Mika Zibanejad

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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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

Pastrnak’s five-point night helps Bruins tighten hold on second place

Give David Pastrnak the games back that he missed due to injury and it’s more than likely he’d be challenging the Alex Ovechkin and a couple others for the Rocket Richard.

Hell, he might be flirting with a 100-point season, too.

Alas, he’ll have to settle for a new career-high in goals after a magical night.

Gifted does not do Pastrnak justice and doesn’t begin to describe his goal-scoring abilities, and he put another show against the New York Rangers on Wednesday Night Hockey, sniping his third hat trick of the season in a five-point effort that as the Boston Bruins doubled up the Rangers 6-3 on NBCSN.

Pastrnak scored a goal in each period, included two power-play markers and another on the second line after a little line juggling saw Pastrnak move down to play with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk while Bruce Cassidy experimented with new linemates for Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the latter who contributed three assists in the game.

Pastrnak’s goals were his 34, 35 and 36 of the season, surpassing the 35 total he scored last year.

For good measure, ‘Pasta’ added a pair of assists to give him 77 points in 61 games this season. His third hat trick of the current campaign was the first time a Bruins player had achieved the feat since Cam Neely did so 25 years ago during the 1993-94 season.

The win, coupled with the Toronto Maple Leafs only managing to get a point against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-4 shootout loss, means the Bruins move six points clear of their Atlantic Division rivals, and will likely have home-ice advantage when the two teams inevitably meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s a big deal given that Boston has now won 12 straight at TD Garden.

The Rangers brought the game to 3-2 in the third period before penalty trouble ultimately sealed their fate later in the frame.

Mika Zibanejad scored twice, goals No. 29 and 30, for the lone silver lining for the Blue Shirts, who have won just twice in the month of March.

Henrik Lundqvist put himself in the save of the year conversation with his dandy in the first period.

Lundqvist made his 50th appearance for the Rangers this season, making him the seventh netminder in league history to have appeared in at least 50 games in at least 12 different seasons, joining a pretty elite crew of puck stoppers.

He is one win shy of 450 in his NHL career.


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 host Capitals on NBC

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

Washington sits in a tie for first in the Metro with the New York Islanders (Isles have one game in hand) as they look to be headed back to the postseason for the fifth straight time and what would be an 11th appearance in the last 12 seasons. The Capitals have won five of their last six games and this is the second game of a thre-game road trip after beating the Islanders, 3-1, on Friday (Washington plays at Philadelphia on Wednesday on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).

Alex Ovechkin leads the team in points (75) and paces the entire league with 45 goals (Patrick Kane – second with 40) as he pursues another Rocket Richard trophy – aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (seven) and become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. With Ovechkin’s goal on Friday, he became the first player in NHL history to score 45-plus goals in 10 seasons:

The Rangers are coming off a 4-2 loss to Montreal on Friday – their third straight loss as they are headed towards missing the postseason for the second consecutive year – after a stretch that saw them make the playoffs 11 times in a 12-season span from 2006-2017.

Henrik Lundqvist turned 37 years old on Saturday. The longtime starting goalie is in a bit of slump having lost seven of his last eight starts (1-5-2, 3.14 GAA). His record sits at 17-17-9, and he’s currently sporting a 3.04 goals against average and .907 save percentage, both of which would be career-worsts if the season ended today.  King Henrik is just three wins away from his 14th straight 20-win season (in as many years in the NHL). If he can reach that mark, he’ll become the fourth goalie in NHL history to record at least 14 seasons with 20 wins, along with Patrick Roy (17), Martin Brodeur (16) and Ed Belfour (15).

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

What: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday, March 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

RANGERS
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJimmy Vesey
Vladislav NamestnikovRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brendan LemieuxLias AnderssonPavel Buchnevich
Brendan SmithBrett HowdenFilip Chytil

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Libor Hajek – Neal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from New York. Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will handle studio coverage.

NHL on NBC: Capitals look to regain top spot in Metropolitan vs. Rangers

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

It was Jan. 14 when the Washington Capitals last held first place in the Metropolitan Division. They will have a chance to regain the crown, if only for a short while on Sunday.

If the Caps can beat the New York Rangers for the fourth straight time this season, they will have also extended their current winning streak to four games and leapfrogged the New York Islanders for top spot. Whether they stay there will be determined by the Isles, who play later in the day.

For Washington, taking care of business against the Rangers has come easy in recent times. They’re 8-0-1 in their past nine meetings, including five straight wins, and their current three-game run at the moment started a week ago against the Blueshirts.

Washington has been going steady for longer than that, however, with five wins in their past six games and seven in their past 10. A big part of all their success has, of course, been thanks to Alex Ovechkin‘s torrid pace in the goal department.

He has eight goals in his past 10 games and hit 45 on Friday night to make a little history.

“His ability to score goals, create offense is something that I have never seen before,” Caps forward T.J. Oshie said. “There are greats in the league, but none that I have seen that are such a natural prolific goal scorer.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 p.m. ET – NBC]

Fellow Caps teammate Nicklas Backstrom will be featured as part of Star Sunday.

Since entering the league 12 years ago, Backstrom has the most assists (636) and power-play assists (282) among all NHLers and is second in power-play points with 353 and fifth in points with 860.

Mika Zibanejad will be the Rangers player featured.

Zibanejad has been the one Rangers constant this season, and he’s doing everything at a career-high rate having already established new bests in assists (36) and points (63). The forward’s 27 goals has tied a career-best mark he set last season and still has plenty of time to round out the career-high hat trick.

The Rangers are in rebuild mode and lost several key players at the trade deadline, including Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Still, Zibanejad feels the team is moving in the right direction.

“Our work ethic is completely different than it was last year,” he said after a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. “Even this game, with our first period, down 2-0, I think we would have collapsed against this kind of team and it would have been 6-1 in the third period. But we don’t do that this year… Obviously we are not where we want to be, but I think we can build off this for next year, and that’s something we are going to strive for over these last 19 games.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Olczyk (analyst), and McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from New York. Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will handle studio coverage.


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