Saturday, April 5, 2014

Trip by two Canucks lifted curtain to Russia



The Vancouver Canucks needed answers and weren't shy about looking for them in unusual places.


Not even a trip to the 1982 Stanley Cup Final, where they were swept by the New York Islanders, could put a brave front on what the organization felt was a lost decade.


The Canucks owner, Arthur Griffiths, believed the change would come from harnessing the talents of Eastern European players who, to that point, had been excluded from the NHL.


Throughout the 1980s, the Canucks had a losing record every season, finishing last in the Smythe Division three times in four seasons between 1984-85 and 1987-88.


In that atmosphere, no idea was off-limits. This allowed the organization to turn to a potentially unorthodox avenue for help: Looking into acquiring players from Eastern Europe, particularly those behind the Iron Curtain.


No Eastern Bloc players had made the jump to the NHL. Most were banned from doing so by the communist governments that ruled their countries.


The experiment with Eastern Europeans started with Ivan Hlinka and Jiri Bubla, two Czech players who were granted permission to come to Vancouver for the 1981-82 NHL season. Hlinka, a center, was 31 years old and found immediate success, scoring 60 points, a Canucks rookie record. Bubla, a defenseman, also 31, managed 118 points in 256 NHL games.


But to truly turn things around, the Canucks decided it was time to go for the big guns: members of the Soviet Union's famed national team.


The Canucks selected center Igor Larionov in the 11th round (No. 214) of the 1985 NHL Draft and Vladimir Krutov in the 12th round (No. 238) of the 1986 NHL Draft. They were part of the famed KLM line with Sergei Makarov, considered by some to be the best in hockey.


The fact neither Larionov nor Krutov was guaranteed to ever make it to Vancouver explains why they lasted so deep in those drafts. But, by selecting them, Canucks management knew it was now their responsibility to make the seemingly impossible possible.


What followed was one of the more unique and unusual stories in NHL history.


Lifting The Iron Curtain


"We had always, as a team, going back to the late-'70s, attempted to draft players that were Eastern Bloc, as they said in those days," Griffiths said. "In the early-'80s, we continued to draft these guys, but we didn't have a really good shot at accessing them."


The Canucks knew Larionov and Krutov wouldn't come easy, if at all.


They were two of the most high-profile figures among the Soviet Union's prolific corps of elite athletes. They won two Olympic gold medals (1984 and 1988) to go with four world championships, two world junior championships and the 1981 Canada Cup.


The likelihood of the Soviet government letting two of their greatest athletes depart for North America wasn't high.


That's when Griffith got his big idea. As a show of good faith, why couldn't the Canucks send two of their own -- a player and a coach -- to the Soviet Union as part of a goodwill exchange?


But who would be the emissaries for the Canucks? In the end, it was goaltender Troy Gamble, who spent the majority of his first pro season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League, and front-office staffer Jack McIlhargey. They were tasked with spending four weeks in and around Moscow during the summer of 1988 to learn about the Soviet approach to hockey training.


Troy Gamble was sent to Russia, along with front-office staffer Jack McIlhargey, to try to get Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov to come to the NHL. (Photo: Vancouver Canucks)


What looked like a groundbreaking cultural exchange was, in reality, a last-gasp ploy to try to get Larionov and Krutov to come to the NHL.


"I don't know if it helped or hindered it, I can tell you that much," Gamble said.


There was no arguing that the trip was groundbreaking as a first-of-its-kind international exchange during the Cold War. In the post-World War II rivalry between the East and the West, few, if any, athletes had gone from one side to train with the other.


For the Canucks, the trip was a historic agreement which would hopefully result in acquiring two of the world's best players.


"I don't think it had ever happened before. Not in the Soviet Union," Griffiths said. "I suppose there was a hope something could rub off [on Gamble and McIlhargey]. But at the end of the day, the real prize was the [Russian] players themselves."


Griffiths set his plan in motion when he met Bob Hindmarch, the director of athletic and sports services for the University of British Columbia. Hindmarch, heavily involved in Canada's Olympic hockey movement, introduced Griffiths to Anatoli Tarasov, the taskmaster Soviet coach who was revered in his homeland as the godfather of Russian hockey.


At the time of the meeting with Griffiths, Tarasov was advanced in age, severely overweight and in dire need of a hip operation, a procedure Soviet surgeons weren't exactly lining up to do.


"The Russian doctors didn't want to touch him. He could have died on the operating table and the Russian doctor probably would have never been heard from again," Griffiths said. "Tarasov was a demigod in hockey there, and rightfully so. So I said the Vancouver Canucks will bring you back, we will pay for your surgery, we'll get you back on your feet. Sadly for him, he was very overweight. It was a really dicey situation.


"The reality is, that was an attempt to create a bit of a bridge. As I think back, I think about the risk that our team took by bringing Anatoli over and having his surgery. He easily could have died on our operating table. I think the [Canadian] prime minister would have given me a [phone call]."


Any sort of international incident was avoided, and Griffiths, with a major assist from some Vancouver surgeons, established a bond with the Eatern Bloc's most important hockey figure. Griffiths believed if he played his cards right, he could have Larionov and Krutov in Canucks uniforms within the year.


"That was a real fun time, a real good bond. We went fishing and all that sort of stuff. So we said, 'Why don't we go the other way? Why don't we send some of our people to Russia to learn there?'" Griffiths said.


That's when McIlhargey and Gamble were pulled aside and told they were going on a little trip.


Strange Soviet Summer



A second-round pick (No. 25) of the Canucks in the 1985 NHL Draft, Gamble had a single game of NHL experience when he was asked to participate in this unusual diplomatic mission to Russia. At the time, he had begun training in Spokane, Wash., following offseason hernia surgery. The 21-year-old had never been to the Soviet Union.


"They called me up and said, 'Come to Vancouver,'" Gamble said. "Within two weeks we were on an Aeroflot plane out of Montreal to Moscow. It happened so quick."


McIlhargey played 393 NHL games as a hard-nosed defenseman with 1,102 penalty minutes with the Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers from 1974 to 1982. McIlhargey was hired as Vancouver's special assistant to the general manager in the years following his retirement as a player and was an assistant coach by 1988. He had never been to Russia when he was called upon to meet Tarasov in Moscow.


"We didn't know what to expect when we first went over there. They didn't really tell us too much," McIlhargey said. "When we got there, we thought, 'OK, so this is what we're doing.' We had an interpreter that was with us all the time, and a driver. I had never been there before. It was still all communist at that time."


During the summer of 1988, Russia was experiencing a dramatic financial crisis. Caught in a rash of spending cuts and tax increases, inflation shot up dramatically, banks announced large losses, and a general sense of panic gripped the country.


It was an interesting time for the two Canadians to arrive.


"You get off the plane in Moscow and you're going through the customs, it was a little intimidating with the soldiers all around," McIlhargey said.


After an all-night flight to Moscow, which followed a long flight from Vancouver to Montreal, Gamble and McIlhargey hoped they would be able to check into their hotel and sleep after passing through Russian customs. Instead, they were asked to attend a circus performance with Tarasov and Alexander Yakushev, the former Soviet player who at that time was coaching Spartak Moscow. It was their first duty as unofficial Canadian diplomats.


Gamble was not exactly excited about the invitation.


"Jack, I don't want to go to no circus," he pleaded with McIlhargey.


"We have to do it," McIlhargey replied. "That's what they want us to do."


The pair's Russian adventure was off to an unusual start.


"It was an amazing circus. I likely did too many shots of vodka. We were doing straight vodka, I was a 21-year-old kid," Gamble said. "They had trained these bears with long skinny necks and big fat bellies how to ice skate. That was my big jolly of the night. Watching these bears ice skate and shoot hockey pucks. That was my first night."


The differences between East and West became apparent early. When it came time to enjoy some fresh water, McIlhargey and Gamble encountered a vending machine that would provide a refreshing drink for a few rubles. There was just one problem.


"The glass would fill up and you would take your drink. But you put the glass back and everybody used the same glass," McIlhargey said. "So I didn't drink any of the water."


McIlhargey's time in the Soviet Union was more of a vacation than that of Gamble. McIlhargey spent plenty of time with Tarasov, occasionally indulging in local food and drink. It was a unique trip to a country that was months away from undergoing upheaval. The Canucks staffer had gone to Russia to learn from the country's best, but with the legendary Central Red Army club training elsewhere and the Russians hesitant to give up too many of their training secrets, it turned into a limited exchange when it came to coaching.


"They let us come in and train. They were pretty guarded in what information you got and what you saw," McIlhargey said.


The time spent abroad wasn't easy for Gamble. At a time when offseason training was not the norm in North America, especially among goaltenders, he was thrown headfirst into the most demanding training regimen on the planet. Embedded for two weeks with Dynamo Moscow and another two weeks with Spartak, Gamble was completely out of his element.


Jack McIlhargey was an assistant coach with Vancouver in 1988. (Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI)


"It was ridiculous. I had never seen anything like it," Gamble said. "You put a guy on your shoulders and you're basically hopping up and down stairs."


In his introduction to Russia's demanding off-ice training, Gamble was handed a miniature hockey stick by a Soviet coach, who, through an interpreter, instructed the goalie to adopt a crouching position and go running through the woods. Soon, Gamble's legs were slashed and bloodied by a relentless parade of unforgiving branches. When he turned around to look for help, the Russian coach was right there pushing him further, yelling at him without mercy.


"Lower," he demanded. "Lower."


Gamble definitely wasn't in Spokane anymore.


"This guy was chasing me in the woods with a stick. What kind of training was this?" Gamble said. "Their methods were interesting. We were dragging tires behind us in skating drills and wearing weight belts of 40 pounds. They were advanced in pushing their athletes."


Gamble may have had a difficult time appreciating these demanding methods, especially with McIlhargey spending his days relaxing with Tarasov. But it was a glimpse into the Soviet hockey machine that had groomed many of history's greatest players.


"Jack had it good. I was kind of the guinea pig getting beat up with these guys," Gamble said. "In one drill, they had five shooting stations and every shooter had five pucks. They had one minute to shoot all five pucks, but they could shoot them at any time. I was yelling, 'What drill is this?!' I've got pucks whizzing at my head and there was no sense. There were some different drills, for sure."


As the weeks went by, McIlhargey and Gamble had absolutely no contact with the Canucks. Gradually, it dawned on them what this hockey exchange was really all about.


"I don't think the Canucks were really concerned about me. They just wanted a goalie to go over there," Gamble said. "I think they wanted to give me the experience. But, more importantly, they wanted to make sure that we were able to keep the lines of communication open with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation."


The training methods they picked up in Russia wouldn't have worked in Vancouver. For one thing, the facilities in Moscow were spartan compared to the state-of-the-art infrastructure the Canucks enjoyed. Also, for the Canucks and countless other players in the NHL, life as a professional athlete in the West offered distractions away from the rink: time with friends and family, the opportunity to reflect, regroup and refresh. Those were luxuries not afforded elite hockey players in the East.


"We went to their training facilities where the players all lived. Even the married guys, they all stayed in dorms and had their meals there," McIlhargey said. "Our players here had a lot of freedom. They didn't have that. They were told what to do and they did it.


"I remember one time they were doing a drill in dry land where they would piggy-back each other. You would partner with someone and the guy would piggy-back you up and down some stairs. It was Troy's turn and then they had a little bit of a break. This Russian kid came by and said, 'Troy very tired.'"


While Gamble was suffering, McIlhargey was getting to know Tarasov more as a person than a coach. Coach Tarasov could be an absolute tyrant. Comrade Tarasov was a delight. McIlhargey learned of the distinction by engaging in some classic Russian pastimes with one of the country's favorite sons. Vodka was sometimes within arm's length and it was clear wherever McIlhargey went with Tarasov he was in the company of greatness.


"He was the king around there for hockey and sports at that time," McIlhargey said.


On a couple of occasions, the two coaches spent time relaxing at Russia's famous bathhouses, wading in the saunas while their backs were swatted with tree branches to assist in circulation. Gamble joined McIlhargey for one such trip, but the goaltender doesn't have the fondest memories of the banyas.


"They brought in these branches that they made wet and they whipped me and Jack. Jack was first and I could hear him yelling. I was wondering what is going on? They said it was good for you," Gamble said with a laugh. "It was a good experience."


Tarasov would extend the same hospitality a year later to Griffiths and Quinn when they visited Moscow to try to get Larionov and Krutov to Vancouver. Accompanied by Canada senator Ray Perrault, the trip would bear fruit. During the summer of 1989, legendary Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak visited the Canucks in Vancouver. A few months later, Larionov and Krutov joined the NHL team.


Long-Lasting Influence



Larionov and Krutov made their NHL debut Oct. 5, 1989. Larionov would play 14 seasons with the Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.


Krutov played only the 1988-89 season in the NHL; he played six seasons afterward in Switzerland and Sweden.


The trip preceding Larionov and Krutov's arrival gave Gamble and McIlhargey a unique insight into the contrast between life on either side of the Iron Curtain. Gamble has a number of distinct memories.


"I took eight pairs of [Levi's] 501 Jeans," Gamble said. "Outside our hotel, I would trade them, because on the black market that's what they wanted. They wanted 501 Jeans. I actually supplemented my meal money by selling 501 Jeans. You could see that the influence of the West was coming, even with the hockey players in the locker room. It was very depressed at that time, but you could sense there was going to be a break in something. Obviously, it happened in a couple of years."


During their time in Russia, the trip became about something more than hockey for the two Canucks. As the weeks went by, they became more and more integrated into a unique world most Westerners had only heard about. With the trip winding down, they unexpectedly got to enjoy an infusion of Western culture when musician Billy Joel came to Moscow as part of a historic six-date tour of the Soviet Union.


McIlhargey got to attend one of Joel's three Moscow concerts.


"It was very unique. They hadn't had a lot of concerts there," McIlhargey said. "When people were starting to stand up and dance, the soldiers were in the aisles making everybody sit down.


"My experience with all the people I met was very good. People were very nice and they tried to help you any way they could."


Vladimir Krutov played the 1988-89 season in the NHL. (Photo: Allsport)


After Gamble's adventure in the Soviet Union, he enjoyed a standout season when he was 23-9-4 record with Milwaukee and 2-3-0 with the Canucks. The training in Russia served him well, but the experience would be even more helpful when he discovered his second career after retiring from hockey.


After finishing with the Houston Aeros of the IHL in 1996, Gamble took a job as a manager with M-I SWACO, a Texas-based company specializing in global oil and gas production. The job took Gamble throughout the Middle East, including more than three years living in Libya, a culture shock even after his time in Russia.


Gamble made the decision to leave Libya shortly after his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Garrett Gamble, died while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.


It's an unlikely second life for someone who grew up playing hockey in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. The transition may have been cushioned a bit by an unexpected invitation from the Canucks to "study abroad."


"At that time, I was excited to get out of there because they were kicking the snot out of me," Gamble said. "I've reflected a lot on that trip. I have reflected a lot on my Moscow experience. It was a trip that you'll never forget, even though it was a long time ago.


"I couldn't have gone with a better guy than Jack McIlhargey. He's a character, just loves the game of hockey. I think he got a lot out of it by just talking to the different coaches and watching the training."


Within two years after McIlhargey and Gamble returned to Vancouver, the Cold War ended and a wave of Russian hockey players came to the NHL.


It was the fitting conclusion to a lengthy process that involved sending two members of the Canucks family on a classic fish-out-of-water adventure.



Daily Primer April 6: Blackhawks host rival Blues


The Chicago Blackhawks could head to dinner Sunday night one point out of second place in the Central Division. First, the defending Stanley Cup champions will have to beat one of their longtime rivals, the St. Louis Blues, in a matinee at United Center (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2) without stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.


The Blackhawks could go to bed Sunday night right back where they started the day though. That's because the Colorado Avalanche, who are three points ahead of them for second place entering Sunday, welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to Pepsi Center at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (RDS2, ROOT, ALT).


Colorado, which has won six in a row, and Chicago are fighting for home-ice advantage in a likely Western Conference First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


The Dallas Stars will look to put some space between them and the idle Phoenix Coyotes when they visit the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening. The Stars, who beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Saturday, are one point ahead of the Coyotes for the second of two Western Conference wild-card spots. They have a game in hand on Phoenix.


The Anaheim Ducks will try to inch closer to the Pacific Division title when they host the last-place Edmonton Oilers. The Ducks are one point ahead of the second-place San Jose Sharks, who have played two more games and suffered a surprising home loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday.


In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers host the Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) and look to maintain or build on their lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers enter Sunday with a two-point lead on the Blue Jackets, who host the New York Islanders and hold a slim lead for the second wild card in the East.


Here's a list of all the NHL action Sunday:


St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2)


Dallas Stars at Florida Panthers (5 p.m. ET, NHLN-CA, TXA 21, FS-F)


New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m. ET, MSG PLUS, FS-O)


Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN2, NBCSN)


Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m. ET, RDS2, ROOT, ALT)


Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers (8 p.m. ET, TSN, PRIME)


The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends just three.


Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.


The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.



POST-GAME AUDIO: Alain Vigneault, Henrik Lundqvist, Mats Zuccarello, Brad Richards







Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.




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Blues' Oshie thankful for infant daughter's progress


ST. LOUIS -- It's been quite a year for T.J. Oshie.


The St. Louis Blues right wing became an instant sensation after his shootout exhibition for the United States against Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in which he scored four of six times during a 3-2 shootout victory. He became engaged to girlfriend Lauren Cosgrove and was soon a first-time father, when Cosgrove delivered the couple's first child, a girl named Lyla Grace, on March 17.



T.J. Oshie



Right Wing - STL


GOALS: 21 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 60

SOG: 142 | +/-: 23



Those are moments people treasure for the rest of their lives, and Oshie will continue to make more memories with his daughter. There was a major obstacle at the beginning of her young life though.

While there were no complications with the actual birth of their firstborn child, Oshie and Cosgrove were immediately faced with a big challenge as parents - one that required surgery for their daughter.


Lyla Oshie was born with gastroschisis, a condition in which an infant's intestines are on the outside of the body. Babies with this condition have a hole in the abdominal wall, and the intestines usually protrude through the hole. Lyla Oshie's condition was detected during an ultrasound.


"We found out at 13 weeks," Oshie said. "We went through all the steps and the whole process: Before the birth, when Lyla was born and then what would go on after. They said it could have been anywhere from six weeks to two years in the hospital, so we really didn't know."


But unlike the old days, when the condition could be fatal, there is now a 90 percent survival rate after a child has surgery immediately after birth, as doctors are able to put the bowel inside the body and close the wound and defect.


Since Lyla Oshie's surgery, all has gone according to plan.


"It was scary going through it all, but the doctors and surgeons were doing such a great job," Oshie said. "We met with them beforehand. I guess it's as comfortable as you can be with your firstborn having to go through something like this. I think we did a pretty good job of staying positive and just kind of taking it day-by-day and hour-by-hour, and spend as much time with her as you could.


"Everything looks great. Let's cross our fingers, but she's been doing great. She's way ahead of the curve. Every obstacle it seems like they've thrown at her, she's jumped right over it and moved on to the next one. She's feeding, her stomach's all closed up, we're able to hold her, she doesn't have any IVs anymore, a feeding tube or breathing tube."


When Lyla was born, Oshie and Cosgrove could not hold their daughter right away, but each has been a regular at the pediatric-care unit at St. Louis Children's Hospital, where Lyla has been since birth. It has been Oshie's home away from home, except for the time he spends at the rink with the Blues as they continue their march toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Oshie has somehow been able to keep his focus on his work with the Blues while also caring for the well-being of his daughter. The new parents' families have been in St. Louis to lend support, and having an extended family in teammates, coaches, management, the training staff and everyone else Oshie deals with on a daily basis at the rink has been a tremendous help.


"It's huge, especially when this year there's going to be three instances of guys being fathers, me one of them," said Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose wife will deliver the couple's first child, also a daughter, within the next couple weeks.


Blues center Maxim Lapierre also became a first-time father to a daughter in late February.


"You're always hoping for the best," Colaiacovo said. "You hear about things like that and not really sure what to expect. I know in talking to [Oshie] he was still nervous about everything when it was time to happen. He was excited about Lyla coming and being a dad. Everyone was really happy for him. When it happened, everyone was praying for success. Everything I've been hearing from him and talking to him about it, everything is going great as expected, which is what you want to hear.


"She's a fighter and obviously he's been there for her since Day 1. It's nice to see the progress that she's making and hopefully she gets to come home soon."


The Blues will have Oshie in the lineup when they face the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET). His play has not been negatively impacted by the time he's spent tending to his daughter's condition.


"I've just been focusing there," said Oshie, who is tied with Alexander Steen for the team lead in points. "I come to the rink here, don't really think about it too much. I'm kind of just playing a free mind at the rink here.


"All my teammates and coaches here and [Blues general manager Doug Armstrong] as well, the trainers, everyone's really been supportive of me. They all know. [Armstrong] and [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] said right away that if there's any time where I've got to be there, family comes first. It was great having them behind me and having their support."


Lyla Oshie is now able to eat normally.


"The worst is behind us," Oshie said. "We're hoping that she can come home Monday. If she does, she'll just be like any normal baby."


And just like any proud parent, Oshie can become a fixture in changing diapers, which he has no issues doing if it means Lyla is healthy and doing well.


"Oh, I've been changing diapers," Oshie said, laughing. "The first poopy diaper wasn't for a while. It was mostly IV fluid. I've had a couple good experiences already, no explosions down the arm or anything.


"Me and Lauren cheered when we found the first poopy diaper because that's a sign of things going well."


The cycle will be complete when the parents can take their little girl home.


"My little girl's strong," Oshie said. "She definitely has her mother in her … maybe a little Oshie blood. I didn't hold her until she was … might have been a week when I held her for the first time. We were able to kiss her and say hi to her.


"It's going to be nice to just sit on the couch, watch The Masters and have her on my chest."



Pens’ Maatta out against Wild on Saturday


The Pittsburgh Penguins will face the Minnesota Wild on Saturday without promising young defenseman Olli Maatta.


The team didn’t provide details regarding why the 19-year-old isn’t playing, aside from the fact that it’s an undisclosed injury and that an update will be provided after the game.


It’s been quite the debut season for the Finnish defenseman. He has 29 points, a 9 rating and 14 penalty minutes in 75 games played. He also received some valuable experience helping Finland win a bronze medal in Sochi.


If this isn’t a serious issue, this injury break may be a blessing in disguise, as he’s already had a busy first season at the NHL level and could face an extended playoff run to boot.



Jets ruffle feathers by making Evander Kane a healthy scratch


While there are plenty of teams fighting for their playoff lives, more and more franchises will be tempted to rest players once it’s clear that their place in (or out of) the postseason is cemented. The Winnipeg Jets made some waves in that regard on Saturday.


Despite telling The Canadian Press that he intends to put a competitive Jets team on the ice going forward (out of respect to the league’s playoff races), the interim head coach made a “coach’s decision” to sit Evander Kane as a healthy scratch.


The Jets’ opponents are the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team whose playoff hopes climb and dive with each win and loss.


Again, Maurice’s comments seem to contradict this lineup choice.


“We’ve all been through it before,” Maurice said. “I think whenever possible you put your best lineup in there.


“They deserve it: The Toronto Maple Leafs deserve it, and so do the other teams in that fight.”


NHL.com’s Patrick Williams vented about the situation on Twitter, to give you an idea of some of the reactions:


Whether observers find themselves livid with the decision or just-plain-indifferent, the bottom line is that the Jets will face the Leafs without Kane, one of the league’s rising power forwards. Perhaps people will look at this as a memorable decision if Toronto squeezes into the playoffs.



Mike Green suffers upper-body injury, questionable to return


Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green suffered an upper-body injury during Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders and is questionable to return, according to the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera.


So far, Green has not; it seemed that he was banged-up in the first period and didn’t return at least early in the middle frame. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on the 28-year-old blueliner (who is no stranger to injury woes).


Carrera notes that the Islanders were physical with the scoring defenseman:



Senators at Rangers … It’s Go Time!



Game 79. senators

Senators at Rangers.

Ya boys can clinch a playoff spot by getting a point in any of their last four games, or via both the Devils and the Maple Leaves failing to win out. More importantly, they are two wins away from clinching a spot in the 2-3 first-round matchup.


The Rangers can clinch a 2-3 seed first-round matchup with two wins in their last 4, or if Columbus gets fewer than 7 points in its last 5. If the Rangers win just one more game, they get the 2-3 seed by Columbus failing to get nine of 10 possible points.


I think that’s all correct. I will ask Captain Obvious. Or any of youse. I will happily fix it if you find a mistake (eric).


Here’s how I look at the standings before tonight’s games, regarding the Rangers’ clinching and getting the 2-3 seed:


2-Rangers 91 points (39 ROW), 4 left.

3-Philly 87 points (36 ROW), 5 left (97 maximum points).

WC-Detroit 88 points (32 ROW), 5 left (98 maximum points).

WC-Columbus 85 points (34 ROW), 5 left (95 maximum points).

Toronto 84 points (29 ROW), 4 left (92 maximum points).

Devils 82 points (33 ROW), 5 left (92 maximum points).

(Washington can still get a wild card but can’t catch the Rangers).


The Rangers are 7-1-1 in last nine. After tonight, there are three games left—Carolina Tuesday and Buffalo Thursday, both at MSG, then a season finale in Montreal Saturday.


Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) remains out day to day. Brian Boyle is expected to move up, probably for some wall presence and defensive responsibility that’s been woefully missing from the Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis line.


Henrik Lundqvist starts in goal against Robin Lehner and the Senators, who are barely mathematically alive for a wild card.


Other games that could matter today/tonight:


Boston 5, Philadephia 2; Washington at Islanders (in progress); Devils at Carolina (7 p.m.); Detroit at Montreal (7 p.m.); Winnipeg at Toronto (7 p.m.).


*****************************************


After the game, vote for the Three Rangers Stars in the poll on the left.


Twitter: @rangersreport.



Roy calls Backes ‘gutless’ for altercation with MacKinnon


The Colorado Avalanche handled the St. Louis Blues to the tune of a 4-0 win on Saturday, but the ugly scene at the end of the game might fuel the two teams’ fire more than the score if there’s a rematch in the playoffs.


During one moment, David Backes and Nathan MacKinnon got into it, as you can see via this video:


Never known to back down from a confrontation, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy called Backes “gutless” for the altercation with the Avs rookie.


While Backes took the high road after the game, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock provided some interesting comments about his rival bench boss.


Hitchcock didn’t send Ryan Reaves out there, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t fallout from the MacKinnon – Backes scuffle, as you can see in this video:


Just take a look at the box score to get an idea of how much of a mess this situation was.


The good news for the Avalanche is that MacKinnon was able to return to action later on, so at least it doesn’t appear that an injury resulted from that skirmish (unless it appears that way after further inspection).


The Blues lose a player to injury, however, as Alex Steen won’t play on Sunday because of an upper-body injury. It’s unclear how serious that issue might be.


So, overall, the game ended in a frenzy and these two teams clearly aren’t best friends. At least we’ll have a few extra things to talk about if Colorado and St. Louis end up facing off in a second-round Central Division playoff matchup though, right?



Varlamov shuts out Blues in Avs’ 50th victory


The Colorado Avalanche continued their march towards the playoffs with a decisive 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues this afternoon. Semyon Varlamov stopped 31 shots to earn his second shutout of the season.


The game got ugly in the third period with St. Louis’ David Backes, Barret Jackman, Maxim Lapierre, and Brenden Morrow each being handed misconducts. Morrow was also charged with a cross-checking major on the Avalanche’s John Mitchell. In total, the Blues accumulated 61 penalty minutes in the third period.


Colorado has now won six straight games to pull away from Chicago in the battle for the second seed in the Central Division. The Avalanche have a three-point edge over the Blackhawks and have played in one less game.


Varlamov was the clear difference today, which is normal for Colorado, but forwards Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon also came up big.


Stastny had a goal and three points for Colorado. MacKinnon assisted on Stastny’s marker before finding the back of the net himself:


With that, MacKinnon has become the first rookie since Jeff Skinner in 2010-11 to reach the 60-point mark.


The Boston Bruins won today, so St. Louis is now two points back in the battle for the Presidents’ Trophy, although the Blues have played in one less game. St. Louis will play in Chicago on Sunday while Colorado will host the Pittsburgh Penguins.



Video: Holden scores rare kicked goal that counts


Typically if a player kicks the puck and it ends up in the back of the net, the goal is disallowed. There are exceptions to that rule though, as Colorado’s Nick Holden demostrated during today’s game against St. Louis.


With the Avalanche already up 2-0 in the second period, Blues goaltender Ryan Miller coughed up a juicy rebound and Holden charged the crease, knocking the puck in with his skate. After a lengthy review, the goal counted:


As touched on at the end of the video, the puck actually hits Blues forward Steve Ott‘s stick before crossing the line.


As NHL.com pointed out, Rule 49.2 states, “A kicked puck that deflects off the stick of any player (excluding the goalkeeper’s stick) shall be ruled a good goal.”


In other words, had Ott not attempted to stop the goal with his stick, Holden’s wouldn’t have ended up with the marker.



Evander Kane might be scratched tonight


Jets coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t reveal Winnipeg’s lines for tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it looks like Evander Kane will be scratched.


That’s based off the fact that Kane stayed on the ice after the Jets’ morning skate was over and the vast majority of his teammates had made their way to the locker room. In addition to that being typical of a player that will be scratched, it is unusual for Kane in particular to skate that long, according to the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe.


Making Kane’s potential absence all the more glaring is how Maurice chose to explain his decision to start goaltender Ondrej Pavelec tonight.


“Whenever possible you put your best lineup in there,” Maurice said, per PHT’s Joe Yerdon. “They deserve it. The Toronto Maple Leafs deserve it and so do the other teams.”


The 22-year-old forward is in the second season of a six-year, $31.5 million contract, but he has just 17 goals and 39 points in 60 games this season.


Related:


Jets’ Kane facing lawsuit for alleged assault



GM Holland hopeful Zetterberg will start skating next week


The Detroit Red Wings just got Pavel Datsyuk back on Friday. Could captain Henrik Zetterberg‘s be next?


Zetterberg underwent back surgery and his return isn’t imminent. Still, he might be able to take a big step forward soon.


“I don’t want to overplay this,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said, per the Detroit News. “We’re hopeful that when we return from our games in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, Hank might be ready, in some form, to begin skating.


“I don’t know if it’ll be all out, or in what form. But we think he could be ready.”


The 33-year-old forward was initially expected to miss at least eight weeks, which the Detroit Free Press noted would set him up for an April 18-19 return. In other words, he won’t be available for Game 1 of the first round — assuming that the Red Wings hold onto their Wild Card spot — but he might be able to join them before the opening series is over.


Detroit has dealt with more than its fair share of injuries this season, to the point where only four players on the team have even played in 70 games. The Red Wings’ fortunes seem to be reserving though, making them a potentially dangerous playoff opponent.



Often brutally honest Jagr ‘proud’ of Devils


New Jersey Devils forward Jaromir Jagr doesn’t feel inclined to always put a positive spin on things. The latest example of that came on Monday when Jagr bashed the Devils’ “preseason” effort in a game they won 6-3.


So when he does praise his teammates, as he did after the Devils’ critical 2-1 victory over Washington, you can take his statements as genuine.


New Jersey’s win was particularly impressive because the team lost Patrik Elias in the first period. Forwards Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson were also hurt during the contest.


“That’s probably the toughest and best win we’ve had so far, the way I look at it,” Jagr told the Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti. “When we have to win, guys went down, we have a lot of new guys and we did it.


“I’m proud of our team tonight.”


The Devils have gotten nine out of a possible 12 points over their last six games, with all of their missed points stemming from shootout losses. The hole they put themselves in was massive though and they are consequently still three points out of a playoff spot with just five games left.


Still, it wasn’t long ago that they looked dead and they’ve managed to hold onto a glimmer of hope. The Devils will play against Carolina tonight.



Pacioretty quietly establishing himself as a top-tier scorer


The Ottawa Senators took a 3-0 lead against Montreal last night, but ended up getting blown away by the Canadiens. The reason for the dramatic reversal of fortunes was Max Pacioretty.


He had a five-point night, including a hat trick, to lead Montreal to a 7-4 victory.


“He’s an animal,” teammate David Desharnais declared to TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie.


Friday was the most productive night of Pacioretty’s career from a points perspective, but he’s been the difference for Montreal many times over the last three seasons.


The 25-year-old might not be a household name, but he is nevertheless one of the best snipers in the league today. Since the start of the 2011-12 campaign, Pacioretty ranks fifth in the NHL with 86 goals in 192 games, behind just Corey Perry, Phil Kessel, Steven Stamkos, and Alex Ovechkin.


Not bad for a guy that comes with a $4.5 million cap hit through the 2018-19 campaign.


What’s more, he’s only been getting better lately. He leads the league in goals since his previous hat trick on Nov. 19, according to RDS’ Francois Gagnon.


Overall he now ranks fourth with 38 goals and a league-leading 11 of them have been game winners. For all that success though, he has no points in four career postseason games. If he can carry this momentum into the 2014 playoffs, then it won’t be long before hockey fans outside of Montreal start holding him in much higher regard.



Sutter close to overseeing fourth Jennings Trophy with third team


With the 2013-14 campaign almost over, the Los Angeles Kings have an edge in the race for the Jennings Trophy. The award goes to the goalie(s) that play in at least 25 games with the team that allows the least goals in the regular season.


Los Angeles is a bit of a unique case in that regard because Jonathan Quick would be the sole recipient despite the fact that he’s only appeared in only 46 contests. That’s because Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens have split the other 32 starts fairly evenly. Scrivens was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in January.


Jones and Scrivens deserve a lot of the credit for putting the Kings in the running for this award, but there’s no question that the team’s starting goaltender has been dominate with a 2.03 GAA and .916 save percentage.


As an interesting note, if the Kings do win, it will be the fourth time that Darryl Sutter has coached a team to that award. He previously oversaw Chicago claiming the distinction in 1993 and 1996 and then Calgary in 2006.


“I think that’s pretty interesting considering…probably at the quarter-pole, I don’t know if we’d be in the top-10,” Sutter told LA Kings Insider. “So we’ve come along pretty good. Give credit to everybody.”


The Kings don’t have one of the more successful offenses in the NHL, so they’ve relied on their superior defense and goaltending to get by. So far it has served them decently as the team is set to make the playoffs as the Pacific Division’s third seed.


The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are also still in the running for the award.



Glendening agrees to three-year extension with Detroit


The Detroit Red Wings have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries this season and its forced them to lean heavily on some of their younger players earlier than they might have planned. Rookie Luke Glendening is one example of that as the 24-year-old center has played in 51 games with Detroit in his rookie campaign.


He’s held his own though and now he’s been rewarded as Detroit announced this morning that they have signed him to a three-year extension.


Glendening is a bottom-six forward and doesn’t do much offensively. However, he does have 78 hits and 32 blocked shots this season and can hold his own on the draw. He was never drafted, but he developed with the University of Michigan and spent the last two seasons in the Detroit Red Wings’ minor-league system.


This contract is a chance for the Grand Rapids, Michigan native to stick with his hometown team.



Senators numb coach MacLean with their ‘brutal’ collapse


For about a tenth of Friday’s contest, the Ottawa Senators were spectacular. However, a fast 3-0 lead proved insufficient in their eventual 7-4 collapse against Montreal.


At the start of Senators coach Paul MacLean’s postgame press conference, he was asked about his feelings regarding tonight’s game. He let the question hang for a second.


“I have none,” MacLean said. “I’m numb.”


As he put it, the Senators simply stopped playing after they got the 3-0 lead. He started to elaborate, but seemed to give up mid-sentence by suggesting that they starting giving the Canadiens “short rinks and all the…regular adjectives that we’ve used all year long.”


MacLean wouldn’t term the game as frustrating and needed a bit of time to find the right word: “Brutal.”


It was nearly a month ago that he complained about the team’s work ethic. This certainly wasn’t what he was looking for.


You can watch his full press conference below, including his argument that a Senators’ disallowed goal and Montreal’s Lars Eller‘s similar goal are an example of how anything that could go wrong, has this season:


Related:


GM Murray has no ‘definite answer’ on MacLean’s future



Returning to Detroit makes trade easier for Legwand


Detroit Red Wings center David Legwand knows how fortunate he is. He understands how unique his situation is.


Players like Legwand, whose contract runs out after the season, get moved at the NHL Trade Deadline all the time. They quickly pack a bag and race from one town to the next to meet their new team, leaving their families, if they have one, behind. They get holed up in a hotel, eat their meals either out or by way of room service, speak to their kids on Face Time or Skype, immerse themselves in hockey and ride it out until the season ends.


They rarely get traded to the place they call home, the city where they grew up, but that's what happened to Legwand on exactly one month ago, when the Nashville Predators traded him to the Red Wings for forward Patrick Eaves, defenseman Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional 2014 draft pick.


Legwand, who was Nashville's first draft pick (No. 2 in 1998) and never played a game for a different organization until March 6, said the trade to his native Detroit has made a big difference in how quickly he has been able to assimilate into the Red Wings' way of life.


Instead of moving into a hotel and being away from his wife and two children, Legwand and his family are together in their own house in Harrison Township, Mich., a 30-minute drive from Joe Louis Arena. He grew up in Grosse Pointe, which is approximately 15 minutes from the Red Wings' home arena.


"I think it's huge," Legwand told NHL.com in a phone interview Thursday. "Not living in a hotel, having home cooked meals, having the things that you're used to around you, it helps. Things just seem more normal. When you're in a hotel and you don't know what to do when you get back, all that is different. It's been good so far. We'll see if we can get in [to the Stanley Cup Playoffs] and go on a long run."


Detroit moved closer to clinching its 23rd consecutive playoff berth this week with wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. It is holding firm in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 88 points and five games remaining.


The Red Wings are 9-5-2 since acquiring Legwand, who has 10 points in those 16 games. They needed him badly at the time because their center depth was depleted down to the bone with injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Joakim Andersson and Stephen Weiss. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put him on a line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist, and it has worked.


Nyquist has carried the Red Wings' offense with 12 goals in the past 11 games, but Babcock said Legwand has been a steadying influence on the ice and a calming influence on the bench. He kept him with Nyquist and Franzen on Friday, when Datsyuk returned to the lineup, breaking them up only late in the third period of Detroit's 3-2 win against the Sabres.


"At the time we got him with so few centers available to us, without him, well we would have been out [of the playoff race]," Babcock said.


"We haven't spent a whole lot of time worrying about him; we just play him. He's a good pro. He's comfortable. He doesn't shrivel up. We enjoy having him."


Legwand feels like a lottery winner, and not just because he got to go home. He went from a team in Nashville that needs a miracle to make the playoffs in the Western Conference to a team in Detroit that has shown it won't accept not being in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.


"It's tough when you're not in this spot, when you're not [on a team] that's going to make the playoffs," Legwand said. "When you're just playing to play it's tough to swallow. It's April. It's playoff hockey time around here [Detroit]."


But comfort level and excitement aside, Legwand's transition on the ice hasn't been so simple. The system he was playing under Barry Trotz in Nashville is night and day from the system he's in now in Detroit.


The Red Wings play with more speed and tempo, and utilize more of man-to-man principles in the defensive zone. Legwand has had to adjust on the fly in the middle of a tight playoff race at a time when his new team needed him to be excellent because of injuries.


"It was just new and different," Legwand said. "When you play in a new system some things come faster and harder. It was that type of stuff. Obviously playing the system that Barry plays it was different than the one they play here in Detroit. It is something I'm getting to understand now."


Legwand said Babcock's open-door policy has been helpful.


For example, when Babcock bumped him down to the third line late last week after he went pointless with a minus-6 rating in three straight losses to the Minnesota Wild, Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens, Legwand went to talk about his game with Babcock, who is known for being honest and up front with his players.


"He's been good with me and tells me if I miss something or don't do something right," Legwand said. "He wants you to learn. He wants to teach you. He understands we're in an important situation and we need everybody's best every night. There were a couple of games when I struggled a little bit with some things off the faceoffs and those types of things. It was coming fast for me and I struggled, but other guys were stepping up and doing things to help our team. That's when you have to be a good professional, learn and do the right things to help the guys out."


Babcock said he appreciates Legwand's approach. He liked that Legwand came into his office the morning after Detroit lost to Montreal, 5-4, when Legwand was a minus-3 and benched for the second half of the third period.


Legwand was back on the top line with Nyquist and Franzen midway through the game against Toronto, a 4-2 Red Wings' victory. Against the Lightning, Legwand had an assist on Nyquist's go-ahead goal in the first period and scored the game-winning goal on the power play late in the second. He added an assist on Nyquist's game-winning goal in the third period against Boston.


"All I know is that if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem, and it seems to me that he's part of the solution," Babcock said.


---



Senators at Rangers tonight (7 p.m.) … pre-game notes


Pre-game notes courtesy of the NYR:


NEW YORK RANGERS vs. OTTAWA SENATORS

Saturday, Apr. 5, 7:00 p.m. ET

Madison Square Garden – New York, NY

Rangers: 43-30-5 (91 pts)

Senators: 32-30-14 (78 pts)


TONIGHT’S GAME

The Rangers will face-off against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m. ET — TV: MSG Network; Radio: ESPN 98.7), as they begin a three-game homestand. The Blueshirts currently rank second in the Metropolitan Division standings, and fifth in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 43-30-5 (91 pts). The Rangers enter the contest having lost to the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, in a shootout on Thursday at Pepsi Center. The Blueshirts have posted a 8-2-1 record in their last 11 games, including a 7-1-1 record in their last nine games. The Senators have posted a 32-31-14 record (78 pts) to rank 13th in the Eastern Conference. Following the contest, the Rangers will return to action when they face-off against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, Apr. 8, at MSG (7:00 p.m. ET), as they continue a three-game homestand.


RANGERS vs. SENATORS:

All-Time: 35-37-3-4 overall (14-22-0-2 at home; 21-15-3-2 on the road)

2013-14: Tonight is the third and final meeting this season, and the first meeting at Madison Square Garden. New York is 2-0-0 overall (0-0-0 at home; 2-0-0 on the road), following an 8-4 win on Mar. 18 at Ottawa. Derek Stepan leads all skaters with four points (two goals, two assists) in the series. Rick Nash leads all skaters with three goals, while Derick Brassard (two goals, one assist) and Mats Zuccarello (one goal, two assists) each have three points. Cam Talbot is 1-0-0 with a 1.01 GAA.

Last Season: New York was 0-2-1 overall (0-1-0 at home; 0-1-1 on the road). The Rangers and Senators were separated by one goal in two of the three contests, including one game decided in the shootout. The Blueshirts had 11 different players record a point in the series. Henrik Lundqvist was 0-2-1 with a 2.29 GAA and a .933 Sv%.

• Martin St. Louis has a five-game point streak against the Senators, registering seven points (two goals, five assists) over the span.

• New York is 18-16-4 at home; Ottawa is 16-14-8 on the road

• The Rangers are 14-6-1 vs. Atlantic Division opponents; the Senators are 9-9-2 vs. Metropolitan Division opponents

• New York lists no former Senators players on their roster

• Ottawa lists no former Rangers on their roster


INDIVIDUAL CAREER LEADERS vs. SENATORS:

• Henrik Lundqvist – 30 GP, 12-14-3, 2.14 GAA, 1 SO

• Martin St. Louis – 51 GP, 15-29—44

• Brad Richards – 40 GP, 15-13—28

• Dominic Moore – 27 GP, 7-6 —13

• Raphael Diaz – 9 GP, 0-5—5


SPECIAL TEAMS:

• The Blueshirts penalty kill is 42-45 (93.3%) with seven shorthanded goals in the last 16 games

• Ranks eighth in the league in combined PP% + PK% (103.2%)

Power Play: The Rangers were 0-5 (8:29) on Thursday at Colorado. New York ranks 13th in the NHL overall (46-252, 18.2%), and 26th at home (18-123, 14.6%). The Rangers are 6-18 (8:36) in five-on-three situations (last – 3/21 at CBJ), and 0-6 (6:56) when four-on-three (last – 1/19 vs. WSH). Shorthanded goals allowed (6): 10/8 at SJS (Vlasic); 10/24 at PHI (Read); 11/19 vs. BOS (Paille); 12/20 vs. NYI (Clutterbuck, PS); 12/20 vs. NYI (Grabner); 3/2 vs. BOS (Campbell).

Penalty Killing: The Blueshirts were 4-4 (6:29) with on Thursday at Colorado. New York ranks fifth in the NHL overall (192-226, 85.0%), and eighth at home (86-102, 84.3%). The Rangers are 4-7 (6:27) in three-on-five situations (last – 3/7 at CAR), and 8-10 (8:06) when three-on-four (last – 3/24 vs. PHX). Shorthanded goals for (10): 10/7 at LAK (McDonagh); 12/27 at WSH (Hagelin); 1/19 vs. WSH (Callahan); 3/5 vs. TOR (McDonagh); 3/5 vs. TOR (D. Moore); 3/7 at CAR (McDonagh); 3/30 at EDM (Nash); 3/30 at EDM (Zuccarello); 4/1 at VAN (St. Louis).

Four-on-Four: New York did not yield/tally a goal in two four-on-four situations (6:31) on Thursday at Colorado. The Rangers are -1 in 83 four-on-four situations (127:22), and even in one three-on-three situation (1:03) this season. Four-on-four goals for (8): 10/16 at WSH (J. Moore); 10/26 at DET (Brassard); 12/12 vs. CBJ (Girardi); 12/18 vs. PIT (Hagelin); 1/31 vs. NYI (Brassard); 1/31 vs. NYI (McDonagh); 3/7 at CAR (Nash); 3/24 vs. PHX (McDonagh). Four-on-four goals allowed (9): 10/3 at PHX (Vrbata); 10/7 at LAK (Muzzin); 10/12 at STL (Backes); 12/8 vs. WSH (Grabovski, PS); 12/18 vs. PIT (Sutter); 12/27 at WSH (Fehr); 1/6 vs. CBJ (Atkinson); 3/5 vs. TOR (Bozak); 3/26 vs. PHI (Voracek).


CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

Henrik Lundqvist registered his 30th win of the season with a 30-save effort in a 3-1 win on Mar. 26 vs. Philadelphia. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first goaltender in NHL history to reach the 30-win milestone in eight of his first nine NHL seasons. Lundqvist established two franchise records in a five-day span, becoming the Rangers’ all-time wins leader with his 302nd career victory on Mar. 18 at Ottawa, and the team’s all-time shutouts leader with his 50th career shutout on Mar. 22 at New Jersey. He registered his 300th career win with a 30-save shutout in the Rangers 3-0 victory over Detroit on Mar. 9 at Madison Square Garden. He became the 29th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 300-win mark.


MAC TRUCK

Ryan McDonagh tallied six goals in March, which were the most by a Rangers defenseman in one calendar month since Jan. 1998 (6 – Brian Leetch). He tallied the game-winning goal in two straight games – on Mar. 24 vs. Phoenix and Mar. 26 vs. Philadelphia – and notched three game-winning goals in a five-game span from Mar. 18-26. Ryan McDonagh tallied six goals in March, which were the most by a Rangers defenseman in one calendar month since Jan. 1998 (6 – Brian Leetch). He tallied the game-winning goal in two straight games – on Mar. 24 vs. Phoenix and Mar. 26 vs. Philadelphia – and notched three game-winning goals in a five-game span from Mar. 18-26. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McDonagh is the first Rangers defenseman to score the winning goal in consecutive games since Dec. 29-30, 2003 (Tom Poti).


WELCOME MATS

Mats Zuccarello tallied his 54th point of the season on Tuesday against Vancouver, the most by a Norwegian-born player in one season in NHL history. The record was previously held by Espen Knutsen, who had 53 points with Columbus during the 2000-01 season.


ROAD WARRIORS

The Rangers established a franchise record for road wins in one season with their 25th of the year on Apr. 1 at Vancouver. The Blueshirts have posted an 83-54-9 road record dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season, and are the only team to win at least 24 road games in three of the last four season. The Rangers lead the league in road wins, and have won six of last eight road games, tallying at least one point in seven of those contests (6-1-1). New York has posted two separate six-game road winning streaks this season for the first time in franchise history. The Rangers’ 51 road points this season rank second in franchise history (2011-12 – 53).


SPECIAL SCORING

The Rangers scored a power play goal and a shorthanded goal in the same game for the fifth time this season, and for the second consecutive contest on Tuesday against Vancouver. It is the second time this season that the Blueshirts have scored a SHG in consecutive games (Mar. 5-7). The last time the Rangers, in back-to-back games, tallied both a PPG and a SHG, was Dec. 8-10, 2011.


40-WINS

The Rangers won their 40th game of the season with a 4-3 OT win on Mar. 24 vs. Phoenix. New York has won 40 or more games in seven of the last nine seasons (seven of the last eight full seasons), the first time in franchise history the Rangers have registered seven 40-win seasons in a nine-season span. The Rangers are one of six teams that have reached the 40-win mark at least seven times since the 2005-06 season (PIT, SJS, DET, ANA, and NSH).


THE HOT LIST:

• Henrik Lundqvist – 6-1-1 in the last 8 games (1.98 GAA, .933 Sv%, 1 SO) and 9-3-1 in his last 13 (1.84 GAA, .938 Sv%, 2 SO)

• Derek Stepan – 19 points (6 G, 13 A) in the last 19 games

• Mats Zuccarello – 3-game point streak (2 G, 3 A); 20 points (4 G, 16 A) in his last 21 games

• Benoit Pouliot – 4-game point streak (1 G, 3 A); 6 points (1 G, 5 A) in the last 6 games

• Carl Hagelin – 8 points (4 G, 4 A) in the last 11 games

• Derick Brassard – 7 points (5 G, 2 A) in the last 9 games


MILESTONES APPROACHING:

• Derick Brassard – 1 game from 400th NHL career

• Dominic Moore – 1 game from 600th NHL career


INJURIES (114 Man-Games Lost):

• Chris Kreider (hand injury on 3/21) – 5

• Ryan McDonagh (upper-body injury on 4/1; day-to-day) – 1


RECENT TRANSACTIONS:

• Apr. 2 – Assigned J.T. Miller to Hartford (AHL)

• Mar. 31 – Agreed to terms with free agent forward Chris McCarthy


Photo by Getty Images.



Daily Primer April 5: Stars need to shine


The Dallas Stars still have the inside track to the second Western Conference wild-card position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they have two games in hand on the Phoenix Coyotes. The challenge for the Stars is to turn those extra games into points, something they need to do Saturday night when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.


Dallas dropped one point behind Phoenix when the Coyotes lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Edmonton Oilers at home Friday. A victory against the Lightning would give the Stars a one-point lead with an extra game to play.


The Lightning are hungry for points as well. They are battling the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division; the winner gets home ice when the teams meet in the First Round. The Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 7-4 Friday to move two points ahead of the Lightning; Montreal hosts the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday (7 p.m.; NHLN-US, CBC, RDS).


Here all the action on the next-to-last Saturday of the regular season:


Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins (1 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CSN-PH, NESN)


Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis (2 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-MW)


Washington Capitals at New York Islanders (5 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, MSG PLUS)


Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; CBC)


Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC, RDS, FS-D)


Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, CW-44)


Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; CBC, MSG)


New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; MSG PLUS 2; FS-CR)


Pittsburgh Penguins at Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; ROOT, FS-N)


Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; CBC, PRIME)


Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m.; SPSO, CSN-CA+)


The Stanley Cup Playoffs consist of 16 teams, eight in each conference, but it is now division-based and a wild-card system has been added.


The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.


Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.


The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.