other teams have in recent years.

Then they came back at the start of the 2018-19 season as good as they were a year ago, with Ovechkin performing at an even higher level.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin is not slowing down]

U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team wins gold

The United States women won gold for the second time at the Olympics, and the first time since 1998, with a thrilling gold medal game victory against Canada that needed a shootout to determine a winner.

It was there that Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winner on an incredible move, with Maddie Rooney making the big save to clinch it.

You can watch the entire shootout again.

Scott Foster plays for the Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen off from their championship dynasty days and are on track to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. The highlight of their 2017-18 season was the performance of emergency backup goalie Scott Foster who was called on to play 14 minutes in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He not only played, he stopped all seven shots he faced against one of the best teams in the league.

Foster, 36, spends his days as an accountant and was called on to suit up when Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg suffered an injury in warmups.

The emergency backup goalie is something you see on occasion throughout an NHL season but they almost never have to play. When Collin Delia, who was making his first NHL start for the Blackhawks that night, exited the game with an injury … Foster had to play. He was incredible.

[Related: Scott Foster, accountant by day makes saves with Blackhawks]

Roberto Luongo‘s speech

Not all of the top moments from 2018 were the result of something happy. Following another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, a resident of Parkland, gave an emotional pre-game speech before their Feb. 22 game against the Capitals.

The Humboldt Broncos first game back on the ice

The hockey world was rocked by tragedy on April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team crashed, killing 16 people (including 10 players) and seriously injuring 13 more. In the weeks after the accident there were countless memorials and tributes, including people across Canada and the United States leaving hockey sticks out on their front porch. Five months after the crash the Broncos returned to the ice, with two surviving players from the accident (Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter). The game was televised nationally throughout Canada on TSN and in the United States on the NHL Network without commercials. The Broncos ended up losing their first game, 2-1, on their way to a 21-13-2 record in 37 games.

The team officially retired the numbers of every player that was involved in the bus crash.

[Related: Humboldt Broncos return to ice five months after bus crash]

Sedins’ last game in Vancouver

After 17 glorious seasons Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. They went out in an incredible way by teaming up, as they did so many times throughout their careers, for the game-winning goal in overtime of their final game in Vancouver.

It was Daniel getting the goal, his second of the game.

They played one more game after that, a road game in Edmonton, that they dropped in a shootout.

Willie O’Ree finally gets his Hall of Fame call

It was long overdue, but the Hockey Hall of Fame finally did the right thing by inducting Willie O’Ree into the builders category.

O’Ree, who is legally blind in his right eye, broke the NHL’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season as a member of the Boston Bruins. His playing career at the NHL level consisted of just four goals and 10 assists over 45 games, but he was still one of the game’s most influential figures and a legend for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

All Gritty, all the time

Some of the hockey moments from 2018 were also … bizarre. Like the introduction of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot who has already become one of the most notable and recognizable mascots in the league. Whether you love or hate Gritty (and if you hate Gritty, it will probably hunt you down and tackle you) you have to admit that his introduction created quite a buzz around the sports world.

[Related: Meet Gritty, the Flyers’ horrifyingly delightful new mascot]

The NHL had to tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people

Speaking of bizarre moments, Boston Bruins star forward and Hall of Fame agitator Brad Marchand had to be reprimanded by the NHL for licking opponents during the playoffs. After licking Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the second time during the season that he did that to Komarov) he did the same thing to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan in the second round. The NHL had to tell him to stop, threatening supplemental discipline if he did not.

Germany’s silver medal at the Olympics

The 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament did not feature NHL players for the first time since the 1994 games, but that did not mean the tournament was without its excitement. It gave a bunch of players that wouldn’t have ordinarily had a chance to play on such a stage an opportunity to make a name for themselves, and no team took advantage of that more than the German team that went on an incredible run to the Gold medal game. And for a while, it looked like they were actually going to pull it off until a late goal from Russia sent the game to overtime, where the Russians would end up winning on a power play goal from Kirill Kaprizov.

What was your top hockey moment from the past year?

More PHT Year in Review:
Bloopers

Saves
Goals
Players

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.

Isles’ Clutterbuck injured after punch from Pens’ Letang

MSG
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This is a weird one, so let’s start from the beginning.

With the Penguins on the power play, Evgeni Malkin‘s one-timer deflected off Leo Komarov‘s stick and into the head of Thomas Hickey.

There was a quick bit of confusion amongst players before the referee came in to stop the play to make sure Hickey, who had blood on his visor, was OK.

While that was happening, Cal Clutterbuck, who was shadowing Kris Letang at the blue line, apparently didn’t hear the whistle or was upset that Letang, correctly, stopped playing and decided to cross-check him in the arm.

Letang, displeased with the cross-check, returned the favor with a punch that caught Clutterbuck high, sending rhe latter crumbling to the ice.

Clutterbuck struggled to get back up before skating hunched over off the ice. He was called for cross-checking on the play while Letang received a roughing minor.

Clutterbuck did not return to the game.

Hickey, meanwhile, left the game for a brief time before returning.


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: Point’s 91 second hat trick; Kinkaid ties NHL-lead with third shutout

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Three stars

1. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Three goals in 91 seconds, all on the power play. What a night and what a way to score your first career hat trick.

Point becomes the second fastest player to score three goals on the power play after the late, great Jean Beliveau (he did it in 44 seconds back in 1955). He also now ranks sixth all-time in terms of the fastest hat-trick.

Point also shot up the goal-scoring rankings for this season, now sitting in a tie for third place with 12 goals. Oh, and the Lightning bested the Penguins 4-3 to boot.

2. Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

Beauvillier scored his first career hat trick and added an assist in 7-5 Islanders win against the New York Rangers.

Beauvillier had just one goal coming into the game and no assists. His first apple of the season came on Leo Komarov‘s third-period goal, which stood as the game winner.

Perhaps Thursday’s game will get Beauvillier going again. He had 21 goals in 71 games last season but had just one tally through 16 games entering Thursday.

3. Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils

The man known as ‘Blockaid’ on Twitter lived up to his handle on Thursday night, steering aside all 29 shots he faced from the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-0 win.

Kinkaid is now tied for the NHL lead in shutouts at three with Marc-Andre Fleury. It wasn’t just a standard, run-of-the-mill night for Kinkaid, either. As you will see below, Kinkaid had to pull out a miraculous save to preserve the goose egg.

Other notable performances

  • Nikita Kucherov assisted on all three of Point’s goals.
  • Patric Hornqvist was great for the Penguins, scoring a brace and adding an assist in a losing effort.
  • Craig Anderson stopped 34-of-35 in a 2-1 win for the Ottawa Senators at home to Detroit, including shutting the door on two penalty shots within seconds of each other.
  • Michael Grabner scored his league-leading fourth shorty of the year and the 10th of the season for the Coyotes. The league record for more shorthanded goals in a season is 36. Arizona is well on their way to eclipsing that.
  • Speaking of Arizona, Darcy Kuemper was a bloody stud on Thursday, stopping 44-of-45 shots he faced — a new career high — in a 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators. Twelve of his saves came on on the penalty kill and he took a penalty himself for good measure.
  • Mikko Koivu was gifted a goal and added two helpers as the Minnesota Wild ran over the Vancouver Canucks 6-2.
  • Cary Price made 43 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-2 win against the Calgary Flames.
  • Mitch Marner assisted on the game-winner and then put the game to bed with his sixth of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the night

Kinkaid’s shutout-preserving save:

Point’s hatty:

Beauvillier’s hatty:

You always remember your first time:

Factoids

Scores

Islanders 7, Rangers 5

Devils 3, Flyers 0

Lightning 4, Penguins 3

Blue Jackets 7, Panthers 3

Senators 2, Red Wings 1

Wild 6, Canucks 2

Canadiens 3, Flames 2

Coyotes 2, Predators 1

Maple Leafs 5, Sharks 3


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