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Penguins climb back into playoff spot — for now

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The Pittsburgh Penguins could have sulked, but then Evgeni Malkin turned into “The Incredible Hulk.”

During the first game of NBC and NBCSN’s “Hockey Day in America” extravaganza, the Penguins saw a 3-1 lead evaporate into a 3-3 tie heading into the third period. Pittsburgh had also lost a 5-4 game in regulation to the Flames the day before on Saturday. Sometimes, that combination of fatigue and disappointment can deflate a team to the point of defeat. That’s especially worrisome since the Penguins entered Sunday on the outside looking in at the East playoff picture.

Then the Penguins’ big guns intervened in what was a hectic, messy, and ultimately important win.

To start an explosive third period surge, Kris Letang scored an emphatic goal — his second of the game, and somehow already his 15th of this season.

For a while, it seemed like the Penguins’ defense would be the story of the game. Pittsburgh’s first four goals came via blueliners: two from Letang, one from Marcus Pettersson, and one from Brian Dumoulin.

Evgeni Malkin found another gear, though, in a way few others can. Malkin scored two goals about 90 seconds apart. His 6-3 tally at the time seemed like it wouldn’t be the game-winner, but in a lot of ways, it’s fitting that this beautiful backhander was the decisive goal:

Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad scored late goals to generate some drama in the closing moments of Sunday’s game, and that was fitting too, as the Rangers were not an easy out in this contest.

The Penguins were able to dig in and win 6-5, even if it wasn’t pretty. This leaves Pittsburgh as the second wild-card in the East with 69 points and 30 regulation/overtime wins in 59 games, giving them a slight edge in front of ninth-place Carolina (68 points, 30 ROW, 59 GP).

If Pittsburgh wants to make it into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and make a run once they get there, then they’ll need to dig deep like they did today. (They might need to tighten things up a little, though. Just saying.)

NBC Sports is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL Sunday tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Remaining NBC Hockey Day in America schedule:
St. Louis at Minnesota – NBC – 3:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)

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.

Maple Leafs can’t solve Georgiev in Rangers’ upset

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If the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to lose to the New York Rangers on Sunday, you’d expect a few reasonable explanations.

Maybe the Rangers’ red-hot top line of Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider would light up the scoreboard, much like they’ve quietly been doing for weeks now. Perhaps the more-rested Rangers would take advantage of a Maple Leafs team coming off of an exciting overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens from Saturday.

That wasn’t really the story in the Rangers’ 4-1 win against the Maple Leafs, though.

Toronto sent a torrent of shots at New York’s net, but they could only beat Alexandar Georgiev one time. Georgiev celebrated his 23rd birthday by stopping a staggering 55 shots, ending Toronto’s four-game winning streak in the process.

The Maple Leafs were likely especially frustrated with their power play, as they went 0-for-4 on the man advantage despite an absurd 23 shots. Only Kasperi Kapanen could beat Georgiev, doing so on a breakaway.

While the Rangers’ top line didn’t win a scoring duel like one might have expected, they did chip in.

Zibanejad scored a goal just 28 seconds into the game, with Kreider and Zuccarello nabbing assists. It wasn’t the game-winner, but Adam McQuaid‘s surprising 3-1 goal was crucial, and Kreider got the lone assist there. It wouldn’t be surprising if that insurance tally ended up taking the air out of the Maple Leafs, as it came pretty late in the game. Toronto’s offense is scary, but the prospect of beating Georgiev twice – and quickly – might have felt like a steep climb.

A push for a playoff berth seems unlikely for the Rangers, yet on certain nights, the combination of a dangerous top line and sturdy goaltending could make them a real upset threat. Apparently that formula can sometimes be a winning one even when Henrik Lundqvist has the night off.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Maple Leafs on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Maple Leafs won a pivotal division clash Saturday with a 4-3 overtime victory in Montreal to remain in second place in the Atlantic Division. John Tavares scored his team-leading 33rd goal (also T-second in NHL) in OT with a beautiful backhand past Carey Price.

With two points yesterday (goal, assist), Tavares has three straight multi-point games and reached the 60-point mark (33G, 27A in 54 GP), two games shy of his fastest season to 60 points (52 GP in 2013-14 w/ New York Islanders).

Toronto has won four straight games and has a six-game point streak (5-0-1).

On Friday night when the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion Rangers team was honored for the 25th anniversary of their title, the current Blueshirts fell 3-0 to the Hurricanes. It was scoreless entering the third period before Warren Foegele scored the eventual game-winner and Carolina tallied two empty- netters. Petr Mrazek made 27 saves for Carolina in the shutout, though defenseman Jaccob Slavin also rescued two would-be goals on the doorstep.

The Rangers were shut out for the 5th time this season, tied for second most in the league.

Despite being shut out on Friday, the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello has been one of the hottest trios in the league. Since January 12, they have combined for 41 points (19G, 22A) in the last 11 games.

Zibanejad has already set career highs with 53 pts and 31 assists this season. His previous career marks were 51 pts and 30 assists, both in 2015-16 with Ottawa. He is on pace for 80 pts, which would be the highest tally by a Rangers player since Marian Gaborik had 86 in 2009-10.

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

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach Hyman – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Patrick MarleauAuston MatthewsKasperi Kapanen
Connor BrownNazem KadriWilliam Nylander
Par LindholmFrederik GauthierAndreas Johnsson

Jake MuzzinMorgan Rielly
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Travis DermottRon Hainsey

Starting goalie: Garret Sparks

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Pavel BuchnevichKevin HayesJesper Fast
Filip ChytilRyan StromeVladislav Namestnikov
Jimmy VeseyBoo Nieves – Vinni Lettieri

Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones.

NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs go for fifth straight win against Rangers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite the distractions of Auston Matthews signing his big money deal and Mitch Marner (and his agent) doing their thing when it comes to his contract demands recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs keep chugging along and piling up the wins.

John Tavares‘ overtime winner help the Leafs to their fourth straight win and sixth straight game with at least a point (5-0-1). Tavares reached the 60-point mark and now has 33 goals on the year, putting him on pace for 50. If he can find twine a few extra times given that current pace, he might just tie or set the team’s franchise record, which stands at 54. Tavares has done well against the Rangers, a team he faced 44 times as a member of the New York Islanders, posting 14 goals and 26 assists in those games.

While Matthews’ contract fades into the annals of hockey history, it’s Marner’s that is now taking center stage. Marner made the sweet dish to Tavares on Saturday’s winner, showing once again why he’s on par in terms of importance going forward as Matthews.

Both Marner and his agent walked back on initial comments that the Leafs were low-balling the 21-year-old. who leads the lead with 66 points and 46 assists. Leafs coach Mike Babcock appears not worried about that situation seeping into the team’s fabric this season.

“What he’s done is make clear that they’re not doing anything about it until the end of the season,” Babcock said last week. “So how can that be in the way of anything? Just get in there, play and not worry about it, you’ll deal with it later. I think that they’ve done that because they don’t want it to be a distraction…Mitch is going to be a lifetime Leaf.”

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

The Rangers aren’t worried about big money contracts this season, nor are they worried about how it might affect their looming playoff run. The Rangers likely won’t be in the postseason.

They failed to use the inspiration of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team to their full advantage on Friday, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in a dismal effort from the Blue Shirts. Carolina was playing the second half of a back to back and New York couldn’t muster a single goal.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to be around something we’re all inspired to do, win a Cup here in New York,” Rangers coach Dave Quinn said. “It’s disappointing in a lot of ways… there was definitely a lack of urgency, which is surprising. It certainly set up to be a special night, we just didn’t capitalize on it.”

Despite being shut out on Friday, the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello has been one of the hottest trios in the league. Since January 12, they have combined for 41 points (19G, 22A) in the last 11 games (Zuccarello missed one game during that span).

Zibanejad has been most impressive during the current run, scoring 10 goals in those 11 games, which is more than any other player in the NHL. His 18 points in that span are second only to Patrick Kane‘s 21.

The line might not last past the end of the month, however, as Zuccarello’s name is once again in trade speculation this season. He’s in the final year of his current contract but would be a solid depth add for any contender.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones.

Rangers fight back in third, down Bruins in shootout

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Well, that was certainly entertaining.

The Boston Bruins appeared to be running away with this one after scoring three quick goals in the second period to establish a 3-1 lead.

But those resilient New York Rangers had a trick up their own sleeve, scoring twice in the third to tie the game 3-3.

Then came overtime, a wild back and forth affair that put both Jaroslav Halak and Alexandar Georgiev on a pedestal — both making some ridiculous saves to send the game to a shootout.

Seven rounds later, the Rangers had a 4-3 win and two big points in the bag thanks to a slick goal by Tony DeAngelo.

The Rangers might be sellers at the trade deadline and the Bruins might be buyers, but none of that mattered on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

Despite the gap in the standings, both teams appeared evenly matched.

Mika Zibanejad took advantage of a Bruins team that had played the night before in the first period.

The shifty forward did well to first make sure the puck remained in the Boston zone, then curled to the top of the slot and uncorked a one-timer past Halak.

The Bruins came alive in the second.

Danton Heinen tipped one home, David Pastrnak scored his 31st and then Bergeron made it 3-1 in a wild sequence for the 1,000-game man.

He took his second penalty of the night, which the Bruins were able to kill off. When he emerged from the box, he was sprung on a partial break that turned into an odd-man rush, where he drew a penalty. On the ensuing power play, he taps home his 19th of the season.

The third brought a Blueshirt resurgence.

Kevin Hayes pulled the Rangers to 3-2 and three minutes later, Filip Chytil notched his 10th of the season to tie the game.

The Rangers are now seven points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, the Bruins leapfrogged the Montreal Canadiens to move into third place in the Atlantic, with both teams level on 66 points.

Via the NHL:

  • This marked the 27th time in 2018-19 a team has rallied from a multi-goal deficit in the third period to win in any fashion – tied for the eighth highest total through 822 games of a season in NHL history and the highest such total since 2014-15 (29 in 822 GP).
  • In 2018-19, there have been 102 instances of a team rallying from a multi-goal deficit at any point to win. Only two other NHL campaigns have seen as many such comebacks through 822 games: 1985-86 (117) and 1987-88 (102).

[MORE: Boston Bruins looking to add offense at NHL trade deadline

[MORE: What to look for as New York Rangers approach NHL trade deadline]


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