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Key players getting healthy for Bruins, Penguins, Blues

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The Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues have managed to hang in there when it comes retaining spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but help appears to be on the way for all three teams.

It’s not clear if that help will arrive by Tuesday’s games for each team, yet it seems like each outlook is fairly promising, which is huge because some star players are involved. Let’s go in alphabetical order.

Boston Bruins: Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that it “looks like” David Pastrnak will play against the New York Islanders, although Pastrnak’s considered a game-time decision. As you can see from the Morning Skate, Pastrnak has been hard on himself for missing time with a thumb injury related to a fall off the ice. (Although it might have happened on ice, just not on a rink.)

Pastrnak has been sidelined since Feb. 10. The Bruins have been able to manage a slew of injuries in recent years, so this is no different, but Pastrnak could really help Boston take those extra steps to ensure that they’ll get home-ice advantage in the first round against the Maple Leafs.

It also seems like Torey Krug might be getting closer to a return. Imagine how dangerous this Bruins team might be if everyone’s at, or near, full-strength?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang has been sidelined since Feb. 23, and it seems like he’s another game-time decision after practicing in a normal full-contact jersey on Tuesday.

You’d have to think that Letang would have been a serious Norris candidate if he didn’t miss so much time this season, as he boasts great possession stats to go with 53 points in just 60 games. (Even missing all those games, Letang ranks seventh in scoring among defensemen.)

Letang probably suffered his latest injury during the Penguins’ loss to the Flyers outdoors, when he was tangled up with Shayne Gostisbehere:

With two consecutive losses and a prominent (though, with Montreal fading out of contention, not really “must-win”) game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, it might be tempting to push the elite defenseman back into action. The Penguins would be wise to consider his unfortunately bumpy health history, though, and try to delicately walk the line between getting him back up to speed while reducing the risks of re-injury.

The Penguins recently got Bryan Rust back, so this team’s getting healthier as the postseason approaches. At least, they hope so.

St. Louis Blues: When the Blues announced that Vladimir Tarasenko would be “re-evaluated” about 10 days after March 10, it sure seemed ominous.

Instead of merely being looked at again, Tarasenko’s set to return for the Blues during Tuesday’s (March 19) game against the Edmonton Oilers. Hockey players, right?

“He will be in tonight. That’s really good news for us,” Craig Berube said. “He’s fine, he obviously never had a lot of practice time, but he looks fine. He’ll be alright.”

With a middling 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games, St. Louis will welcome the shot in the arm. They also only have a two-point edge on the Dallas Stars for the Central’s third spot (both with 10 games remaining), so there’s added incentive to bring Tarasenko back, and heat up once again.

More: Find out where these teams rank in the Push for the Playoffs.

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: Flyers host Sabres on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game figures to be crucial as both teams chase the Hurricanes and Penguins, who are tied with 72 points for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot. Though the Sabres (10th in East) sit one point ahead of the Flyers (11th), their recent play has them going in opposite directions.

Philadelphia is 13-3-1 in its last 17 games and are coming off dramatic 4-3 overtime win vs. the Penguins in Saturday’s Stadium Series game. Meanwhile, the Buffalo is 1-4-1 in its last 6 games, including Monday night’s 5-3 defeat at Toronto. The Sabres have not won two in a row in over two months.

After snapping a four-game losing streak on Saturday against Washington, and then taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission yesterday against Toronto, it appeared that the Sabres were building some momentum. However, Buffalo allowed four goals in the second period, saw Carter Hutton get pulled, and ultimately lost 5-3.

The Flyers have had a couple days off since their improbable comeback victory in the Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field. Trailing 3-1 with just over three minutes to play, Philly rallied to tie the game before Claude Giroux – in his 800th career game – scored the OT winner.

Just when it appeared that Carter Hart was finally providing some stability in net, he was pulled in back-to-back starts last week before getting ruled out for at least 10 days with a lower-body injury in advance of the Stadium Series game. In stepped Brian Elliott, who made 40 saves to defeat the Penguins in his first start since November 15 (he did appear twice in relief of Hart earlier in the week). Elliott will start again in this game.

Since winning their 10th straight game on Nov. 27 to claim 1st place in the entire NHL, Buffalo has been a very below-average team. They have a 12-19-6 record over that span and have dropped from first in the NHL in 17th.

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

What: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sabres-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Jeff SkinnerJack EichelEvan Rodrigues
Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtSam Reinhart
Scott Wilson – Vladimir Sobotka – Jason Pominville
Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonKyle Okposo

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian
Marco ScandellaBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

FLYERS
Claude Giroux – Nolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykScott LaughtonMichael Raffl
Corban Knight – Ryan Hartman

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereRadko Gudas
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald

Phil Myers

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Flyers hand Penguins agonizing defeat (in many ways) at Stadium Series

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Ouch.

The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered a defeat that was deeply painful from both short and long-term standpoints in the 2019 Stadium Series. About the only saving grace for the Penguins was that they earned a “charity point” in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Injuries to Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang only makes things uglier.

When the Penguins went up 3-1 as Brian Elliott whiffed on an ugly goal, it looked like Pittsburgh would run away with the game. In fact, with rain coming down, there were rumblings about the outdoor game being canceled altogether.

Instead, the Flyers managed a stunning comeback win. James van Riemsdyk made it 3-2 on the power play with about four minutes remaining in regulation, then Jakub Voracek found a way to send the contest to overtime with a tying goal with 20 seconds left in the third.

Elliott was able to redeem himself with some high-level saves during overtime, including a clutch stop against Phil Kessel on a semi-breakaway. Claude Giroux eventually beat Matt Murray five-hole for the overtime winner, leaving the Penguins absolutely stunned.

It looked like the Penguins would finish Saturday back in playoff position – tentatively – but instead remain behind Columbus, Montreal, and Carolina:

East bubble update:

Metro 3 – Blue Jackets: 35-23-3, 73 points, 35 regulation/overtime wins, 61 games played

Wild card 1: Canadiens: 33-22-7, 73 points, 31 ROW, 62 GP
Wild card 2: Hurricanes: 33-23-6, 72 points, 32 ROW, 62 GP

Ninth place: Penguins: 32-22-8, 72 points, 31 ROW, 62 GP

The closest things to good news are that the Canadiens lost (positive since Columbus and Carolina only added more pressure by winning, with the Blue Jackets loading up at the trade deadline), and that Pittsburgh at least gets that single standings point.

[It was a bad Saturday for Pittsburgh even before this loss.]

That’s not the sort of silver lining that will make this an easy pill to swallow, because the Penguins must cope with the possibility that they might have lost two key defensemen to injury.

Pittsburgh was forced to lean heavily on the likes of Jack Johnson from late in the first period and on, as both Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin were hurt and did not return after this violent exchange with Shayne Gostisbehere and Wayne Simmonds:

The Penguins didn’t provide injury updates regarding Letang and Dumoulin during the game, leaving dark clouds hanging over the team both literally and figuratively on that rainy night at Lincoln Financial Field.

After the game, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Dumoulin is dealing with a concussion, while Letang is being “evaluated” regarding an upper-body injury. Not good.

There’s a long road ahead still for the Penguins, while the Flyers are virtually out of the race, and possibly saying goodbye to Simmonds. If nothing else, the Flyers took advantage of a chance to hurt their hated rivals in ways big and small during this violent 2019 Stadium Series squabble.

More: Simmonds shakes off deadline talk.

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.

The Buzzer: Practically untouchable Zibanerad

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Three Stars

1. Mika Zibanejad

With the trade deadline approaching, talk is picking up regarding who the Rangers should keep, and which players they should trade.

If you ask me, the DJ known as “Z-Bad” should be borderline-untouchable. Zibanejad is just 25, he’s got a bargain deal (just a $5.35 million cap hit through 2021-22), and he’s highly skilled.

Thursday presented a strong argument in that regard, as Zibanejad generated a hat trick plus one assist. He was involved in all four of the Rangers’ goals, and even scored the game-winner.

This four-point outburst leaves Zibanejad close to a point-per-game this season, as he now has 48 in 50 contests. Zibanejad’s been lethal lately, with 11 of those 48 points coming during the past five games. His career-high of 51 points could just be one hot night away, and he’s not far off from his career-best 27 goals, as he hit the 20-goal mark on Thursday.

2. Mats Zuccarello

The Rangers would be wise to hold on to Zibanejad, but the other red-hot Z on their roster might be best moved (and perhaps they could just bring him back during the summer?).

Zuccarello is really heating up in his own right. He collected three assists on Thursday, and all three were primary helpers.

Much like Zibanejad, Zuccarello has generated 11 points in the last five games, giving him 27 in an injury-limited 36 contests. Health is a legitimate question with the nifty Norwegian, but those health-inhibited totals could make him a value option if teams get scared off by the rental fees for, say, Artemi Panarin.

3. Travis Sanheim

Speaking of Panarin, there were plenty of two-point nights that warrant consideration, with the Blue Jackets winger falling just short of breaking Columbus’ slump.

Sanheim celebrated his 100th NHL game by scoring the overtime-winner for the red-hot Flyers, and he also contributed an assist for Philly. Sanheim fired four SOG, logged 23:53 TOI, and also checked the boxes from a possession standpoint. The young defenseman’s starting to show why excitement for Philly’s blueline extended beyond the likes of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Highlights of the Night

Marcus Johansson was one of the players who generated two points (1G, 1A) on Thursday, and his goal really filled the effort quota:

(I’d say that you could score a goal like that in “NHL 19” by diving and hitting the poke check button, but EA Sports punishes heavy poke-checking these days. Try it if you still play one of the older editions, though.)

If Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t provide the save of the night, then Henrik Lundqvist did:

Lundqvist now stands alone in eighth place for saves in NHL history.

Factoids

Scores

NYR 4 – NJD 3
PHI 3 – BOS 2 (OT)
WPG 4 – CBJ 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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers take on Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Prior to the All-Star Break, the Rangers were playing some of their best hockey of the season, winning four of five games, including victories over the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins. New York last played on Jan. 19, beating Boston 3-2 at TD Garden. They enter this game on a three-game winning streak and look to make it four straight wins, which would tie their longest winning streak of the season.

Head coach David Quinn stressed the importance of starting this game fast and “making sure we have a good effort” because the Flyers will have a game under their belt having played on Monday night. This game starts a furious stretch of games for the Rangers, who will play exactly every other night through Feb. 12 – 8 games over a 15-day stretch.

Last night, the Flyers beat the Jets 3-1 for their season-high fourth straight win. Rookie netminder Carter Hart made 31 saves; he’s started every game during the team’s current win streak. Of the team’s record-tying seven goalies used this season, Hart leads in goals against average (2.52) and save percentage (.922).

James van Riemsdyk scored a goal – his seventh in the past six games. Up until this current run, van Riemsdyk had struggled, with just six goals over his first 27 games of the year.

Shayne Gostisbehere (lower body) left warmups early last night and was a late scratch. He will miss tonight’s game, but the team is hopeful he’ll be able to play Thursday against Boston.

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

What: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Flyers-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
James van Riemsdyk – Claude GirouxTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Phil Varone – Mikhail Vorobyov – Michael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Andrew MacDonaldRadko Gudas
Robert HaggChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Anthony Stolarz

RANGERS
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadBrett Howden
Jimmy VeseyKevin HayesVladislav Namestnikov
Filip ChytilRyan StromeJesper Fast
Cody McLeodBoo NievesBrendan Smith

Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Neal PionkKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and McGuire will call the action from New York. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.