Tavares expected hostile reception from Islanders fans

Three periods of relentless booing from a rabid New York Islanders crowd hardly surprised John Tavares, who played his first game in his old barn as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

"I expected it was coming," Tavares told TSN after the game. "No one's walked in my shoes, I know that. I just tried to be open and honest. Obviously, no one has to like my decision."

Tavares joined Toronto as a free agent on July 1 after nine seasons in New York, signing a seven-year, $77-million contract and spurning the club that drafted him first overall.

Islanders fans were more than prepared to let him hear it, serenading the former captain with "We don't need you!" chants, among several others, throughout the entire game. They also launched toy snakes on the ice during warmup and set plenty of old No. 91 jerseys ablaze while tailgating to set the tone for a playoff-like atmosphere.

Even the team's video tribute was drowned out by boos, despite Tavares leaving the organization with 621 points to his name - the fifth-highest total in franchise history.

"You must be a real special player, and a real special person, for them to honor you like that," head coach Mike Babcock said postgame. "They only boo you if you're important - for most of us, they didn't even know who we were - so what an honor that is.

"I thought our team handled that really good. I thought we played good, we started good - to me, the crowd had nothing to do with the outcome of the game."

Though Isles fans were consistently hostile, Tavares' former teammates openly tipped their caps during the video and shared their own perspectives following the game - a dominant 6-1 victory for the home side.

"Maybe during the tribute, they could have maybe given (him) a round of applause," Cal Clutterbuck told Newsday's Andrew Gross. "He put everything he had into winning here. But I understand both sides."

Tavares was held pointless with five shots on goal in his much-anticipated return. He's notched 68 points in 64 games this season.

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Boychuk returns after taking skate near neck

New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk was forced to leave Thursday's game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs after Mitch Marner's skate appeared to clip him in the neck area late in the second period. He returned to the game in the third frame.

Boychuk got up under his own power and immediately went to the Islanders' room with the assistance of the medical staff.

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Maple Leafs’ Dermott out at least 4 weeks with shoulder injury

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott will be out at least four weeks with a shoulder injury, the team announced Thursday.

Dermott left Wednesday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers after receiving an awkward hit from Brad Malone.

The 22-year-old is the second Toronto blue-liner to be sidelined recently, as Jake Gardiner was announced as week-to-week with a back injury prior to Wednesday night's contest.

Martin Marincin has been recalled from the Toronto Marlies ahead of the Leafs' game versus the New York Islanders Thursday.

Justin Holl is expected to play alongside Marincin, according to TSN's Kristen Shilton.

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Oilers’ Puljujarvi to have season-ending hip surgery

Jesse Puljujarvi's season is over.

The Edmonton Oilers forward will undergo hip surgery and be forced to miss the rest of the 2018-19 campaign, the club announced Thursday.

Assistant general manager Keith Gretzky added that Puljujarvi is expected to be able to rehab and train throughout the summer and be 100 percent healthy for training camp.

The 20-year-old winger was placed on injured reserve last week.

He collected nine points in 46 games with Edmonton this season, adding two goals and two assists in four AHL contests.

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Taylor Hall undergoes knee surgery

The 2018 MVP has gone under the knife.

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier this week. the club confirmed Thursday.

Hall will begin rehabilitation immediately and will be evaluated regularly, according to the team.

It's still too early to know if or when Hall will be back this season, reports Sportsnet's John Shannon.

The 27-year-old winger has been out of action since Dec. 23.

He was producing more than a point per game at the time of his injury, posting 37 in 33 contests.

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Report: Devils’ Mueller released from hospital

New Jersey Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller has been discharged from University Hospital in Newark, according to NHL.com's Mike Morreale.

Mueller thanked his supporters on Thursday afternoon.

The 23-year-old was taken to hospital on Wednesday night after crashing headfirst into the boards late in the Devils' game against the Calgary Flames. He was stretchered off the ice following the incident and gave the crowd a thumbs-up.

The club announced on Wednesday that Mueller has full feeling and movement in his extremities and is alert, oriented, and conscious.

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Trotz to Islanders fans: ‘Just be respectful’ during Tavares’ return

Barry Trotz is doing his best to temper what's expected to be a frosty reception for John Tavares on Long Island.

"You have to respect that John gave his all for a long time for the organization … earned the right to go back home," the New York Islanders head coach told reporters before Thursday's game, including TSN's Mark Masters. "Some people are upset, but just be respectful. Cheer us on and let's have a good hockey game."

Tavares will make his much-anticipated return to Nassau Coliseum after leaving the Islanders to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent last July.

Many Islanders fans have voiced their displeasure since his decision, including supporters featured in a video that went viral earlier this week.

The Islanders have improved under Trotz, a Jack Adams Award favorite who left the Washington Capitals to join New York after winning the Stanley Cup last June.

Tavares leads the Leafs with 36 goals, and he ranks second on the club with 68 points in 63 games.

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Vezina Trophy Power Rankings: Vasilevskiy making it look easy

This is the fifth edition of theScore's Vezina Trophy Power Rankings. With just over five weeks remaining on the NHL schedule, we take a closer look at a group of candidates who are closing in on capturing this year's award.

5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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Price has backstopped a once-overlooked Canadiens team into playoff contention. It hasn't been his finest season, on paper, but the 31-year-old has carried a heavy load, as his 48 starts and 26 victories rank first and third, respectively, among Eastern Conference goaltenders.

The veteran netminder made his mark in mid-January when he led Montreal to a seven-game winning streak, during which he conceded just 10 goals. Despite the 3-5-1 record over his last nine contests, Price has given his team a chance every night, allowing two goals or fewer in five of those games.

Since the new year, Price boasts a save percentage of .936 and a goals-against average of 2.04. Throw out an ugly month of November, and he's been one the best goalies in the league this season.

4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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The Bruins are one of many teams to adopt the platoon system in goal this season. Unfortunately, for the duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak, the split crease time could decrease either's chance to capture the Vezina. No goaltender has won the trophy while playing fewer than 50 games - in a full season - since 1988-89, and neither is on pace to hit that mark.

But how could we not recognize a netminder who hasn't suffered a regulation loss for over two months? Since Dec. 23, Rask has posted a mark of 12-1-3 and helped launch the Bruins up the standings and into second place in the Eastern Conference.

With a 2.25 goals-against average and .925 save percentage over that span, he's been lights out for a Boston team that keeps on winning.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

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For a team that's loaded with star power, it's Andersen who often shines the brightest. In his third season with the Leafs, perhaps the best of his young career, the 29-year-old became the fastest in team history to reach 100 total wins.

Andersen has thrived under pressure, posting a record of 8-1-1 when facing 40-plus shots in a game. He's faced the third-most shots this season and has responded with a save percentage of .923.

He shares the league lead in wins with 30 and hasn't dropped back-to-back games in regulation since November. Andersen has gone 8-2-2 with a .922 save percentage in February and looks poised to carry his terrific play into the postseason.

2. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders

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Lehner may have been forced from our top spot, but the Islanders netminder remains one of the favorites to capture the Vezina. Splitting time with Thomas Greiss this season has limited him to 33 starts, but it's hard to deny the raw numbers, even with a lighter workload.

Lehner has gone 14-4-2 with three shutouts over his last 20 contests, conceding just 35 goals to help the Islanders remain atop the Metropolitan Division.

The Swede leads the league with a 2.10 goals-against average and shares the No. 1 spot with a .930 save percentage. The Islanders rank 22nd in team scoring with 2.84 goals-per-game, which further demonstrates Lehner's invaluable contributions. History may not be on his side - in regard to the split workload - but when it comes to crowning this season's top goalie, the 27-year-old must be considered.

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

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Vasilevskiy may be playing behind a historically great Lightning team, but he still has to stop the puck. With a record of 9-0-2 in February, the goaltender has made it look easy by allowing just 18 goals over those 11 games.

The Russian is tied for second in the NHL with 29 wins and shares the lead in save percentage with a mark of .930. His 2.28 goals-against average is second only to Lehner among netminders with at least 32 appearances, though Vasilevskiy has started seven more games.

The 6-foot-4 puck-stopper has been a model of consistency this season, as he has not lost back-to-back games in regulation all year. His only two-game slide came earlier this month with both games going to extra time. It's going to be hard to slow down Vasilevskiy and the Lightning, and if he can continue his dominant play, the 24-year-old could claim his first career Vezina Trophy.

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