New York Rangers: John Tavares

Gold for Nash, Tavares; silver for Lundqvist

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23

New York Rangers forward Rick Nash and injured New York Islanders captain John Tavares will come home from Sochi with Olympic gold following Team Canada's 3-0 win over Sweden Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Carl Hagelin will return to New York with a silver medal for their efforts. Lundqvist, who was stellar in leading an injury-ravaged Team Sweden to the championship game, was named to the all-tournament team.

After a scare from Latvia in the quarterfinal round, the game in which Tavares sustained a season-ending knee injury, Canada steamrolled it's competition with a decisive pair of wins to close out the 2014 Games.

Canada blanked the Americans 1-0 on Friday, dominating the U.S. team from start to finish with a brilliant defensive performance -- the U.S. team was pushed off the podium after suffering a 5-0 shutout loss to Finland in the Bronze medal game on Saturday. Canadian netminder Carey Price pitched another shutout Sunday for the second of back-to-back gold medals.

Nash was a member of the gold-medal-winning squad in Vancouver back in 2010, but this was the first Olympic experience for Tavares, whose tournament was unfortunately cut short.

That didn't stop the 23-year-old center from joining his teammates on the ice in celebration Sunday, however. Tavares appeared, one crutch in tow, to accept his medal.

• NHL spokesperson Frank Brown confirmed Newsday's report that the IIHF and IOC will reimburse the Islanders to some degree for the injury sustained to Tavares, per the terms of their insurance agreement with the NHL for Olympic participation.

Five things to watch in Sochi

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
Just because the NHL is taking a break does not mean we won’t have hockey! There will be plenty of action in the next few weeks with the game’s top players heading over to Sochi, Russia to compete for their respective teams in the 2014 Olympic Games. Here are some storylines to watch for the New York-local players once the puck drops overseas:

Ryan Callahan1. Ryan Callahan’s health: With the Olympic roster freeze now in effect, the 28-year-old captain’s future with the Rangers remains unresolved as he packs up for Sochi. Locked in a contract stalemate with the team, the pending unrestricted free agent was the subject of widespread trade speculation over the last week. Though it was assumed by some that the Rangers might try to deal the gritty winger before the Olympics, hedging against a potential injury, Callahan stayed put. GM Glen Sather has to hope for the best while the rugged forward competes for the U.S. in his second Olympic appearance. Whether Sather intends to trade Callahan or retain him for the playoff push, he needs his player healthy upon return.

John Tavares2. John Tavares’ rising star: So his Islanders are pretty much cooked in terms of their playoff hopes, but the 2013 Hart Trophy finalist will still have the international stage to showcase what an elite player he has become. One of the league’s most captivating offensive talents, Tavares will be surrounded by a team of superstars so deep down the middle (i.e. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews) that Tavares may move to the wing. That shouldn’t be a problem for Tavares, who has played wing in international competitions before. Wherever he plays, he’ll be a key player in helping Team Canada defend its gold medal.

3. Leading the Swedes: With the Swedish team suffering a number of costly losses up front (Henrik Sedin, Johan Franzen), Henrik Lundqvist will shoulder even more responsibility in backstopping his team towards medal contention. That’s a welcome challenge for Lundqvist, who led Team Sweden to a gold medal in 2006 as a 23-year-old. Good news for the Swedes is Lundqvist is playing some of his best hockey of the year heading into the tournament. After a poor start to the season, Lundqvist turned the corner near the holiday break and has been resolute in goal ever since. Most recently he is 4-0-0 with a 1.50 goals against average and .950 save percentage in his last four games. He has also held opponents to two goals or less in 10 of the last 11 games.

Lubomir Visnovsky4. To go or no: Though the Islanders have reportedly told veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky he cannot play for the Slovakian national team because of injury concerns, they cannot technically prohibit him from participating. Though Visnovsky missed over three months this season with a concussion, he has since returned and been medically cleared to play in NHL games for the Islanders. As such, he can defy the Islanders’ wishes and compete for his country if he wants. Maybe Visnovsky does not wish to participate in the Games after missing so much time this season with a severe head injury. Either way, the decision is ultimately up to him.

Jaromir Jagr5. Still got it: Though New Jersey’s goal-starved 2013-14 campaign has largely been a source of frustration for Devils fans everywhere, it’s been hard not to delight in the pure wizardry of 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, whose offense has not gone dormant. The gray-bearded veteran leads the Devils in scoring with 17 goals and 48 points in 57 games for New Jersey this season. Expect him to be a force to be reckoned with on the Czech team, joined by New Jersey teammates Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky and fellow 40-something marvel Petr Nedved.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 2, Islanders 1

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers won Sunday's Stadium Series game with their offense.

Their defense did the job in securing Wednesday's win over the New York Islanders.

The Rangers squeaked out a 2-1 win over the Islanders in the second Stadium Series game on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Like Sunday, the Rangers fell behind but scored the final goals to close the game. Daniel Carcillo provided the game-winner in the third in front of a crowd of 50,027.

Unlikely hero: With all the star players in this game, it was an unlikely name that provided the difference-maker. With the Rangers on a four-on-two rush, Carcillo cashed in a rebound to give the Rangers the lead for good 4:36 into the third period. Carcillo, whom the Rangers acquired for his toughness, not his goal scoring, tallied just his third goal of the season.

Where's Tavares? After torching the Rangers for three points in the teams' previous meeting on Jan. 21, Islanders center John Tavares was held pointless in this game. Tavares, who entered the team second in the NHL in points, has been held without a point in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 20-21. The Islanders need him to perform to win games.

Colder: The game-time temperature was 22 degrees, a drop from the 24.9 degrees at game time for Sunday's Stadium Series clash between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

Undefeated: The Rangers are now 3-0-0 in outdoors games. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic, and bested the Devils and Islanders in the Stadium Series. The Rangers, who were the road team in both games, improved the road teams' record in outdoor games to 9-1-1.

No momentum: The Islanders scored the first goal of the game when Brock Nelson beat Henrik Lundqvist with just 1:27 left in the second period, but the Islanders squandered that lead in 40 seconds. In a scrum near the goal, Derick Brassard's pass bounced off Benoit Pouliot's chest, and he hammered it home to tie the game with 47 seconds remaining in the period.

Streaking wrong way: Since beating the Rangers on Jan. 21, the Islanders have lost four straight. With just 50 points, the Islanders can't afford losing streaks like these if they want to make up ground in the playoffs race.

Up next: These teams will meet again Friday at Madison Square for the fifth and final time this season. They've split the meetings thus far.

Surging Isles snap Rangers' win streak

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
NEW YORK -- Polar vortex be damned, the Islanders are heating up.

With their 10th win in the past 13 games, the plucky Islanders rallied from a 2-0 deficit to knock off the New York Rangers 5-3 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, snapping the Rangers' three-game winning streak in the first of three meetings between the two clubs over the next 12 days.

[+] EnlargeThomas Vanek
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal with 4:38 left in the third period.
With the come-from-behind victory, the Islanders have now won nine of their past 11 road games.

The team's top line of Thomas Vanek, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo had what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault described as "quite an evening," combining for seven points among them.

Tavares and Vanek connected late in the third for what stood up as the game winner, executing a beautiful power-play goal to take a 4-3 lead at 4:38 after the Rangers were whistled for a too-many-men bench minor.

Tavares finished the night with a team-leading three assists.

"The whole game didn't feel totally right," said alternate captain Brad Richards.

Indeed, even when the Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first compliments of Rick Nash's second straight multigoal game (and third in the course of a nine-game span), it never really felt like they had control of the game. The Islanders looked and played desperate, buzzing from the beginning, controlling the puck, and generating chances on Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot, who started in place of Henrik Lundqvist (flu).

When the Islanders cut the lead in half on Matt Martin's goal with 2:38 remaining in the first period, there was the sense that the game was going to take a turn.

"They were hungry," Nash said. "They played a good road game."

In contrast, the Rangers did not show that same level of intensity. Instead, they seemed to surrender some of the confidence and moxie they have shown of late.

"I think we were a little flat, especially at the start of the first period," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We couldn't find our jump."

Though the Rangers had built a 3-1 lead following Chris Kreider's power-play marker in the second period -- the speedy winger finished the night with three points -- the Islanders just kept battling.

The Rangers struggled in their own end through stretches, allowing the Isles to capitalize and tie the game in the second period. A pretty passing sequence led to Thomas Hickey's third goal of the season at 13:22 of the second period and Colin McDonald buried a rebound to knot the score at 3 with 3:24 remaining in the middle frame.

"They were coming at us hard," said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. "You have to give them credit, they were coming."

Though the Islanders remain in last place in the Metropolitan Division, they sit only five points back of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. That enough is fuel for the Islanders, who made their first playoff appearance in six years last spring, to keep fighting for a postseason berth.

Is the belief still alive in the room?

"Absolutely," McDonald told Tuesday morning before the game. "Especially because of last year, making that push."

Meanwhile, the Rangers came down to earth after a fine week in which they downed the Red Wings, Senators and Capitals.

They let up on the gas Tuesday night and they were saddled with a loss as a result.

"We wanted to keep that streak going," Stralman said. "We didn't put forth a good enough effort to continue it."

W2W4: Rangers vs. Isles

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
At a glance: Old, bitter rivals face off at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night when the New York Rangers host the New York Islanders in the clubs' first of three meetings in an 11-day span.

The divisional clash features two teams on the upswing. The 27-21-3 Rangers have won three straight to climb into second place in the Metropolitan Division standings. And though the Islanders remain mired in last place in the division, they have won seven of their last 10 games and sit just five points out of a playoff position.

Big news: In a surprising development Tuesday morning, it was revealed that Henrik Lundqvist will miss the game with an illness. Backup netminder Cam Talbot, who has been terrific in relief for the Rangers this season, will start in goal for the Blueshirts. 30-year-old journeyman nemtinder David LeNeveu will back up Talbot Tuesday night, his first NHL appearance since the 2010-11 season when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. LeNeveu was released from his minor-league contract with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack Tuesday, then subsequently signed to a two-way NHL deal.

Still fighting: The Islanders have not given up hope on climbing back into the playoff picture, and given the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference, an ascent in the standings is not implausible. The team recently recorded four wins on a six-game road trip and has a lengthy stay at home from now until the Olympic break, a span in which it will play eight of nine games in the New York area. The Islanders have also been getting clutch contributions from their top performers in John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Both players rank in the top 15 in the league in scoring, with Tavares second (59 points) and Okposo tied for 11th (49 points). Both players notched power-play goals and tallied in the shootout in Monday's 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Special-teams matchup: Keep an eye on the Rangers' seventh-ranked power play, which has recorded a goal in seven of the past eight games. The much-improved unit will face a struggling Islanders penalty-killing group that ranks last in the league with a 76.0 percent success rate.

Watch out: Two players to watch in Tuesday's action: Rangers winger Rick Nash is on a tear with seven goals in the past eight games. Meanwhile, Islanders rookie defenseman Calvin de Haan has recorded eight points in his last eight games.

Tavares, Lundqvist earn NHL honors

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
It was a big week for two local players, as both New York Islanders forward John Tavares and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist were recognized as two of the NHL’s three stars for the week of Jan. 6 to Jan. 12.

Tavares took top honors, and it’s easy to see why. The superstar center, who was also named to Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic squad this past week, tallied four goals and six assists in a four-game span.

His superior play neatly coincided with the Islanders’ season-high four-game winning streak.

The former first overall pick started the impressive campaign with a ridiculous five-point game against the Dallas Stars on Jan. 6, a game in which he recorded his fifth career hat trick.

Meanwhile, the Islanders’ bitter divisional rivals were also represented, with Lundqvist earning the third star of the week.

Though the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner struggled through the first half of the season, generating ample concern, Lundqvist has rebounded of late.

The 31-year-old Swede, who is also Sochi-bound, was 3-0-1 with a 1.97 goals against average and a .943 save percentage in the past four games. The Rangers have won three straight and have since claimed third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller earned the second star.

6 things to watch: Sochi Olympics

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
We're now less than a month from the Sochi Olympics, and the buildup to the hockey tournament has been rife with both excitement and controversy. While the majority of NHLers will pack their bags for an exotic locale or hole up at home for a cozy stay-cation during the break, elite players will battle on the big ice for a chance at a gold medal. Here are six things to watch when it comes to your local New York/New Jersey Olympians:

1. Can Lundqvist find an extra gear?

Henrik LundqvistDespite a dip in his recent play, Henrik Lundqvist remains the clear-cut No. 1 starting goaltender for Team Sweden, which is more than we've been able to say at times for him during a disappointing first half of the 2013-14 season. Lundqvist relishes competing for his native country in international play and has earned the top prize before, when Sweden won at the 2006 Torino Games.

This tournament may be exactly what he needs to re-establish his game at an elite level. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner has yet to really get on a roll this season, but maybe he'll establish a groove across the pond.

He'll have a stacked team in front of him that boasts a roster of experienced forwards such as Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterberg, and a back end that features some exciting young talent in Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

2. Will Tavares finally receive some recognition?

John TavaresOK, so he has not flown completely under the radar. After all, John Tavares was one of the top three finalists for last season's Hart Trophy. But the Olympic stage will provide yet another platform for the center to showcase his skills on an international scale.

The former first overall pick may not play his natural pivot position because of Canada's tremendous depth down the middle, but he will play with what appears to be the strongest forward group in the Games. That'll be a bit different for Tavares, who has shouldered the bulk of the load for his struggling Islanders the past four seasons. It should be interesting to see what he can do when playing with some of the most dynamic guys in the game.

3. What will we see from Jagr and the unpredictable Czechs?

Get this: 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who will play in his fifth Olympics when he takes the ice in Sochi, isn't even the oldest guy on the Czech team. Nope, that dubious honor goes to 42-year-old Petr Nedved, who was a somewhat surprising selection (especially considering he won silver for Team Canada back in the 1994 Games). Although Jagr's beard is graying, his game is still looking pretty robust. He leads the New Jersey Devils in scoring with 13 goals and 35 points. Next in line is Patrik Elias, who will join him on the Czech team. The team opens against Sweden, but if there's anything to learn from Jagr's stunning first half this season, it's never to count the veteran out.

4. Will the U.S. medal?

Following the uproar over certain perceived slights -- Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, Keith Yandle -- can the U.S. team recover and save face with a medal?

The Americans lost in the gold-medal game to the Canadians four years ago in Vancouver on Sidney Crosby's memorable overtime game winner, a play Ryan Callahan certainly remembers well. The 28-year-old Rangers captain, joined by teammates Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan on the U.S. team, is one of four returning members from that group, and you can bet he has more than enough motivation to exact revenge.

Callahan, who recently missed three weeks with a sprained right knee, is in a contract year, with no signs of an extension imminent. The Rangers will be keeping their fingers crossed that he emerges from the Olympics unscathed, while other general managers may be keeping a close watch on the spark-plug forward as the March 5 trade deadline approaches.

5. Will Zuccarello lead the dark-horse Norway squad?

Diminutive winger Mats Zuccarello was the lone NHLer named to the Norwegian national team, so look for him to lead the way. Heck, he's been leading the way for the Rangers, too, in recent weeks. The 26-year-old forward, discovered by the Rangers after some standout performances in international play, leads the team both in goals (10) and points (30). What's more impressive is that the stretch he's put together came after a brief stint in coach Alain Vigneault's doghouse while serving as a healthy scratch.

6. Will Rick Nash help Canada's effort to win back-to-back gold medals?

The star winger has been impressive in international play, although his game this season for the Rangers has left something to be desired.

Granted, he missed almost six weeks with a concussion, but Nash has been inconsistent. At times, absolutely electrifying. Others? Downright ineffective. In fact, his underwhelming nine-goal, 18-point campaign left some fans disgruntled at his selection, with Martin St. Louis and James Neal notable forward omissions.

It's not just the entire country of Canada that needs Nash to find his game. Similar to Lundqvist's situation, the Rangers have to hope that No. 61 can turn it up a notch and improve his play heading into the last few months of the season.