Saturday, March 29, 2014

Snider Foundation grows game in Philadelphia

Virlen Reyes is sitting at a two-top at a Starbucks on the quad of West Chester University, where she is a senior. She is in the middle of telling her life story when she pauses.

Her narrative has unraveled during the course of nearly an hour when Reyes, in a quiet, confident voice, has held forth on the circumstances of her remarkable evolution. It's a gripping tale, and Reyes is a capable storyteller. Now, though, caught in the part between her graduation from high school and her college years, her train of thought stalls as a flash of realization crosses her face.

"I'm just … I'm just noticing now how much effort it took not to give up," she said.

Reyes, 21, is tall, lithe and dressed athlete-casual in a West Chester Dri-FIT shirt, thermal black Nike tights, and running shoes. She has the look of a woman in control, which makes the subtle slip in her concentration surprising. Quickly, though, Reyes brushes her springy curls back from her face and resumes her measured, thoughtful tone, diving into how she adjusted to the college lifestyle and the pride she felt at being named captain of her women's' club ice hockey team for her senior season.

The conversation turns to one of Reyes' defining moments. Last winter, her West Chester Golden Rams lifted the Division 2 American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship, the first in team history.

In the tournament, the Golden Rams didn't make it easy, dropping into deep first-period holes in the semifinal and final. In each case, they rallied, taking the championship trophy after trailing by two goals against Penn State in the final game.

In the retelling, Reyes credits her captain, her teammates and her coaches for the comebacks. She neglects to acknowledge the manner in which those come-from-behind wins fit the pattern developing throughout the conversation.

Reyes, it seems, has been erasing deficits her entire life.

Personal Transformation

Reyes grew up in a single-parent household, the oldest of three siblings. Her mother, Glenda Rodriguez, whom Reyes counts among her heroes, was 16 when she gave birth to Reyes. Rodriguez worked multiple jobs to support her family while Reyes played surrogate to her younger brother and sister.

Virlen Reyes is an alumna of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.

Virlen Reyes is an alumna of the Ed Snider Youth

Hockey Foundation.
(Click to enlarge)

Courtesy: Jason Linzer

"Seeing her have to work numerous jobs to put food on our table and clothes on our backs really said something to me," Reyes said. "Seeing her have to deal with struggle after struggle after struggle, and overcoming each one at different times in her life, taught me something about life."

Reyes grew up in Kensington, a neighborhood in north Philadelphia known for little aside from drug use, poverty and crime. As a child, Reyes attended Julia de Burgos Elementary, a large school where nearly every student lives at or below the poverty line, according to Philadelphia figures. In a school district hamstrung by budget cuts, school closings and overcrowding, Julia de Burgos stands out as a severe case.

By the time Reyes hit seventh grade, she was very much a product of her surroundings.

"Mom would say to go to school and I would obey that, but I didn't know what going to school meant," Reyes said. "I didn't know that you had to go to school and make sure you were listening. I was going through the motions; I didn't have any aspirations in life."

The wake-up call, as it so often does for the athletically minded, came in gym class. The teacher challenged his students to try "something totally unknown." Reyes said, "Why not?"

Her experiences with ice hockey began. It was 2005, and Reyes would benefit from some good timing.

The 2004-05 NHL season had been lost to labor unrest and a lockout. Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, spent extensive time during the stoppage incubating an idea to improve the lives of those in his adopted hometown.

The result was the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, an ambitious plan to use his favorite sport to invest in the inner city and create opportunity for under-served Philadelphians.

He was banking that many inner-city youth would, like Reyes, be willing to take a little risk.

At first, Reyes dreaded tying her skates. When she traveled with her classmates to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, one of the foundation's original hubs, Reyes looked on with envy as the Mites laced their size-4s with ease.

"I remember falling a lot," Reyes said. "I couldn't get the concept of outside and inside edges."

Reyes eventually got her edges, and ambition followed soon after.

When she reached Thomas Alva Edison High School, another challenged city school, Reyes enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. Away from school, she became a leader in the fledgling Ed Snider program.

In a city that graduates 55 percent of its students, Reyes became the first in her family to attend college. She plans to enlist in the Navy after graduation from West Chester in May.

"[The idea of] learning how to learn, I didn't have that," Reyes said of her education prior to the Snider Foundation. "I knew [the ability to learn] was there, the teachers were there, but it had to come from the foundation to get that go-ahead, that realization and that moment of enlightenment. To listen, not just hear, but actually listen to what's going on."

The fact Reyes and subsequent Snider graduates have found an intellectual spark outside the classroom shouldn't come as a surprise. According to Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sport in Society, the Snider template makes perfect sense.

Sport in Society is a think tank housed at Northeastern University in Boston and dedicated to leveraging the power of sport to eliminate societal injustices, including bullying, racism and violence.

"What does a classroom look like in the 21st century?" Lebowitz said. "We have a lot of school systems that are broken for the same reason. They can't seem to get a team in, or in some way shape or form they're missing the element of the spark.

"At the end of the day, when I think of sport, I think of it as something that keeps your adaptive learning window open. You're in a space of safety in many respects."

A safe space is not an easy thing to draw up, and it's difficult to implement. How would an urban community, especially one where the majority of residents are African-American and Latino, respond to an outreach program centered on, of all sports, ice hockey?

Rise Of The Snider Foundation

"When Ed Snider first had the idea that he wanted to create a foundation to allow children, who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to play hockey, the chance to try our sport out …"

Scott Tharp, president of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, stopped mid-sentence, glancing across the table at some of his co-workers seated at a round table at the foundation headquarters, which are tucked into the executive offices adjoining Wells Fargo Center, the home of the Flyers.

Tharp has been down this road before, countless times, asked to explain how ice hockey could take root in inner-city Philadelphia.

So, joined at the table by Jim Britt, the vice president and COO, and development officer Kathy Hanrahan, Tharp did it again, explaining their process; specifically, how the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation responded to critics -- real and imagined -- who said ice hockey would be a non-starter.

According to Tharp, it was a matter of side-stepping an attitude of, "This is a great sport, and your kids should play it." To avoid that fate, the foundation reached out to community leaders, attended town-hall meetings and solicited local input. With this approach, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

After all, here was an athletic program where kids would be given structure and a safe, engaging environment, two factors at a premium in many Philadelphia neighborhoods.

"One reaction that caught me by surprise was, 'We'd love you to come because you're not basketball,'" Tharp said. "Right now, in our city, the public basketball courts are the places where bad things are happening."

The foundation caught what would prove the first of many fortuitous breaks.

In its early days, recruitment reflected the way Reyes got involved. Snider representatives would go into city schools, or to public basketball courts, and see if children wanted to try something completely new. Now, though school outreach is still a recruitment tool, the participants convince their friends, siblings and extended family.

"Every kid we get in, generally, they become the operatives and bring in two or three others," Tharp said. "Our recruiting has become very easy because we now rely on the kids and it's peer-to-peer."

The next break came in 2008, when Snider Hockey brokered an 11th-hour deal to occupy three dilapidated city rinks (the organization eventually would add two more) before they were foreclosed by the city. The resulting public-private partnership allows the foundation to offer its services in the neighborhoods of the city's most at-risk children.

Some of the rinks used by the Snider Foundation were not fully enclosed; often one or more sides were protected by little more than a chain-link fence. In the throes of winter, skaters would need heavy coats and hats to brave the elements. The before-and-after photos of the rinks are startling.

Reyes could not believe the transformation by of Scanlon Ice Rink, located close to her Kensington neighborhood, after the repairs were finished.

"I remember my coach giving me the address for Scanlon and looking at it and saying, 'There can't be a rink in North Philly. That's where I live!'" Reyes said. "But they rebuilt that thing to make it spectacular. I remember roofs falling down, water coming in because there weren't any windows, everything."

A total of $14.5 million was invested to rehabilitate the ramshackle properties, according to Tharp. The money came from a combination of city, state and Snider funds. Snider has committed $56 million more to operating its programs during the course of the 20-year agreement signed with the city.

Where there once were a handful of regular skaters, now hundreds fill the sign-up sheet.

Unique Youth Sports Program

Nine years after its founding, the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation is the gold standard for inner-city hockey programs. Initially centered on ice hockey, the program has expanded to include academic, life skill, mentorship and nutritional offerings.

The academic side has taken precedence. Aides, tutors, life-skill instructors and mentors outnumber hockey personnel by a 4-to-1 margin. The foundation requires students maintain good academic standing. Regular report-card reviews, attendance checks, and after-school tutoring come before the on-ice practices. In exchange, the program subsidizes equipment, ice time and travel costs.

"The one common thread we had in all the neighborhoods we went to was the epidemic dropout rate in the city," Tharp said. "The plan we have is not rocket science: Get the kids to go to school every day, get them to do their homework assignments in a timely fashion, and they're going to matriculate."

Part-time academic aide Nora Cothren, who works with Snider members after school every weekday at the Laura Sims Rink in West Philadelphia, said the organization's commitment to each student is what stands out about the program.

"One of the things I really like about Snider Hockey is that they won't kick kids out for having bad grades," Cothren said. "If kids are failing classes or getting D's, they'll be required to come in and do a certain amount of tutoring prior to skating in the games. It's more of a, 'Oh, we see you're struggling, here is our support,' rather than kicking them out. That's when kids need you the most, the ones who are struggling."

By all available metrics, the plan has worked.

Snider Hockey graduates 99 percent of its seniors, and 95 percent of the students demonstrate better-than-average attendance, according to figures compiled by the foundation. By attacking dropout rates and attendance deficiencies with the same vigor as it coaches man-advantage situations and forechecking strategies, Snider Hockey is providing an invaluable service, said education reformer Bob Wise, a former governor of West Virginia.

"What we've seen in our research is that a child needs two things to stay in school," Wise said "The first is an engagement with the schoolwork; the second is what I call resilience, or grit. A program like [Snider] provides both of those. It provides the encouragement, the mentoring to engage a student, and the second is it provides the development of certain values that contribute to that persistence."

With an exemplary matriculation rate, an enrollment of 3,000, an operating budget of $2.6 million, and nine rinks across the greater Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., area, Snider Hockey has become the banner organization under the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone umbrella.

Hockey is for Everyone includes 30 organizations across North America, with some in relative hockey deserts Raleigh, N.C., Oakland, Calif., and South Daytona, Fla. Many, like Ice Hockey in Harlem in New York City and Hasek's Heroes in Buffalo are taking pages from the Snider Hockey playbook.

Ice Hockey in Harlem recently introduced a College Readiness program, which, like Snider Hockey, takes students on college-tour field trips to encourage a widening of horizons. Hasek's Heroes, named for goalie Dominik Hasek, has teamed with the city of Buffalo to own and operate two rinks and is looking for more ice.

Not only is Snider Hockey the biggest and most influential inner-city hockey program, it's stacked with front-office talent.

Tharp, the president, has made a career out of developing youth sport nonprofits through fundraising and investment. Hanrahan, the development officer, is a former college hockey player at Delaware and recently got her master's in public administration with a focus in nonprofit management. Tarasai Karega, one of seven coordinators of hockey operations, is a graduate of the Detroit Hockey Association (the Motor City's Snider Hockey equivalent) and was one of the first African-American women to win a NCAA title in ice hockey, with Amherst College.

All of these passionate operatives pale, however, to Britt, the vice president and COO of the Snider Foundation.

The Preacher

Over forearm-length cheesesteaks at Tony Luke's, a South Philly institution nestled beneath a highway overpass, Britt preaches the gospel of Ed Snider, a calling he has heeded for close to a decade.

Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Britt as a teenager attended games regularly during the Flyers' inaugural 1966-67 season and has been a diehard fan since. He played the game, coached youth hockey, and was the coach at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pa., for nine years.

Britt retired from his coaching post in 2003 and enrolled in the master's program for sport management at Neumann University in Aston, Pa. Shortly after, he joined the Flyers organization as Snider Hockey's first employee.

"The base of what we found was that there were so few opportunities that the kids weren't looking for a specific sport," Britt said, referring to the early community outreach. "They were just looking for an opportunity to do the right thing, an opportunity to make good choices."

He started as executive director and now holds the title of vice president and COO, but, in reality, Britt is more of the resident jack of all trades. He is simultaneously the operations guru, historian, mentor, student adviser and spiritual leader. There from the slipshod beginning, Britt has weathered the critics and crises to see the program become the leader it is today.

Britt talks, in unmistakable Philadelphia gruff, about the program with the passion of someone for whom love has endured. Watching him interact with children and coaches at the rink, tousling hair and inquiring about report cards and recent tournament results, it's clear that for Britt, Snider Hockey is less a second career and more an abiding passion.

"The misunderstanding is that it's a linear process," Britt said, referring to the program's brand of youth development. "You know, here's a checklist, you do the checklist and that's a guaranteed success. That's such a crock. As we all know as adults in life, it's a labor-intensive mentoring process. It never stops, whether children are 8 years old, 16 years old, 32 years old; it's a labor-intensive mentoring process."

Every day, in some of Philadelphia's most disadvantaged areas, part-time coaches, volunteer mentors and academic tutors are performing that labor-intensive work of shaping young lives.

Far-Reaching Impact

Across the Delaware River from shimmering Center City, Philadelphia's ode to financial recovery, sits Camden, N.J. The city has deteriorated from a once-proud industrial center to one of the country's most dangerous, depressive urban areas. Crime and poverty soar as graduation rates and city budgets plummet.

Turning off I-676 into the outskirts of Camden, the general takeaway is more despair than danger. On the back roads, the most attractive structure is a waste-management facility. Most shops are either boarded up or barely hanging on. The once-vibrant row houses, ubiquitous in Philadelphia's poorer areas, haven't seen a new coat of paint in years.

Camden's most pressing problem is its youth. Almost 30 percent of the city's residents are under 18, nearly twice the percentage of other severely disadvantaged areas. Fifty-three percent of Camden's students graduate high school, according to numbers released by the New Jersey Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year.

The Flyers Skate Zone at Pennsauken is located a short drive outside the Camden city limits. On the Friday of a tournament weekend, the rink bustled with activity. Mites and Squirts flew around the corridor connecting the entrance and the ice, sporting determined grins and too-large hockey bags, with parents and coaches struggling to keep pace.

A little after 5:30 p.m., the puck dropped on an Under-9 game between a Snider team and the visiting team. The visitors enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the first period. They eventually scored, and applause rang out from hockey parents who made the trip.

Still, it seemed like the team from Snider had the advantage. Thanks to some Ron Hextall-level goaltending and last-gasp play by the defenders, Snider kept the game closer than it should have been. The parents and caregivers on hand chatted, visibly concerned less with winning than the competition.

Up front, faces against the glass, stood a preteen gaggle of boys. This seemingly rag-tag, ethnically diverse group was an Ed Snider Peewee team, a couple years older and wiser than its counterpart on the ice. The Peewees would play later in the evening, but most of them came to the rink early and were watching the younger group slip and slide across the ice surface.

Parker Chisholm, 11, is in his third year with the program; he has excelled on the ice and off. Chisholm said teamwork was the first thing he learned with Snider.

Asked for his best memory in three years, Chisholm breathlessly recalled a particular competition.

"I played the game where it's the kids versus the coaches," he said. "It's all the kids versus every coach, all on the ice. If there's no goalies, you have to hit post; if there's goalies, it's just regular. It depends. Sometimes the coaches, sometimes they cheat because they think we don't hit the post, but we did."

After some prodding from Britt, Chisholm finally told the story the grown-ups wanted to hear: Last March, Chisholm was one of five Snider Hockey representatives invited to the White House. He took part in a Let's Move Q&A and got to hang with the Los Angeles Kings, who were on hand to meet President Barack Obama as a reward for winning the Stanley Cup the previous June.

Chisholm smiled bashfully and would say only "it was a long way in" to the inner sanctum of the White House.

Chisholm, as a result of his excellent grades, will enroll next year as a sixth-grader at Germantown Academy, one of the best prep schools in the Philadelphia area.

Grace Parker, Chisholm's proud mother, is among Ed Snider's biggest fans.

"Mr. Snider doesn't know me, but I'm like his main marketing person," Parker said. "Because as many people as I can tell about the Snider Foundation, I do. And I do that because one, it gets the children off the street. It takes them out of the environment where they may be at harm. Secondly, if you are a child who is struggling in school, the program addresses that with the tutorial piece that they have.

"I just think Snider Hockey is one of the crown jewels of this city."

Back across the Delaware River, past Center City, the Drexel University medical campus and the University of Pennsylvania, lies another of Philadelphia's problem areas. About 30 blocks west of the gleaming Penn bookstore, the hardscrabble streets of West Philadelphia grow far less inviting. There seem to be no bookstores or coffee shops this far west, only gas stations where the provisions and cashier sit behind a partition of protective glass.

Abutting Cobbs Creek Park, a twisting 700-acre nature preserve on this western edge of Philadelphia, is Laura Sims Skate House, one of the five city rinks leased and operated by Snider Hockey. For Michael Chism, the skate house, and Snider Hockey, was something more like salvation.

Chism, 21, is a Snider Hockey alum and a junior at Albright College in Reading, Pa. He was back in Philadelphia on Friday night to give a talk to the younger kids about nutrition. (The program escalated its nutritional curriculum in 2013 as part of a partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.) With a laugh, Chism admitted he still has a sweet tooth, but between his approaching speech, offseason football practice at Albright and class, that's the least of his worries.

Chism grew up blocks from Laura Sims Skate House. He knows from experience the pull of the streets and what can happen if there's no attempt to get out.

"You can get stuck in those neighborhoods forever," Chism said. "That's why I stress to kids in my high school and my nieces and nephews that if you don't do anything, you're going to get stuck here. It's no good."

Chism added hockey to his activities when he was 14 at the prodding of a friend.

"At first I thought, 'Ice hockey?'" Chism said. "Because I'm a football player, but I was like, 'Ice hockey, yeah, OK; I'll try it.' The first time I tried it, I kept falling."

Chism quickly fell for the sport, spending hours every week on his street with a stick and a net, working on his wrist shot.

"I didn't really care what people thought about what I was doing," Chism said. "It was something I liked that could keep me busy. As a youth, it kept me focused. I knew I had to get my schoolwork done to play hockey. Having a sport is good for inner-city kids, because if you don't keep busy you'll get lost out here in the streets."

The End Result

Reyes already possesses a lifetime's worth of defining moments, which begs the question: Which one means the most?

It turns out her proudest moment wasn't winning the national championship with West Chester. It wasn't playing in tournaments across Philadelphia and beyond with her Snider Hockey teams, nor was it the first time she lugged her and her brother's hockey bag, at the same time, onto the bus for Snider practice. Those moments enriched her life, but none quite rise to the level of top billing.

Ed Snider coaches and players pause practice to pose for a photo at Laura Sims Skate House. (Photo: Jason Linzer)

"The day I signed up for the foundation has to be close," Reyes said, "because everything after that has been amazing. Signing that consent form, that was my moment. It changed the way I think about education, the way I think about friendship, trust, about being a leader, just, everything. It's everything that I am."

Reyes is happiest now when she's back on the ice in Kensington, at Scanlon Ice Rink. Competing is meditative for her, but coaching at Snider Hockey is just plain fun.

"They're ecstatic, they're determined, they're funny," Reyes said of her players. "They come from an area that's known for poverty and hardships, but when we hit the ice, we're joking with each other and making fun of one another."

Reyes is often blown away by the determination and responsibility of the teenagers, insisting they are far ahead of where she was at that age. The youngest ones, though, still provide the most entertainment.

"They say their equipment is their superhero costume," Reyes said. "It gets me happy to see they're starting to see themselves as superheroes. They're able to do these unimaginable things. They're developing these skillsets that will take them far in life. They see themselves as something beyond what they are."

Superheroes may still be the realm of Marvel Comics and Hollywood blockbusters, but regular heroes might be the business of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. Most days, you can find a bunch of them in the greater Philadelphia area. They'll be the ones handing out sticks, skates and an opportunity for success.

Blackhawks complete first step on road to repeat

The Chicago Blackhawks have passed the first checkpoint on what they hope will be the road to back-to-back Stanley Cups, though the journey this season may be a bit more difficult.

The defending champs were assured of a sixth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Phoenix Coyotes lost 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. It came after the Blackhawks dropped back-to-back road games against the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.

The road to a second championship won't be as smooth. Last season's team had the home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs; this one may not have it in any series. The Blackhawks are not likely to catch the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title, and they're in a battle with the Colorado Avalanche, their all-but-certain first-round opponent, to see who finishes second and gets the home-ice edge.

Regardless of where they finish, the Blackhawks will be a serious contender to win the Cup for the third time in five seasons. Here are five reasons why:

1. They dominate the puck

Though they'll finish the regular season without star forward Patrick Kane and have been without Marian Hossa for stretches, the Blackhawks have scored more non-shootout goals than anyone in the NHL (242).

Chicago can score in a variety of ways. The Blackhawks have the speed and talent to score on the rush, as well as the size, skill and grit to grind down opponents in their own zone. They have big guns like Kane, Hossa, Patrick Sharp and captain Jonathan Toews up front, but their grinders and role players also contribute offensively. Second-year forward Brandon Saad and pesky Andrew Shaw are close to joining the four big names as 20-goal scorers, and players such as Stanley Cup hero Bryan Bickell and fourth-liner Ben Smith also contribute offensively.

Add in one of the NHL's best puck-moving defense groups and the Blackhawks present a puck-possession attack that's hard to stop when it gets rolling. They are outshooting opponents by an average of 6.1 shots per game and are in the top five in most shots on goal (33.4) and fewest shots allowed (27.1). You can't score without the puck, and the Blackhawks have the puck a lot more than their opponents.

2. Duncan Keith is playing at a Norris Trophy level again

Keith won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 2010, when the Blackhawks ended a 49-year Cup drought by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final. He's been good, sometimes very good, since then, but he's back to playing like a Norris candidate again this season. Keith is second among defensemen with 57 points, but unlike leading scorer Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, who's minus-17, Keith is plus-20, meaning that not only is he generating offense, but that he's doing it without sacrificing performance in his own zone.

Keith and longtime partner Brent Seabrook (40 points, plus-28) are among the top pairs in the NHL. They anchor a defense that also includes the shutdown duo of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson and a solid third duo of speedy Nick Leddy and veteran Michal Rozsival.

3. Corey Crawford is Mr. Consistency in goal

It's easy to overlook Crawford, who went 16-7 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage during the run to the Cup last spring. He's not one of those names that come trippingly off the tongue when the discussion turns to elite goaltending. But he has the confidence of his teammates and his coach, and he's quietly putting up a fine season.

Crawford enters Sunday with a 29-14-10 record, a goals-against average of 2.22 and a save percentage of .918. The GAA and save percentage would be career-bests in an 82-game season. He's reached the point in his career where he doesn't lose his composure after allowing a bad goal. He does what needs to be done for a team of this caliber: He stops the shots that have to be stopped (and a lot of others). He gives his team a chance to win every night and can steal a game when he has to.

Corey Crawford

Goalie - CHI

RECORD: 29-14-10

GAA: 2.22 | SVP: 0.918

With a Stanley Cup already on his resume, Crawford doesn't figure to be bothered by playoff pressure. He's the ideal goaltender for this team.

4. Q keeps on generating W's

Like his goaltender, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn't immediately come to mind when the elite at his position are discussed. But he's 6-for-6 in leading the Blackhawks to the playoffs, and he's the only coach in franchise history to win multiple Stanley Cups.

Quenneville is the ideal coach for a group with this kind of talent. He's got the pulse of the team, knowing when he has to crack the whip and when to pull back. He gets the most out of his talent and does an excellent job of rolling four lines and three defense pairings to get maximum production without burning out his stars.

Quenneville entered the 700-win club earlier this month, joining Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour as the only coaches to reach that milestone. That's pretty exclusive company.

5. They know how to win

Many of the core players on this season's Blackhawks already own two Stanley Cup rings; most of the rest were part of last season's team. This is not a group that's going to get flustered in pressure situations.

Chicago didn't panic last spring when the Detroit Red Wings won three of the first four games in their conference semifinal series; the Blackhawks merely went out and won the next three. They dethroned the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and won the last three games against the Boston Bruins after falling behind 2-1 after three games in the Final, capping their sensational spring by scoring two late goals to win Game 6 and take home the Cup.

Changes in free agency and restrictions on player movement may eliminate the kind of dynasties enjoyed by the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers in the 1970s and '80s. But three Cups in five years would make the Blackhawks the NHL's best team of the salary-cap era. If there's any team that can turn it on in the playoffs, this is the one.


Avs clinch first playoff berth since 2010 by beating Sharks

The Colorado Avalanche clinched their first playoff berth since 2010 on Saturday, and did so by winning in a way that seems very familiar: by riding Semyon Varlamov‘s great goaltending.

In the process, they delighted many fans while also emboldening critics who believe that they’re running off of luck. Varlamov stopped 47 out of 49 shots as Colorado squeezed by the San Jose Sharks by a score of 3-2 today.

Varlamov’s counterpart Alex Stalock only faced 22 shots, but allowed those three goals.

The Avalanche are already talking about ticket sales and are rolling out a “Why Not Us?” campaign:

With this loss, the Sharks have now dropped four of their last five games, making it seem that much more likely that they’ll finish second in the Pacific Division this season. As of this writing, they have one more point than Anaheim (103 to 102), yet the Ducks have three games in hand and tiebreaker advantages.

In other words, the Avalanche seem primed for a first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks (with home-ice advantage still on the line) while the Sharks are likely to be the second-ranked Pacific team against a robust third-ranked squad in the Los Angeles Kings.

Colorado currently has a one-point lead over Chicago, but the Blackhawks hold a game in hand. It should be interesting to watch, but the Avalanche know they’ll make their second playoff run in six seasons after today’s win.

Oates frustrated, ‘shocked’ over Capitals’ ‘lousy’ start

The Washington Capitals had an important game against a great club this afternoon. Rather than be motivated by that, the Capitals seemed to limp out of the gate en route to a 4-2 loss against the Boston Bruins.

“I’m shocked at the start,” Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters after the game, per the Monumental Network.

Oates also described the team’s attention to detail as “lousy” in the first half of the contests. He added that it was “very frustrating” to see this late into the season, given everything that’s at stake. It got to the point where he considered calling a timeout to “lay into them,” but he ultimately held onto it.

Washington is in a four-way tie with Detroit, Toronto, and Columbus for the Eastern Conference Wild Card spots. However, the Capitals are in last when it comes to regulation plus overtime wins (the tiebreaker used at the end of the season) and have now played in one more game than the Red Wings and Blue Jackets.

Toronto and Detroit will play against each other tonight, so at least one of them will end up with more points than Washington.

To further complicate things, the Capitals have to play five of their final eight games on the road. They also have to get right back out there against the Nashville Predators tomorrow.

Downie feeling better, close to returning

When Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie collided into St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund on March 22, the concern was that he might be out for a while given his concussion history. However, it looks like that worst case scenario won’t be realized.

Just a week after going down, Downie joined the Flyers’ practice this morning.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” Downie told CSN Philly. “I’m almost ready. Nothing’s really bothering me, there’s just a couple more steps I need to take.”

It’s worth noting that the Flyers have never confirmed that Downie has a concussion, although they have been handling the situation as if he sustained one. Officially he’s out with an upper-body injury.

Despite Downie’s optimism, Flyers coach Craig Berube said he’s still day-to-day.

Philadelphia will play against Boston at 12:30 p.m. ET tomorrow on NBCSN.

Avalanche ride fast start, young core back to playoffs

A season ago the Colorado Avalanche finished last in the Western Conference and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. Coach Joe Sacco was fired.

Two franchise legends were tasked with rebuilding the franchise. In May, Joe Sakic was named executive vice president of hockey operations. Two weeks later, Patrick Roy was hired as coach. Each was a cornerstone of Colorado's Stanley Cup victories in 1996 and 2001, which made for a winning pedigree in the front office and behind the bench.

The Avalanche opened the Roy Era with a 6-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks and raced out of the gate like a thoroughbred. Considering how they finished last season, many braced for the Avalanche to fall back to the pack. Instead, they're headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It's been a long road back for the Avalanche, but the wait has been worth it. Colorado's 47 wins are the most since 2000-01 (52) and its 100 points are the most since the Avalanche hit that number in 2003-04.

Here are five reasons the Avalanche will be in the first postseason for the first time in four years:

1. Fast start

Colorado's 6-0-0 start tied Roy with Mario Tremblay for the NHL record for victories at the start of a coaching career. A 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 2 gave the Avalanche their second six-game winning streak, improved their record to 12-1-0 and matched the 1994-95 Quebec Nordiques for the best start in franchise history.

Despite hitting the occasional speed bump, the Avalanche proved they're for real. At 47-21-6, they have a legitimate chance of passing the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division, which would give them home-ice advantage in a first-round matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

2. Big Mac

Nathan MacKinnon made his NHL debut Oct. 2 as the youngest player in franchise history (18 years, 31 days). He had two assists to make him the youngest player in League history to have two or more points in a game since Ted Kennedy of the Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 8, 1944.

There's been no slowing MacKinnon, whose 23 goals, 33 assists and 56 points lead all NHL rookies. His 13-game point streak from Jan. 25 to March 6 broke Wayne Gretzky's record of 12 for the longest by an 18-year-old in League history; it was the second-longest by a first-year player since 1993-94, topped only by Paul Stastny's 20 in 2006-07.

Instead of hitting the rookie wall, MacKinnon's game continues to peak entering the most important time of the season.

3. Maturation of young players

MacKinnon (No. 1, 2013), Matt Duchene (No. 3, 2009) and Gabriel Landeskog (No. 2, 2011) are living up to their draft expectations to form a rapidly maturing young core in Colorado. Duchene's 70 points are a career high and the most by an Avalanche player since Stastny had 79 in 2009-10. Landeskog, the youngest captain in NHL history (19 years, 286 days at the time he was named), has established career-bests in goals (24), assists (37) and points (61) while leading the team in plus/minus (plus-21).

Ryan O'Reilly (career-high 26 goals), Landeskog, MacKinnon, Duchene (23 goals) and Stastny (21 goals) give the Avalanche five 20-goal scorers, the most in the NHL. Each also has at least 50 points, which ties the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins for the League high.

4. Settled in goal

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov signed a five-year contract extension through 2018-19 on Jan. 30 and has rewarded the Avalanche with career-highs of 37 wins (the most in the League), 58 games and 55 starts. The Avalanche allow 32.8 shots per game, more than all but five other teams. Varlamov is second in the League in shots faced (1,853) and first in saves (1,715). His 24 wins since Dec. 12 lead all goaltenders and his 24 since Dec. 31 are two better than the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist for the League high.

Varlamov also set a franchise record in wins in the month of January (10-1-1) and went 11-0-5 in 16 starts from Dec. 12 to Jan. 18 to equal the longest streak without a regulation loss in club history.

"We would not be where we are without him," Roy said.

5. Roy's remarkable season

What Roy has done in his first season is help spearhead the rapid turnaround in Colorado and establish himself as a bona fide Jack Adams Award candidate. He became the first coach in NHL history to win 14 of his first 16 games and one of two, along with Marc Crawford, to win 12 of his first 13 games.

Just as important as Roy's skill behind the bench is what Landeskog refers to as a "partnership" with his players.

"It's not coach vs. players," Landeskog told's Dan Rosen. "We're all in this together and he made that really clear from the beginning. I think other than that he's a very good teacher and knows how to get messages through to his players and knows how to interact with his players. He's certainly earned the trust and respect that any coach needs for his players to work hard for him."

Bruins' Iginla proving he's still a top-flight talent

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Free agency, mega-contracts and wealth disparity among owners have made the one-organization superstar almost as rare as the 150-point season.

When Nicklas Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings in 2012 after 20 seasons in one uniform, the ranks of the one-team legends was diminished further. In 2013 another icon of one city, Jarome Iginla, was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Iginla remains the Flames' all-time leader in games played, goals and points; he was in the midst of his 16th season with an organization that traded for him when he was 18 years old and anointed him captain at 26.

Some legends, like Brett Hull and Paul Coffey, get traded around the NHL their entire careers with varying levels of success at each stop. A few like Lidstrom make it all the way through to the end with one team. Others are shipped off late in their careers and the results historically have been mixed.

In Boston, fans witnessed the tragedy and triumph that can occur when a legend leaves. Slowed by years of punishment from hockey and surgeries to his knees, Bobby Orr hobbled his way through 26 games with the Chicago Blackhawks after leaving Boston because of a contract dispute. Ray Bourque failed to help the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in his first go-round with the team, but his second season finished with the Avalanche on top of the mountain.

It was with that background that Iginla, a few days past his 36th birthday, agreed to again change teams and sign with the Boston Bruins. Iginla's reputation as not just a goal-scorer but a fiery player with a physical streak and will to win that once caused him to fight Vincent Lecavalier in a Stanley Cup Final game also seemed a perfect fit for what's come to be known as "Bruins hockey." In the tradition of Derek Sanderson, Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely, Iginla could beat teams with his shot and his body.

As it's turned out, the pundits who predicted a marriage between Iginla and the Bruins would produce fireworks were right. Iginla has been every bit his old self, and the Bruins have been battling for Eastern Conference supremacy.

"I've definitely been very fortunate to get an opportunity here. Myself and my family have really enjoyed it," Iginla said. "The guys are a great group of guys. It's been fun winning this year and battling. The whole year we've been pretty much near the top of the conference, so that's been enjoyable too. I haven't been in that situation over my career where over the course of the year to be up there like that."

Through 74 games Iginla has a team-high 30 goals and 60 points. During a recent eight-game stretch, Iginla scored nine goals. Coach Claude Julien has classified Iginla as a player who has come in and performed "as advertised."

It's hard to believe there were questions about what Iginla still could provide a team with a Stanley Cup championship as its only goal when Iginla arrived in Boston. Prior to his stint with Pittsburgh, he hadn't skated in the playoffs since 2009. And the lasting image of Iginla in a Penguins sweater was a joyous one for Bruins fans. Iginla's last-second shot in Game 4 landed in Tuukka Rask's glove, a save that clinched the Eastern Conference title for the Bruins. The Penguins had been swept and Iginla had been held without a point.

For reasons still unexplained (Iginla had four goals and eight assists in 11 previous playoff games), that shot and series lingered in the minds of general managers all over the League. The demand was low for a likely Hall of Fame inductee with more than 500 goals and coming off a season that saw him score 14 in 44 games. He hadn't scored fewer than 32 goals in any of his prior 10 seasons, but with limited options in front of him Iginla had his representatives call Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to work something out.

Chiarelli admitted he was surprised by the gesture because prior to Iginla's trade to Pittsburgh, the Bruins had thought they swung a deal for the forward. However, Iginla used his no-trade clause to make Calgary deal him to the Penguins. The adage about sports being a business usually is used by team executives to explain a trade of a beloved player. In this case Iginla was proving there was nothing personal between him and a city that felt scorned and let Iginla know it every time he touched the puck during the two conference finals games at TD Garden.

Iginla started to turn the Boston faithful in his favor from the outset by agreeing to a one-year, incentive-laded contract that allowed the Bruins to fit him and others under the salary cap. The Bruins eventually would benefit not just from Iginla's financial sacrifices but also his desire to show up those that doubted him over the summer.

"I think I had a tough last series against Boston last year," he said. "And it wasn't my only deal I could get, but it was what I felt was the best opportunity to win and be able to fit in. … I felt fortunate to have that opportunity. So I didn't mind to have the one-year deal. But as far as people counting me out, yeah, it's pretty funny. It was a half-year and it wasn't actually that bad of a year; it was just a bad series for myself and the team we had. So then that's what people remember.

"Yeah, you're definitely trying to prove … I was trying to prove myself coming into the year. But any time you're, I don’t know what age it is, 33, 34, anything over that, you're always [doing that]. But honestly, even as a player, I think everybody, you always feel like you're always trying to prove yourself. You have a great year, you have to prove you can follow it up and you're not complacent. There's always something to prove yourself I think as an athlete, but yeah, you definitely feel that."

In his first game for Boston, Iginla showed the home crowd his ability to fit in with the "Big, Bad Bruins," when he dropped the gloves to fight Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas. Iginla has fought three other times this season. And after a slow start offensively, Iginla has produced a team-best total of goals, including those that came during a hot streak that was reminiscent of his prime years in Calgary.

Jarome Iginla

Right Wing - BOS

GOALS: 30 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 60

SOG: 196 | +/-: 34

"When you get hot you feel like the puck follows you a bit more," Iginla said. "You shoot and you find a few more holes. You get a few more great passes. So when it's going well you wonder to yourself, 'Wow man, it doesn't feel as hard.' But it's all part of it. And honestly … my approach has been to want as many of the hot streaks as you can and the other ones as short as possible. So yeah, for whatever reason it is [going well]."

The Bruins couldn't have found a better player to replace Nathan Horton on the line with center David Krejci and Milan Lucic than Iginla. That trio has played together from the first day of training camp and has played as a unit on the power play for all but one game, when Lucic was sick.

As Lucic and Krejci, each in their mid-20s, continue to mature into consistent, all-round players, Iginla has influenced that process. In 74 games Krejci has a team-high 62 points, and Lucic has 21 goals and 54 points in 73 games.

"I think the thing about him that you learn … playing with a guy like him that's scored as many goals as he has and been a competitor for as long as he has, is every practice, every chance, every shift, whether it's game or practice, when he gets in those areas he's trying to score, he's trying to make a play, he's going hard every time," Lucic said. "Those are the habits that he's created over his career that's helped him be the player that he's become. And I think those habits that he has has helped him become the player for us as well."

Iginla said he's hopeful his next contract will be for more than one year. He's enjoyed his time in Boston but knows anything can happen in free agency. The best way for him to impress the Bruins and the rest of the League will be to follow his regular season with an explosive playoff run that ends with him winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.

"I can't wait," he said. "I can't believe it's three weeks away. Yeah, I want to make up for [last season], but also just it is the most fun time to play. You've earned your spot to get there and we have a chance. So, yeah, I can't wait."

Iginla missed out on being a one-team superstar. Adding a Stanley Cup championship to his legacy will make the moving worthwhile.

Sabres will be ‘very, very cautious’ with injured Leino

Ville Leino was only on the ice for one shift on Thursday before being shut down with lightheaded symptoms. He’s still not feeling well and was sent to be evaluated by doctors today.

The question now is if he has a concussion.

“He never got hit though,” interim coach Ted Nolan pointed out, per the Buffalo News. “He just felt it before the game. He had one shift. He went out felt a little woozy. He felt a little dizzy and it wasn’t, don’t quote me 100 percent but I don’t think he got hit. He was just out one shift and came back.

“When you’re talking about the head, it’s not like the elbow or knee or something, but your head so we have to be very, very cautious.”

Leino has played in 52 games this season and hasn’t scored a single goal. He comes with a $4.5 million cap hit through 2016-17, but the Sabres haven’t used either of their compliance buyouts.

The wrinkle is that a player can’t be bought out if he’s injured and this is the last summer that teams can take advantage of the compliance buyouts given to them as part of the new CBA. Those buyouts are different from the ordinary variety because they completely remove a player’s cap hit from the team’s books.

Meanwhile, the Sabres will play against Tampa Bay tonight. Buffalo is on pace to finish the 2013-14 campaign with the worst record in the NHL.

Descent continues: Heatley will be a healthy scratch

When Dany Heatley signed his six-year, $45 million contract, he was one of the league’s top forwards. As he reaches the end of that deal, the 33-year-old is having trouble just staying in the lineup.

Heatley has seen his role with Minnesota marginalized this season to reflect his diminishing offensive production over the last four years. He’ll hit a new low tonight though as the Wild plan on making him a healthy scratch against the Phoenix Coyotes, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.

Heatley was one of six players to participate in all of Minnesota’s first 74 games. He also has 27 points and a team-worst minus-18 rating.

This is a big game for both teams as the Wild have just a one-point lead over Phoenix in the battle for the first Wild Card spot. Minnesota has lost two straight games and has won just three of its last 12 contests.

Bobrovsky (flu) might not start Saturday (Update: McElhinney’s in)

Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis McElhinney started against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in Columbus’ 2-1 loss and they might need him to play again on no rest.

That’s because Sergei Bobrovsky is being regarded as a game-time decision as he continues to recover from the flu, according to Columbus has returned goalie Mike McKenna to the minors, so unless they make another move, Bobrovsky will at very least serve as the team’s backup against Carolina tonight.

Along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals, the Blue Jackets have 80 points. Columbus currently controls the first Wild Card spot by virtue of leading in the tiebreaker (total wins minus shootout victories). However, Detroit and Toronto will face each other tonight, so one or both of them will surpass the Blue Jackets if they lose to Carolina.

The Hurricanes are seven points behind Columbus and there’s a good chance they would miss the playoffs even if they won all of their remaining nine games.


Blue Jackets might make playoffs, but work remains to attract fans

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

Could Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean really get fired less than 12 months after he won the Jack Adams Award?

Probably not, but it certainly seems like his standing with the team has been significantly diminished by Ottawa’s poor performance in the 2013-14 campaign.

GM Bryan Murray wants to wait until the season’s over before deciding what changes need to be made, but when asked specifically about MacLean’s future during an interview on TSN 1200, Murray offered lukewarm support at best.

“I don’t have any definite answer but Paul (MacLean) has got a contract going forward,” said Murray, per the Ottawa Sun. “He was coach of the year last year. I don’t know what happened this year necessarily as far as performance is concerned.”

After that, Murray did throw in that he thinks MacLean’s a good coach.

Anything could happen, but the Senators aren’t likely to start the 2014-15 campaign with a new bench boss. That being said, it seems reasonable to believe that if Ottawa struggles out of the gate next season, MacLean will be on the hot seat.


MacLean bothered he still has to tell Sens to play harder

Lecavalier has great game following demotion to fourth line

Vincent Lecavalier seemed upset when he found himself paired up with Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall on the fourth line during Philadelphia’s Friday morning skate, but the move worked in last night’s 4-2 victory over Toronto.

Flyers coach Craig Berube was very pleased with Lecavalier’s line and the 33-year-old forward, who also shifted from the wing to center, admitted that he felt more comfortable playing up the middle.

“I have to give credit to my teammates,” Lecavalier said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We were close (to scoring) a few times.”

As a line they didn’t find the back of the net, but Lecavalier scored on a one-timer during Philadelphia’s first power play of the game:

“I didn’t even see the shot,” teammate Wayne Simmonds remarked. “Normally I have time to get to the front of the net. I wasn’t even halfway there. It was in and out before I even got there, so it was an unbelievable shot.”

Like Berube, Simmonds was impressed with how well Lecavalier responded to his assignment as the team’s fourth-line center.

It remains to be seen if Lecavalier’s strong performance will lead to the lines getting shaken up again, but either way, if Berube’s goal was to spark him, then it looks like he succeeded.

Video: Scrivens makes diving save on one of 51 shots

When Ben Scrivens broke an NHL record with his 59-save shutout on Jan. 29, Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said that he happy for Scrivens, but hope his teammates never put him through that again.

They came close last night when Edmonton allowed the Anaheim Ducks to fire 51 shots on goal. Scrivens didn’t get a shutout this time, but he did more than his fair share in the Oilers’ 4-3 overtime victory.

Here’s a sample of his most recent performance:

Yesterday’s game was the third time Scrivens faced at least 50 shots in just 15 starts with Edmonton. He’s done his best under the circumstances though with a .924 save percentage since he was acquired from Los Angeles.

The Oilers can’t be happy with how this season has gone, but with Scrivens between the pipes, their goaltending situation looks better than it did when the campaign began.

The Blackhawks prank their rookie

Chicago Blackhawks squad seems to be in good mood recently, having visible results to secure play offs and do well. We saw Patrick Sharp looking into penalty box where newlyweds posed for their wedding photo and NHL ,cover star' Sharp photobombed their snap, but they took another chance to tease. There is banter in the locker room, usually applied on they rookies and people who get angry easily. Sharp poked fun often from the captain, they tried to prank a rookie.

Matt Carey was signed by the Blackhawks as free agent, just joined the team after one year at St. Lawrence University. Chicago Blackhawks felt against 5;3 and Carey got a penalty at face off violation, as many rookies in the first NHL game do, but his ,lonely skate' lifted the spirit of the crowd, who understood the joke.

As the Blackhawks were to come out for warmups before their tilt with the Ottawa Senators, the team let Carey go first. For example our professor of economics - finances at Yale University, who won Nobel Prize [no a goalie Price and I didn't finish] still writes his things on the board by old good chalk, but he was greeted by the students apparently for his love of attention and fame, with huge cheer of the crowd.It is sometimes a tease and banter, often also hidden way of the applause by the team. As you know, when you laugh with friends, in the relationship, it is always better than tearful valley of the stress. NHL play offs are behind the door and it will be more about violation and penalties, emotions and stress.

NHL Three Stars: Pens clinch; Sevens lucky for Stars, unlucky for Leafs

Brother describes pulling mudslide victim's body from car

By Jonathan Kaminsky DARRINGTON, Washington (Reuters) - Days after risking his own life and defying arrest by joining the search for Washington state mudslide victims in a vast, mucky debris field near Oso, Dayn Brunner retrieved the body of the No. 1 person he had been looking for - his sister. Brunner, 42, recounted the tragic coincidence in an interview with Reuters on Friday, two days after it unfolded on the enormous mound of mud and rubble left by last Saturday's disaster, which has claimed at least 26 lives and left 90 people still missing. Brunner said he was on the mud pile on Wednesday afternoon when other rescue workers found a blue object and called him over to the spot. It was the same color as the car his sister, Summer Raffo, 36, was known to have been driving through the area when the slide struck.

Rangers-Flames in review


1) When you score three in this league, you have to win. When you allow four, you deserve to lose.

2) I thought the Rangers were the better team throughout. But a few brain-freezes got them in trouble. Couple of bad turnovers. Couple of bad coverages. And too many guys not providing enough kept them from escaping. Plus they did get a little fancy after the three quick goals. Even a single point on this night would have been good, and they couldn’t muster enough to get that. Columbus lost in regulation, though, which is almost as good as a Rangers win at this stage.New York Rangers v Calgary Flames

3) The last thing you want to do in a game like this is gift-wrap a goal. Well, the NYR did just that, a bad offensive-zone penalty by Derek Dorsett, then some stick-checking and snow angels by Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Mats Zuccarello on the PK. That’s how they were playing vs. Carolina, Boston, at Philly, Minnesota … and losing games. McDonagh used the word “sloppy” post-game and he’s right.

4) I do believe that the NHL should outlaw these premature arena celebrations, lights and music and horns going off before a ref actually signals goal. I do think the Rangers might have stopped on that play because of all the lights flashing directly around the goal. How can the league allow that? Happens all the time, too. Not saying it’s an excuse, but it should never be allowed to happen.

5) On the 2-0 goal by Giordano … a weak play by Rick Nash along the wall in the offensive zone, very soft play by Dan Girardi gliding back.

ledge vert 6) The back-breaker, obviously, was the Cammalleri goal with 7.8 seconds left in the second of a 3-3 game. And, yeah, that one is all on Henrik Lundqvist.

7) Daily Nash-O-Meter: I thought he stunk in this game. Gave an effort, but stunk. Bad play on the second goal, soft perimeter game again. One 50-foot wrist shot through two periods. Had a good defensive play in the third. But also, on the power play, the Rangers won the draw, got set up, and Nash took a bad angle shot and missed the net by 50 yards. Right out.

8) And, because of plays like that, the PP stunk again. Has since Yankee Stadium.

9) The third line, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and J.T. Miller gave them absolutely zero in this game, too. None of them was nearly good enough. Miller was benched for the third period.

10) I often wonder why Brad Richards, even in his prime, didn’t score more goals. Got a great shot. Misses the net a lot, I guess. Doesn’t go to dirty areas much anymore. But, man, can he fire it. And he’s been much better lately, the last three games or so. Not nearly $6.7M good, but much better than he’d been.

11) Martin St. Louis, ex-Flame, now 0-13. He did kick one in. I thought Toronto got that one right, though you never know what the ruling might be coming out of that war room (and you just know that there’s going to be a major muck-up of a review in the playoffs, don’t you?). St. Louis knew it wouldn’t count. You could tell he knew. Then he couldn’t lift a virtual gimme over the goalie on his belly.

New York Rangers v Calgary Flames 12) What else can you say about the fourth line? Been good, and so effective, for so long, that you can’t remember when they weren’t. Glad I don’t have Brian Boyle’s feet today.

13) So, Alain Vigneault finally uses a timeout. Scott Arniel draws up a play. And Derek Stepan (whom I thought was pretty good) loses the draw cleanly. Right out. Ugh. That’s kind of the way it went.

14) A little bit earlier in the third, after a Calgary icing, the Rangers get a fresh line on the ice. Set up, obviously, a set play with Nash on the point, trying to get a pass to St. Louis down low. To me, it would seem that Nash—not a very good passer—should be in front and St. Louis—a better passer—should have been up high. Unless they’re so desperate to get St. Louis on the board that they draw up plays just for him. Anyway, they win the draw back to Nash, his pass gets deflected to the corner.

15) As you know, I’ve been wrong before once or twice. Got the hat trick in the Philly game review. First, I learned that the word “enormity” does not mean “enormousness.” Second, I said that the last time the Rangers played the Flyers in the playoffs marked the final playoff games in the careers of Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter, when in fact, Leetch played playoffs for Toronto. Third, for the hat, I said that Lundqvist didn’t set any club records that night, when in fact, every time he wins a game or throws a shutout for the rest of his career, he will be setting a club record. So thanks to everybody for throwing your hats onto the ice for me.


My Three Rangers Stars: New York Rangers v Calgary Flames

1. Brad Richards.

2. Brian Boyle.

3. Carl Hagelin.


Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:

1. Brad Richards.

2. Dominic Moore.

3. Raphael Diaz.


Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:

1. Derek Dorsett.

2. Brian Boyle.

3. Raphael Diaz.


Photos by Getty Images.

(Ledge Lane photo by Carp.)

Twitter: @rangersreport.

Daily Primer for NHL games of March 29

The Phoenix Coyotes have been trying to hold on to the second Western Conference wild-card position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They return home after a three-game road trip looking ahead, not behind.

The Coyotes went 2-0-1 on their trip, and a victory against the visiting Minnesota Wild on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) will move them into the first wild-card spot, ahead of the slumping Wild. Phoenix won games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils with backup goaltender Thomas Greiss, who's likely to get the call against Minnesota in place of starter Mike Smith, who's out with a lower-body injury.

Minnesota comes to Arizona after a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that started a four-game road trip. The Wild have lost four of five and its once-comfortable lead on the Coyotes is reduced to one point.

All four of the wild-card contenders in the Eastern Conference play Saturday, two against each other. After the Washington Capitals play their afternoon game against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center (12:30 p.m. ET), they're sure to be interested spectators when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs face off at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC). The Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1 losers at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, visit the Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET).

Each of the four teams enters Saturday with 80 points. The Blue Jackets hold the first spot because they have more non-shootout wins than the Red Wings and Capitals; Detroit is second, ahead of Washington, for the same reason. Toronto has played two more games than each of the other three.

Here's a look at all of the action Saturday:

Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals -- 12:30 p.m. ET (NESN, CSN-DC)

San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche -- 3 p.m. ET (CSN-CA, ALT)

Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs -- 7 p.m. ET (NHLN-US, CBC, FS-D)

New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders -- 7 p.m. ET (MSG, MSG PLUS)

Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres -- 7 p.m. ET (SUN, MSG-B)

Montreal Canadiens at Florida Panthers -- 7 p.m. ET (CBC, RDS, FS-F)

Columbus Blue Jackets at Carolina Hurricanes -- 7 p.m. ET (FS-O; FS-CR)

Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues -- 8 p.m. ET (TXA-21, FS-MW)

Minnesota Wild at Phoenix Coyotes -- 9 p.m. ET (FS-M, FS-W, FS-A)

Anaheim Ducks at Vancouver Canucks -- 10 p.m. ET (CBC, KDOC)

Winnipeg Jets at Los Angeles Kings -- 10 p.m. (CBC, FS-W)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stars forward Peverley wants to return to play

DALLAS -- Dallas Stars center Rich Peverley said Friday he would like to return to the NHL if the time is right, but he'll need time to decide on his future as he recovers from a successful heart procedure.

"I feel great. I've gone back into my sinus rhythm (normal heartbeat) and I think under instructions of the doctors, I've been able to start working out and monitoring my heart rate," Peverley said in his first press conference since having the procedure last week at the Cleveland Clinic. "Going on the ice leisurely I think is something that shouldn't be a problem."

Peverley was able to take the ice Thursday for the first time since his procedure, which was to correct atrial fibrillation, the technical name for an irregular heartbeat.

"I went on the ice yesterday, and ultimately my goal would be to come back if it's the right time," he said.

Peverley collapsed on the Stars bench during the first period of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 10 with what was termed a cardiac event. After being carried to a hallway behind the bench, he was attended to by a team of medical personnel, revived, and transported to a hospital.

The game was suspended then postponed. It will be made up April 9 in Dallas.

Peverley, who had seven goals and 30 points in 62 games this season, is expected to recover from the procedure in around three months. He had a procedure prior to the start of the season, which sidelined him for all of the preseason and the early part of the regular season.

Peverley initially planned to have the second procedure after the season, but the incident during the Columbus game advanced the timetable.

Dr. Robert J. Dimeff, the Stars' director of medical services, said Peverley's heart rate is being watched but he's being allowed to slowly increase his activity.

"He's still being monitored on a regular basis. We have a couple monitors he's using to follow his heart rate to make sure he's in sinus rhythm," Dimeff said. "He's on medication to keep the heart rate slow. He's on medication for blood thinning, which is required after the procedure. And at this point in time, we're really just ramping up his exercise activity slowly and monitoring him closely."

Dimeff said Peverley should be able to stop taking blood thinners in about a month and should be ready to return to full physical activity in about three months.

Peverley said he talked to former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer, who experienced a similar episode in December 2005 and ended up retiring.

"I spoke with Jiri on the phone. I also spoke with another person through [former Dallas teammate] Stephane Robidas who went through a similar incident and he was a hockey player played in Europe. Speaking with them actually makes me feel a lot better," Peverley said. "They say don't rush to any decisions. So after I keep hearing that, I'm not. I'm not going to rush on anything. I love to play hockey. I'm passionate about the sport and I want to be around it, so I want to come and I want to see the guys every day at the rink and maybe go on the ice. That's just what I love to do."

Peverley said he and his family have pondered the question of his future, adding that the incident and its aftermath have given him a greater appreciation for life.

"I think it's a question that I think initially I really wanted to know the answer to and it's going to be a process of coming back," he said. "The recovery process is going to take time, and as cliché as this sounds, I've really learned this the past week, that it is day-by-day.

"I think you appreciate life. I have a beautiful family and two kids and a wife. Initially, you do think about if you weren't here for them, and that's kind of tough. I'm lucky to be here, and not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for that."

He said having the interest in him for the past couple of weeks has made him a bit uncomfortable, especially with the Stars trying to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't want the spotlight. I've never been that type," Peverley said. "It's not something I'm searching for. I feel horrible for the team. I don't want this to be a sideshow. I know they're going for the playoffs. They're only a few points out. The focus should be on them and them trying to make the playoffs for the city.

"I'm hoping that this can be put to rest and everyone can move on after this. I'm doing well now. I'm under great care and I wish the team the best, and that's why I'm hoping to be there to support them the way they supported me."