New York Hockey: Toronto Maple Leafs

Now a Leaf, Clarkson shows Lou respect

September, 6, 2013
It was an emotional couple of days in the New York City area for former New Jersey Devil David Clarkson.

Clarkson returned to the Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday for a series of photo shoots and interviews, sessions that included Clarkson wearing his new Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on the Prudential Center ice, having signed a seven-year deal with the Leafs that will pay him an average of $5.25 million annually.

On Thursday, though, Clarkson wanted to pay his respects to a man who was a father figure to him since he was signed by New Jersey as a free agent in 2005 -- Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello.

So it was not without some trepidation that Clarkson visited Lamoriello in his office at the Prudential Center, the first face-to-face meeting between the two since Clarkson signed with the Leafs.

"It was tough. The amount of respect I have for Lou and how long I was there, I think he's kind of helped me develop into the person and player that I am," Clarkson told Friday.

"I was a bit nervous going up to his office, but I wanted to go up there and thank him in person. I only got a chance to speak to him on the phone when I decided to sign in Toronto.

"He knows what he's done for me, but just to really tell him what he’d done and thank him on behalf of my family. He was phenomenal to my wife over the years. He's someone that's got a very big heart and he's a very loyal person so he's really been there for me and my family at a lot of times. So I just wanted to thank him and it went well."

Clarkson, a Toronto native, was courted by a number of teams before deciding he would play for the hometown Leafs.

"My decision wasn't made to go to the Maple Leafs. When the season ended, I wasn't like, 'Oh I'm going to become a Maple Leaf,'" he explained.

"There were cities that I saw that really wowed me and that I thought were fantastic."

But when it was time for a decision, he struggled.

"I would think of times here [in New Jersey] and I would think of, 'OK, what about this place and that place that we really liked?'" he said.

But ultimately the lure of playing for the team that he cheered for as a young boy was overwhelming.

"To be honest, I'm somebody that tries to live my life without any regret, and when I'm done playing the game, I think, you know what, I'm not going to have that regret. I got a chance to play for my hometown team," Clarkson said.

"And now it's up to me what I do with it. I wanted to be a part of something that as a kid I wore that jersey and cheered for so I feel very lucky to get the chance to be a part of that."

Afternoon jam: Some crazy Game 7 facts

May, 13, 2013
Rangers at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
* 3rd time teams have met in Game 7 in last 5 seasons (also 2009 and 2012—Capitals won in 2009, Rangers won in 2012 … in each case, the home team won)
* Rangers: 5-5 all-time in Game 7 (wins vs Devils in 1992 and 1994, Canucks in 1994, Capitals and Senators in 2012)
* Capitals: 3-8 all-time in Game 7s (wins vs Flyers in 1988, Rangers in 2009, Bruins in 2012)
* Home team has won every game in series
* Last 5 games in series decided by 1 goal (2 games went to OT, Capitals won both)
* Capitals: won 10 of last 11 home playoff games vs Rangers
* Rangers: 2-26 on power play in series (0-4 in Game 5, 0-5 in Game 6)
* Alex Ovechkin: no points in last 4 games, his longest postseason scoreless streak

The Rangers and Capitals will be playing a 7-game series for the second consecutive year.

2012-13 Rangers-Capitals (Rangers won last season)
2001-02 Avalanche-Kings Avalanche won both
1999-00 Avalanche-Stars Stars won both
1964-65 Blackhawks-Red Wings Split
1954-55 Red Wings-Canadiens Red Wings won both
>>Source: Elias Sports Bureau

This will be the 10th and 11th times in NHL history that playoff opponents will play Game 6 and 7 on consecutive days. The Game 6 winner is 4-5 in Game 7. This will be the 6th and 7th times it's happened in the Expansion Era with the Game 6 winner going 2-3 in Game 7.

Series Winner
2013 Maple Leafs-Bruins Conf. QF ?
2013 Rangers-Capitals Conf. QF ?
2011 Canadiens-Bruins Conf. QF Bruins
2008 Capitals-Flyers Conf. QF Flyers
2003 Wild-Canucks Conf. SF Wild
2003 Wild-Avalanche Conf. QF Wild
2003 Maple Leafs-Flyers Conf. QF Flyers
>>Source: Elias Sports Bureau

A lot on the line tonight for Isles, Leafs

April, 18, 2013
TORONTO -- The New York Islanders open a five-game trip here Thursday night to close out their regular season with much still at stake.

Seventh in the East to begin the day, three points ahead of the danger zone and just one point behind the Ottawa Senators in sixth, the Isles could end up anywhere from fifth to ninth in the conference depending on how they fare on this trip.

Ending the season with five away from home would be a scary task for many teams, but it just so happens that the Isles have one of the best road records in the league at 12-5-2. This is not something they're fretting about.

"It's been great for us all year," star center John Tavares said after Thursday's morning skate. "We play with a lot of calmness and confidence on the road, just composed in a lot of situations. There's a lot of swings of momentum in a game, and we seem to handle those a lot better on the road more consistently this season. We need to rely on that and keep it going."

Besides, current form should give the Isles enough confidence. They're 9-1-2 in their past 12 games, a late-season run that has buoyed their long-suffering fan base.

"It's great," Tavares said. "We're not there yet but we're getting closer to the goal that we've been trying to accomplish for a while. I think we're proving what we're capable of, but we know we still haven't accomplished anything yet."

After Toronto, the Isles jet off to Winnipeg, Carolina and Philadelphia before wrapping it up next Friday night in Buffalo.

A win in regulation Thursday would lift the Isles to two points behind the fifth-place Toronto Maple Leafs, and the players in the visitors dressing room Thursday morning were very much aware of that juicy possibility.

"We're aware of the circumstances at this time of year," Tavares said. "The teams are real tight in the standings and there's a lot of battling for positioning for the playoffs. There's a lot up for grabs for both sides tonight."

The Leafs have a shot at home ice for the first round of the playoffs, thanks to the stumbling Montreal Canadiens. Toronto -- 7-2-1 in its past 10 games -- enters Thursday four points back of the Habs.

The Leafs wrap up the regular season against their rivals at home April 27. Fourth place is very much a possibility for Toronto, and the players know it.

"Definitely," Leafs goalie James Reimer said. "Anytime you can catch the team in front of you, whether it's from eighth to seventh or from second to first, that's what you're focused on. They [the Canadiens] have had a couple of unfortunate games; that's good for us and hopefully we can catch them. If we win tonight, maybe we close the gap. We hope to keep rolling."

Thing is, the Leafs -- who can clinch a playoff spot Thursday night depending on what also happens in Winnipeg -- have to start playing better than they have over the past week. They were downright lucky to beat New Jersey on Monday, Reimer stealing them those two points after the Leafs were outshot 32-13, and they got their just rewards a night later in Washington, when the red-hot Caps drubbed Toronto 5-1.

"We need to play a better brand of hockey than we did in the last six periods," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's as simple as that. Or we're not going anywhere. Our focus is getting our team back to where we're capable of playing, because the last six periods for us is not something we'd say we're proud of.

"We have a group of players that have performed fairly well for us [this season] in the situations they've been presented, and now the next one is the most important one: That's tonight against the Islanders."

The Leafs have been outshot in eight straight games, not a trend that would seem to indicate long-term success. Then again, they've been outshot in 32 games this season and sport a sparkling 19-8-5 record in those games.

"We chart where the shots are coming from," Carlyle said. "And that's the most important thing to us. Yeah, we would like to keep our shots [against] down below 30, as every team would. And we'd like to get over 30 [on the opponent]. There's areas where we can improve on, for sure."

Lineup notes: Islanders coach Jack Capuano said veteran blueliner Matt Carkner would be inserted into the lineup for Radek Martinek. … Casey Cizikas, who left the Islanders' last game with an upper-body injury, said he was ready to go for Thursday. Josh Bailey, who also appeared to be banged-up in the last game, also said he's good for Thursday. … Toronto forwards Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur will likely be back in the lineup after being healthy scratches Tuesday at Washington. … Carl Gunnarsson will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury. Carlyle said the defenseman might return Saturday in Ottawa.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Leafs

April, 10, 2013
At a glance: After falling to the Leafs 4-3 in Toronto in Monday, the Rangers get another crack at them as the two clubs wrap up a home-and-home set at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Leafs appear set to make their first playoff appearance since 2004 while the Rangers, six points back on the Leafs, are holding tight to the eighth spot.

Last time around: Phil Kessel tallied twice as the Leafs topped the Blueshirts in the Original Six matchup. Rick Nash also notched a pair of goals, but it wasn’t enough to complete a late-game comeback at Air Canada Centre.

Breakout season: Toronto’s Nazem Kadri has been one of the stars of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. After struggling to carve out a roster spot in years past, Kadri is now leading the Leafs with 17 goals and 23 assists in 39 games. The 22-year-old forward, a former first round pick (7th overall, 2009), has five points in the last four games.

Missing their man: The Leafs will again be without forward Joffrey Lupul, who remains day-to-day with a reported neck injury, did not travel with the team to New York, according to TSN Radio’s Jonas Siegel.

Miller sent back: Scratched the past four games, J.T. Miller was sent down to the AHL’s Connecticut Whale on Tuesday. Miller, who has been battling a left wrist injury, last played in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over Winnipeg April 1.

Setting the stage: With a 4-1 win over the Flyers on Tuesday night, the Islanders passed the idle Rangers in the standings as the two division rivals continue to jockey for playoff position. All this makes for an interesting match this weekend, when the surging Isles host the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.

On the mend: Injured defenseman Marc Staal skated for the third straight day Wednesday morning at the team’s practice facility in Westchester. The 26-year-old Staal has not played since being struck in the eye with a puck on March 5. Staal continues to work on improving his conditioning; he’s also now wearing a visor since sustaining the injury.