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NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Lightning battle in Atlantic Division matchup

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

This one is big.

The Boston Bruins travel to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game that could have two very interesting outcomes.

The Bruins (110 points) sit atop the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Lightning (108 points). Both teams have clinched, of course, but the division title is the prize here. The Bruins surge over the past couple of months saw them finally dethrone the Lightning from the summit, a spot the latter had held since October.

A win for Boston would likely clinch them the division title, barring them losing their final three in regulation and Tampa winning out. It’s possible, of course, but unlikely given the rate the Bruins are amassing points.

The Bruins lost defenseman Brandon Carlo and forward Riley Nash indefinitely over the weekend and will get Charlie McAvoy back for Tuesday’s game. The rookie d-man has been out since March 3 with an MCL sprain. Defenseman Zdeno Chara returned to action on Sunday after missing nine games.

The Bruin lost a 4-3 overtime decision on Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers after battling back from 3-1 down in the third period, including a game-tying goal from Patrice Bergeron with 3.8 seconds left in regulation.

“This team, it’s fun to play together,” said Torey Krug. “We have each other’s backs and it doesn’t matter the time or the score, we just keep battling. That’s a great point. There’s things throughout the game we could have done better…thought we created a lot and they took advantage of their chances when they got them. It’s good to get the point and we’ll move onto Tampa now.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Superstar forward Steven Stamkos is questionable for Tuesday’s game after he left a 4-1 loss against the Nashville Predators in the second period with a lower-body injury.

From an entirely objective point of view, everything gets far more interesting if Tampa wins in regulation, even with the Bruins holding a game in-hand.

“It’s probably going to have a big determination of who comes first,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said on Monday. “Let’s be honest, we win the game and we’re right back at it. They win the game and they’ve probably got it. In the big scope of things, it’s game 80 but it’s a big game 80.”

Both teams would be sitting on 110 points with Tampa edging out Boston in ROWs by a 47-46 margin if the Lightning win inside three periods.

Tampa’s remaining two games see them facing the lowly Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes, teams that are already eliminated from playoff contention. Boston ends the season with two dates against the Florida Panthers and another against the Ottawa Senators. The Florida games could have real meaning for the Panthers depending on how the New Jersey Devils fair going forward.

Last week’s meeting between both clubs included David Pastrnak fighting and Tuukka Rask starting a brawl. This is gonna be good.


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

Rask, Conacher come to blows; Vasilevskiy feels left out (video)

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It was Tuukka Time in Boston on Thursday, but Tuukka Rask wasn’t making a save on this particular play.

Instead, the Boston Bruins goalie was using his glove and blocker for far more sinister purposes than merely robbing opposing players of goals.

After Cory Conacher got too close to his personal space, Rask decided to throw a couple hands at Conacher in the second period. Rask’s engagement was over at that point, as Bruins players jumped into and all hell broke loose.

Let’s roll the tape.

At the end of the video, you can see Andrei Vasilevskiy being held back by a referee. He wanted a piece but was left wanting. Oh, how we miss the days of a good, ol’ fashioned goalie scrap. Credit to Vasilevskiy, though. He didn’t hesitate to make a B-line for the Bruins netminder.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Vasilevskiy was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after crossing the center line.

Conacher was handed a two-minute minor for goaltender interference and another two-minute minor for roughing on the play. Rask, who started the whole thing, was assessed a two-minute minor for roughing.

Rask was not assessed a match penalty for throw a punch with his blocker.

Tensions are high in this one, with first place in the Atlantic Division on the line.


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

Lightning, Predators should take advantage of opportunity to rest players

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that forward Calle Jarnkrok will be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season due to an upper-body injury.

Given that Jarnkrok has 16 goals and 35 total points in 68 games this season it is not an insignificant injury for the Predators. But as long as he is back for the start of the playoffs it really is not going to be all that damaging of a blow because of their current place in the standings.

As of Thursday they are in first place in the Central Division (eight points ahead of the second-place Jets)  and five points ahead of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. Barring a major collapse down the stretch they should be in a pretty good position to wrap up both spots.

All of that brings us to something teams like the Predators — who have been doing this already — and Tampa Bay Lightning should consider down the stretch run of the regular season: Giving some of their key players an occasional night off.

This is taking a page out of the NBA playbook, but NHL teams that are pretty secure in their playoff spot should do it a lot more often. The NHL season (including regular season and playoffs) is an intense physical and mental grind, and lot of times the playoffs don’t just come down to the best team, they come down to the healthiest team.

Nashville is a team that has already played a ton of hockey the past two seasons given its run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago and it doesn’t exactly have a light schedule coming up down the stretch.

Eight of their remaining 13 games are on the road.

They have two sets of back-to-back remaining.

Along with that, they have a couple of stretches where they play four games in six nights.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

That is a lot of hockey down where they don’t really have a ton to gain. What would it hurt to sit a different key player or two each game during those stretches? Just to keep their legs fresh, maybe reduce even a little bit of the wear and tear that goes along with the grind of playing in the NHL. It is a given that starting goalie Pekka Rinne will sit on those back-to-back nights and probably a few more games here and there.

But it does not have to stop there. Pick one night, give P.K. Subban the night off. Do the same for Filip Forsberg on the next night. Will it make a huge difference in the end? Probably not, but it can’t hurt, either, especially when there is very little to gain in the standings.

Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, there’s already been talk about fatigue setting in for starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, going through his first full season as a No. 1 goalie and the Lightning have tried to schedule some spots where he can get some additional rest. As good as the rest of the Lightning roster is it is going to need a healthy and productive Vasilevskiy in the playoffs if it is going to go on a deep postseason run.

Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t quite as grueling as Nashville’s down the stretch in terms of travel, but it still has a four-game-in-seven-night stretch at the end of the month and three more sets of back-to-backs. There is no reason that a player like Victor Hedman, for example, should be playing 26 minutes a night in all of those back-to-backs.

When it comes to the subject of rest there is always a bit of controversy that goes with it because fans pay a ton of money for tickets and expect to see star players in action. If you buy a ticket to a Lightning game you want to see Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Vasilevskiy on the ice playing at their best. But the team’s biggest obligation to the fan base is to put itself in the best possible position to win a championship. Hockey is probably the last sport this sort of strategy would be widely implemented (“resting” players seems to run counter to the grind it out, we’re tougher than you mindset the sport likes to sell), but it’s probably the sport where it would make the most sense given the length of the season and the physical nature of the games.

If giving a couple of star players an occasional night off down the stretch for a regular season game that probably does not have a ton of importance in the standings helps improve those chances even a little bit, it is something that is worth considering.

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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.

Should Miles Wood be suspended after boarding Vladislav Namestnikov? (Video)

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

He won’t have much of a defense, it would seem.

New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood took off his responsible thinking cap on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the second period, Woods came barrelling in on the Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov. The latter had already ushered the puck up the ice, and with his back turned to Woods, the Devils sophomore appeared to leave his feet, driving his shoulder into the nameplate of Namestnikov’s jersey.

If that wasn’t enough, Andrej Sustr came in to defend his teammate and paid the price at the hands of Wood, who broke his visor with a punch, leaving Sustr bloodied.

Wood was given a boarding minor on the play and an additional two minutes for roughing after he left Sustr in a mess. It wouldn’t be at all shocking if Wood is summoned by the NHL’s player safety department.

[UPDATE: Devils’ Miles Wood suspended two games for boarding]

Both Namestnikov and Sustr had to leave the game, but both returned in the third period.

The Devils won the game 4-3. Guess who scored the game-winner…


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

Lightning’s Yanni Gourde finding NHL success after a long road traveled

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

If hockey hadn’t worked out for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde, he would have found himself in the world of civil engineering.

“I like to understand how things work. I’m good at math, too, so it just interested me,” Gourde told Pro Hockey Talk on Friday.

There were plenty of times the thought of going to university passed through Gourde’s mind as he tried working his way up the hockey ladder to get a shot in the NHL. But the more he worked, the more he found himself going in the opposite direction.

Playing with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Gourde finished his junior career in 2011-12 with 37 goals and a league-best 124 points, three years after going undrafted. That wasn’t enough to garner any interest from NHL teams and once again he went undrafted. But it wasn’t like the St-Narcisse, Quebec native was concerned.

“I was never really seen as a prospect. In junior I never really looked at me having a chance to get drafted,” he said. “I just went on and played my junior career and tried to play the best way that I could and eventually get a tryout somewhere. It wasn’t my primary concern. I just wanted to play hockey, help my team win and try to go deep in playoffs.”

After playing parts of two seasons with the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks following a tryout, Gourde found himself down in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings trying to figure out how to climb his way back up.

“My first year in pro hockey I really learned a lot about myself and how I was playing the game,” he said. “I was trying too much, trying too hard to make everything happen every single shift. When you realize that, you’ve got to slow things down and play the right way and go one shift at a time, play the right way every time you step on the ice. From that moment I just realized that was the better way to play on the pro level.”

As an undrafted, unknown player, you don’t get a long leash in professional hockey like most draft picks. For Gourde, all 5-foot-9 of him, it was easy for him to be overlooked and discarded by teams, and moving further and further away from the NHL had him thinking a breakthrough would never happen.

“I had doubt in my mind every single day since my first game… It’s tough to know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen,” he said. “As an undrafted [player], never seen as a prospect, it’s tough to really see yourself as an NHL player and see [yourself] as a regular player. I’m never going to take the chance I have right now for granted.”

Gourde played well in the ECHL to catch some eyes and in March 2014 he signed a contract with the Lightning and proceeded to lead their AHL affiliate in Syracuse in goals (29) and finish second in scoring behind Jonathan Marchessault with 57 points.

After following up that first AHL season with two more strong campaigns, injuries allowed the Lightning to give Gourde an extended look last season. He scored six times and recorded eight points in 20 games before going back to Syracuse and helping the Crunch during their run to the Calder Cup Final. He would finish second in AHL scoring with 27 postseason points and earn a two-year, $2 million extension.

That brief experience at the NHL level did wonders for Gourde’s confidence.

“It was huge. That’s where I knew from that moment that I could play in the NHL and from after that I just need to play my game and play the right way and go out there with the best effort every night and hopefully things are going to work out for me,” he said.

The contract was a nice feeling of security, but if Gourde’s journey taught him anything, it was that nothing is guaranteed. He understood that his spot on the Lightning wasn’t set in stone, and despite a new deal he could find himself once again moving in the wrong direction on hockey’s ladder.

While the Lightning are a much healthier team than a year ago, Gourde has carved out a spot as a regular in Jon Cooper’s lineup. His production — 22 goals, 43 points in 58 games — has entered his name in the long list of Calder Trophy candidates. While he’s eligible for the award at age 26 by three months, that’s not the trophy he’s thinking about receiving in June.

“To be honest, I don’t really think about [rookie of the year],” said Gourde, who’s fourth in rookie scoring. “Every day I’m coming to the rink, I go out on the ice and I want to get better. I don’t really look too much into stats and into what’s going on around in the league. I want to play my game. I want to be the best version of myself and try to get better. It’s flattering to be even just mentioned in those types of things but I just want to play good for my team and help my team win.”

Fine. Let his coach be his Calder hype man: ”Individual awards are garnered a ton because of the team’s success, and our team has had a lot of success, and Yanni Gourde has been a big part of it,” Cooper said earlier this month.

Gourde is just one of a number of Lightning players having outstanding seasons beyond the big names. Braydon Point and Vladislav Namestnikov have 39 goals combined and rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev has 30 points and is logging nearly 16 minutes a night.

The Lightning have the most points in the NHL (81) as of Friday and have positioned themselves as a Cup favorite in part because they aren’t being carried by just their top lines. Everyone is pitching in and the continued production of their depth will take this team far.

“All four lines are really good. Our top eight D are very good, too, and both of our goalies are excellent. It’s the depth of this organization and the way we come up together,” Gourde said. “We want to win games. We want to be dominant. We want to step on the ice and be the best team out there.

“It’s our mentality, how we approach games, and that’s been helping us win those games and trying to be consistent. We’re never satisfied, we always want [to be] better.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.