5 Things to Know About Tonight’s Devils-Red Wings Game

BY: DAVID KOLB

NEW JERSEY DEVILS (20-21-9) @ DETROIT RED WINGS (20-20-9)
Game coverage begins at 7 PM on MSG+2

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  • The Devils are 10-12-6 on the road in 2016-17
  • The Devils and Red Wings each enter tonight’s tilt with 49 points.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Their final meeting this season (Apr. 9) will be the final regular season game at Joe Louis Arena

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  • Taylor Hall leads the Devils in scoring with 11-20-31
  • Missed the first contest this season vs. the Red Wings due to a torn meniscus.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Nine goals were scored last time these teams played (Nov. 25)

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“The way we started the year, we had some pretty lofty aspirations. I still believe we have a team that can play well and win games. That’s our objective right now. Clearly we are looking up now. We are out of the playoffs. That’s the reality. We just have to keep grinding and just get better.”

–Devils goalie, Cory Schneider

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DID YOU KNOW?

John Hynes was based out of Ann Arbor from 2003-09 as Head Coach of USA Hockey’s National Development Program

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Adam Henrique will skate in his 400th career NHL game tonight in Detroit.

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DID YOU KNOW?

He has played all 400 games in a Devils sweater

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What Stood Out to Hall about All Star Weekend?

The Devils' Taylor Hall gives his take on winning the NHL All-Star Game and being coached by legends Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.

DID YOU KNOW?

Hall is the only player who has been on the winning team in the NHL All-Star Game the past two seasons

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Where Would Knicks Be Without These Close Losses?

HAWKS 142, KNICKS 139 (4OT)

The game was loaded with entertainment, drama and history, but when it ended there was no way to enjoy the experience. It was a loss. And perhaps if the Knicks were 28-21, they could shrug it off as just a crazy game. But, when you’re desperate for wins, this one hurt just like the others.

No, this one hurt more. Even with an epic 45-point performance by Carmelo Anthony and numerous clutch shots he hit. Even with Courtney Lee‘s dramatic game-tying three-pointer to force the third OT with 1.5 seconds left.

Jeff Hornacek tried to come up with words of encouragement for his group, which battled through the adversity of some awful officiating and the loss of three starters due to fouls. Even without Derrick Rose (ankle), Melo, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, the possibility of a fifth overtime was real as Lee let go of a corner three just before the final buzzer.

But it missed and so went the Knicks to try to explain yet another heartbreaking defeat.

The loss was the sixth time in the month of January that the Knicks lost by three points or less. Sixth!

Overall, the Knicks have lost 11 games this season by five points or less, which is tied with the Raptors for the most in the NBA. But more notably, it’s the eighth such loss since Christmas Day, which explains why the season has gone from 16-13 going into that game against the Celtics to 5-15 since. Split half of those games and you’re looking at a 25-24 record and sitting seventh in the East.

Instead, the Knicks are 11th in the East and, yet, amazingly, they’re just 2 1/2 games out of the eighth spot. Why? Because only six teams in the East are over the .500 mark as we near February.

The Knicks rarely have an easy night. Even the wins have been nail-biters. Overall, the Knicks have played 19 of their 49 games to a finish of five points or less. That’s tied with the Kings for the most decisions of five or fewer points in the NBA.

Simple math shows you they’re 8-11 in games decided by five or less points, which doesn’t seem that bad until you look deeper to find out that only one win has come since Christmas (Jan. 6 at Milwaukee, a 116-111 victory).

So when you look at the record now and wonder, “What happened to the Knicks?” you see exactly what happened: they went from a team that was able to finish close games early in the season to a team that is unable to make the plays — both on offense and defense — to win games. With a struggling defense that has been an issue all season, this team has such a small margin for error. So one or two plays — and, yes, bad calls by officials, down the stretch are crucial and, as we’ve seen, can prove costly.

The New York Football Giants had this same problem during the 2015 season. Their offense could keep pace with just about anyone, but their defense could not keep teams out of the end zone. As a result, there was so much pressure on their offense to be perfect, especially late in games, that they lost many close games. Six of their 10 losses on the season were in games in which they either held a lead or were tied with two minutes left.

So what did the Giants do in the offseason? They focused on improving their defense. The result? The Giants won 11 games this season and made the playoffs.

After a recovery day on Monday, the Knicks are greeted with one last punch to the gut by this unforgivable month of January with back-to-back road games at Washington and at Brooklyn. We’ll have Knicks Game Night at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday night on MSG Network.

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Rangers, and Fans, Expecting Surprise Season to Continue

Back in August or September or even October, if somebody said the Rangers would be 31-17-1 after 49 games, you’d have run for the pen and yelled, “Where do I sign?”

Right?

You’d almost certainly, also, have been thinking that 31-17-1 would be good enough for first place in the Metropolitan Division, and not fourth place and sitting in a wild-card playoff spot.

But that’s the Rangers’ record and their standing as they come out of the All-Star break and prepare for the final 33 games of the regular season starting Tuesday against Columbus at The Garden.

How they got here is complicated, because they’ve won (and lost) games in so many ways, and because nobody could have figured that the Metro would be the best division in the NHL.

We knew the division housed the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the defending Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, but we sure didn’t figure that Columbus would win 16 in a row and elbow its way into the conversation.

We didn’t figure, either, that the Rangers would lose 130 manpower-games to injuries and illnesses through the first 49 dates, including long-term injuries to Rick Nash (12 games), Mika Zibanejad (25) and rookie Pavel Buchnevich (32), nor that Henrik Lundqvist would hit the most difficult stretch of his career.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Mika Zibanejad #93 and Pavel Buchnevich #89 of the New York Rangers talk during a break in the action against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on October 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

In fact, given the way last season ended, and that the Rangers didn’t make a lot of marquee additions in the summertime, it would have been reasonable to assume that 2016-17 would be a step backward for the Rangers before they could again begin to climb forward.

Well, that hasn’t been the case.

The Rangers’ 31 wins through the first 48 games were tied for second most in the franchise’s 90-year history, one behind the record set in what was a pretty good year, 1993-94.

Speed and depth at forward were most responsible for the Rangers’ record through 49 games. They had that unthinkable stretch of five straight wins, during a 13-4-0 getaway, in which they scored five or more goals in each of the five. They entered the final game before the break – a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia in which the Rangers arguably played better than they had in their previous three games, all of those victories – ranked second in the league at 3.44 goals scored per game.

The goals were more scarce lately, but the Rangers tightened up defensively, allowing six goals in the last four games before the break, and that has to be their bread-and-butter down the stretch. The Rangers, under coach Alain Vigneault, have always produced offense from their defense, meaning the way they play without the puck and the quickness with which they play once they get it back.

“I still like what our team does night-in and night-out and we should have a lot of confidence in this team,” Rangers captain and All-Star representative Ryan McDonagh said.

“We’ve got a stretch of home games here coming out of the break, so that’s a good opportunity for us to get back on a roll again and rest up here a little bit. But ultimately I like what our team’s done and we’re still in a good spot here as we continue to go on with the season.”

They know there is not a lot that has to change dramatically, but at the same time, believe they can be better and more consistent. And that they will have to be.

Asked what he’d like to see from the team in front of him after the break, Lundqvist said, “A lot of the things we’ve been doing lately. I think defending better, we’re doing that. We’re focusing on a lot of different things in our game to help the team to have success.

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 22: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers keeps an eye on the puck as teammate Nick Holden #22 blocks a shot with his foot in front of Luke Glendening #4 of the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on January 22, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. New York won the game 1-0 in overtime. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“You look at our record; I don’t think we should change too much. It’s going to come down to determination every night, wanting to win every game and pay the price, because as you go down the stretch more and more teams are going to have that desperation and you’re going to have to match it.

“The difference between the teams is not very big, so it’s just the mindset. We definitely have the skill and we have the structure to be a really strong team, and then it comes down to that desperation, and we have that.”

The Rangers still have some injuries. Defenseman Marc Staal hopes to return soon from a concussion. Center Kevin Hayes will miss another week or so with a lower-body injury. Winger Jesper Fast and backup goalie Antti Raanta should be back soon, too. And if the roster is ever close to 100 percent healthy, Vigneault will have the nice problem that depth affords – difficult lineup decisions.

The Rangers will play the final 33 games in a span of 69 days (which includes the March 1 trade deadline), after having a three-day holiday break, a union-mandated five-game break, and five days between games for the All-Star break in an otherwise absurdly-packed schedule to date. That will be one challenge.

The tightness and elite level of the division will be another, without a doubt. And the Rangers’ own hopes and expectations will be the biggest, of course.

They, like you, would have signed up for their current record. But the Rangers expected to be right in the mix, and they expect, too, to be there in the end.

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Tavares, Isles Hoping to Keep Riding the Wave

Usually, by the time the end of January rolls around our entire crew, and most of the team and staff, are ready for a break.

The All-Star break in years past has been pretty lengthy for the Islanders too. But this year with the addition of the bye week, the team only had four days without a game. That is everyone, but John Tavares.

Tavares participated in his fourth consecutive All-Star weekend. This year he was part of the winning Metropolitan team, picking up two goals in the Metro’s win over the Atlantic. He also had an assist and some good defensive play in the championship game against the Pacific. I have to say the second year of the 3-on-3 tournament was exciting. Even my friends who don’t watch hockey on a nightly basis were texting me about the action.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders celebrates with Justin Faulk #27 of the Carolina Hurricanes after scoring a goal during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game Semifinal #2 (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) at Staples Center on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Once again, the captain represented the Islanders with class and told reporters in LA what he’s already relayed in several different ways to the media here in New York for months: he’s open to signing an extension with the Isles.

This weekend he said, “I mean, I’ve always stated how much I enjoy playing on Long Island, and the organization, how well they’ve supported me. Obviously, we’ve had some new ownership come in. They’ve brought some real good commitment and have shown their vision for the future. I’m excited about where the Islanders are heading and, hopefully, we can work something out.”

Tavares is excited about where the Isles are heading, and he’s not alone. While it was nice to take a mental break from work and hockey for the weekend, I didn’t really want to take a break. The Isles were playing so well the last two weeks, I was hoping they could just keep riding the wave.

The team and Tavares struggled out the gate in January. But, man oh man, it’s been a different feel at Barclays Center this homestand. The team is 5-0-1 since their shutout in Boston and Tavares looks the best I’ve seen him all season. After going pointless in the Isles first three games of January, Tavares picked up a hat trick in Florida and has scored eight goals in eight games with 13 points total over that span.

Okay, so the captain is jamming. That’s not enough. The Islanders need more than one superstar to win games consistently. They’ve had team effort wins lately and that needs to continue for them to tackle the tough road schedule ahead.

What we have seen from the Islanders the last two weeks is a renewed passion for the game and for playing together.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26: Andrew Ladd #16 of the New York Islanders celebrates his third period goal against the Montreal Canadiens with teammates at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2017 in Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s exactly what Doug Weight called for in his first meeting with the players as interim head coach. Weight was not going to put up with third period collapses, something that was a struggle earlier this season. He had no problem benching Ryan Strome for a shift or two after a mistake. Strome has responded and so have his teammates.

I can feel a confidence building with the Isles. They look like they’re having fun out on the ice. I know the fans are having fun in the stands because winning IS fun.

In years past, I was excited to take a break at this point in the season. We needed a reset for February, which is usually a crazy stretch of games. But this year is different. I can’t wait for the Isles to get back into action Tuesday against the Capitals. I can’t wait to see how the team builds on this point streak and continues to push upwards in the standings.

I know it’s a long season, but I have a feeling the Isles are just getting into the best part of their season.

Like Tavares, I too am excited about the team’s future. If they keep playing like they have of late, the playoffs are within reach. Once you’re in, anything can happen.

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Why Hall is the Biggest Piece Moving Forward

In this week’s Q&A, Devils Analyst Ken Daneyko gives his take on what to expect from New Jersey in the second half and answers questions about Stefan Noesen, Miles Wood and Taylor Hall.

MSGNetworks.com: The Devils lost their final game of the first half to the Capitals, but one of the positives that came out of the game was the play of Stefan Noesen. Can you talk about his debut and his chances to stick with the team?

Daneyko: You want to impress your new teammates, coaching staff and management right away [when you join a new team]. Noesen certainly did that with a real nice goal on a beautiful feed from Pavel Zacha. [Zacha’s play] was another positive for me. Pavel Zacha, with healthy scratches, is having an up-and-down season, which is what you’d expect from a 19-year-old. He’s really come on for me and you can see his confidence growing. He made a real nice play to Noesen.

It’s not easy to put one by Braden Holtby in tight, so for Noesen to show the poise to go upstairs with the shot on Holtby — one of the elite goalies in the NHL — was impressive. It was a good start for him. You just hope there’s some consistency and hope that he’s a piece of the puzzle because he’s getting an opportunity in an organization that picked him up. He looked good for his first game with the organization with a real nice goal.

MSGNetworks.com: Speaking of young players, Miles Wood has come into his own in the last few weeks. What do you think of his development and how does his speed put pressure on opposing defenders?

Daneyko: For anybody that plays against him, you just have to be aware of him. A lot of teams didn’t really know who Miles Wood was. We’ve seen him get at least a half-dozen clear-cut breakaways, catching defensemen by surprise because he’s a rookie in the league. You don’t realize the blazing speed that he has. [His speed] is what [hockey] is all about right now.

Wood has brought an excitement, something for the fans to really look forward to in the future. He’s trying to find his way in the National Hockey League with consistency, night-in and night-out, like any young player. That’s what it’s about to be a young player; to not only show flashes, but to be a big part moving forward as well. I think he will because he brings so many elements.

He’s big, he’s got great size, he’s strong, he’ll battle, and he’ll drop the mitts every once in a while when he has to. His blazing speed, it’s fun to watch when you call a game! Now, all of a sudden, you got guys like Taylor Hall, like Miles Wood. It’s guys you build around with speed and it makes the Devils that much more dangerous. It’s very difficult for defensemen to contain.

MSGNetworks.com: You mentioned Taylor Hall. He’s going to the All-Star Game for the first time as a Devil. What are your impressions of his first half with New Jersey? Has he been everything as advertised since coming over from Edmonton?

Steve Cangialosi, John MacLean and Ken Daneyko break down the goals scored by Taylor Hall in the Devils' 5-3 win over the Coyotes.

Daneyko: For me, yes! He’s going to get better and better. I think there’s been an adjustment for him. You see so many top players traded. It’s a shock to their system. The moment it happens, you’re set back. It takes some time to get accustomed with your new organization no matter who you are. It’s not easy for any player to get up and leave. He was such a popular player in Edmonton, he was the No. 1 overall pick. You have to factor all those things in.

Coming here to New Jersey, he was dynamic early, scored some big overtime winners and a couple of highlight-reel goals.

He’s a bona fide star, a guy that’s a game-changer. You’ve got to be ready for a pass because he’s an excellent passer who thinks quickly. As the Devils continue to build towards the future, Taylor Hall is a type of player you need to build around. I think he’s the biggest piece moving forward for this Devils team. He’s going to have a terrific rest of the season. He makes players around him better.

MSGNetworks.com: Looking ahead to the second half, what can we expect from the team? Could we see the Devils make a move at the trade deadline?

Daneyko: I’d love to be a fly on the wall in general manager Ray Shero‘s office. I think Ray has done a real good job retooling this team. They’re deeper down in Albany, there are more assets. He drafted well last year — Mikey McLeod, the No. 1 overall pick [for the Devils] last year will be part of the future, he’s another guy with great speed.

So it’ll be interesting and there are a lot of home games here. Players like to think they can go on that run. I think [the All-Star] break is good for them to regroup and reset. Let’s see if they can get on a little run at home.

They have to get that home-ice advantage like they had early in the season, and get that feeling and confidence. Let’s see what happens. I have real high hopes for this team in the future. I know it gets real frustrating sometimes, but they’re getting closer and they’re not that far away.

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NBA MVP in Porzingis’ Future?

From Carmelo Anthony to Derrick Rose, to Jeff Hornacek to opposing players and coaches around the league, we have a heard a common refrain regarding the emergence of Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis as one of the new faces of the NBA.

It goes like this:

“It’s kind of crazy,’’ Rose said after Porzingis poured in a career-high 35 points in a win over the Detroit Pistons earlier this season. “A unique player. He’s going out here scoring 30, and he really doesn’t know the NBA yet.”

Make no mistake about it. In his second season, Porzingis is learning about his game, his teammates and the demands of the NBA life on a daily basis.

He has — according to coaches and players — not even begun to reach his potential. And there is no gauging the limits of that potential.

“The sky truly is the limit for him,’’ said Pelicans All-Star big man Anthony Davis. “You hear people say that a lot, but in this case it’s true. Once he has it all figured out, there’s no telling what he can do.’’

This has been a particularly tough stretch for the 7-foot-3 forward. Soreness in his right Achilles tendon forced him to miss seven games in late-December through mid-January.

He hit a bit of a shooting wall, which prompted Porzingis to spend extra time in the film room with Hornacek. Friday night in the 110-107 win over the Hornets, Porzingis looked closer to being one of the more dominant players in the league.

He scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including a foul line jumper with 50 seconds left that gave the Knicks a 107-101 lead. Porzingis added four rebounds and three blocked shots.

“Sometimes it’s just getting one or two of them to go,’’ Hornacek said. “He got a couple early on, nice shots he made, and all of sudden now his three’s are going and guys are looking for him.’’

Porzingis is being looked at in a light we’ve never seen before. He is one of the chosen few big men that are changing the face of the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embid, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Porzingis could form a freakish starting unit — comprised of five 7-footers that can do everything on the court.

Porzingis is the first player in NBA history to score at least 1,500 points, block 185 shots, and make 140 threes through his first 100 games.

He is the first player in league history to score at least 26 points, grab 12 rebounds, block seven shots and make three three-pointers in a single game.

“It’s hard to believe, there’s no question that type of player, it’s not common,’’ said Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “When I look at him I’m just saying, ‘Thank God I don’t have to play in the NBA anymore because those guys always used to be centers.'”

“You’re 6-10, O.K. You’re a center. You’re 7-4, you’re definitely a center. He handles the ball like a guard. He can shoot like a guard. He can post up like a big. He defends.”

“He’s going to be a terrific player in this league for a long time He’s one of those players, he has MVP credentials.”

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks goes for the dunk during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on January 27, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Porzingis is flattered, but he has worked hard to keep his focus on improving. He turned 21 last summer, giving him ample time to get stronger, smarter and improve his low-post game.

“That’s an honor to hear from an NBA head coach,’’ Porzingis said. “I’m honored that someone sees that kind of potential in me. With work and doing the right thing and working extremely hard, I can get to that level one day.”

“It’s in my hands now to keep my head straight, keep working and try to become that type of player.”

Porzingis was chosen to play in the Rising Stars Challenge. He has yet to be an All-Star, so MVP might seem like too lofty of a goal. But Porzingis is not about to back down from such expectations.

He has a thought process about his development that Bill Belichick would appreciate. Porzingis focuses on learning everything he can about the league, his game, and the pressures that come with being at the top of an opponent’s scouting report rather than a footnote.

“I definitely feel a lot more pressure this year,’’ Porzingis acknowledged. “Guys are not backing off as easily on me. I’m not able to get wide open threes anymore. Definitely, the defense is much better this year against me.

“So I have to be able to adjust every game and see how they play me in the pick and rolls and low post. Every game is a new challenge for me and I have to be able to adjust.’’

Which brings us back to the KP Refrain: “It’s crazy. He’s going out here scoring 30, and he really doesn’t know the NBA yet.”

The NBA doesn’t know what to make of this influx of 7-footers that can shoot the three, block shots, post up, handle the ball and pass. It is the next step in the evolution of the game. The league has transitioned from point forwards to stretch power forwards to centers that knock down threes and run the court.

Milwaukee, WI - JANUARY 6: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks handles the ball against the Milwaukee Bucks during the game on January 6, 2017 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hornacek mused earlier this season that when he came into the league, centers were named Ewing and Olajuwon. They played in the paint. They rarely took a shot from behind the top of the key and they certainly never brought the ball up.

“As far as big men go, I don’t want to say we’ve changed the game but put our stamp on the game,’’ said Davis. “Now the game is definitely evolving where you have a lot of bigs shooting the ball from 3 and handling. So the game is definitely good for our league.’’

Even as Porzingis is in the center of this change, he too can take a step back and marvel at what is taking place.

“Yes, I’m very fascinated big men are dominating the game from the perimeter as well as the inside and with our length and ability to block shots,’’ Porzingis said. “We’re capable of changing the game.’’

Porzingis knows to continue to change the game, he must continue to improve on all levels. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 assists. He’s shooting 45.3-percent from the field and 38.6 on threes, up from 42.1 and 33.3 last season.

“And he’s doing it in New York, in Madison Square Garden,’’ Davis said. “A lot of young players don’t have to deal with the fans and the media as much as he does. That could be a burden but he handles it great. He seems older than what is he, 20, 21?’’

WEST POINT, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks takes a picture with some fans during training camp practice on September 30, 2016 at The U.S. Military Academy at West Point in West Point, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Yes, arguably the most popular athlete ever to come out of Latvia, Porzingis wasn’t even of legal drinking age in New York until his birthday in August.

He is remarkably comfortable around fans and media. After Friday night’s win over Charlotte, as Anthony was fielding the latest round of questions regarding his future in New York, Porzingis started blasting a Seventies disco hit.

His personality is in contrast to his competitiveness and work ethic. When asked about his improvement, Porzingis is very measured.

“I’ve made some steps in improving my game in my second season,’’ Porzingis said. “I feel there’s still a lot more to learn, to get better at. But I think I’m moving in the right direction.’’

He is, but this season has brought its own challenges. In the Knicks 109-103 win over the Indiana Pacers, Porzingis missed his first six shots and committed three turnovers.

“The first quarter was the worst quarter I’ve ever had, I think,’’ Porzingis said.

Every great player has experienced those kind of nights, a fact Anthony pointed out after Porzingis scorched the Hornets.

“It happens,’’ Anthony said. “Guys have bad games here and there.”

For Porzingis, some of it was the shooting slump and some of it is the more increased defensive attention Porzingis is receiving. Some of could be the grind of the NBA. He’s averaging 33.5 minutes per game, up from 28.4 last season.

In his last three seasons playing in Europe, Porzingis played in a total of 165 games. When the Knicks play at the Atlanta Hawks today (2:30 p.m., MSG Network) Porzingis will play in his 114th NBA game in two seasons.

The sore Achilles was a warning sign that Porzingis, who takes pride in his conditioning, will have to commit himself to a more rigorous off-season program.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks gets ready before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

You won’t find an MVP, no less an All-Star, that hasn’t put the work in during the summer.

“You have to do them,’’ Porzingis said. “If you’re a real professional you have to do them. You have to do the best you can to take care of your body, eat right, make sure you get your rest and that’s for myself, what I consider a real professional and a real professional athlete.

“I try to follow those things as much as I can. That way I can make sure I can get the most years at the professional level as I can.’’

Imagine, if you can, Porzingis in five years: He is stronger and smarter. He is physically and mentally prepared for a full season. His three-point shooting is the 40-percent range and he has developed more of a low post game.

No wonder Towns went dope on Twitter in a September post on Porzingis. The two became friends during the 2015 NBA Draft run-up and have had some remarkable duels.

Yes. It’s crazy.

The night he scored 35 against the Pistons, the Garden crowd serenaded him with chants of “MVP! MVP!”

“Too early,’’ Porzingis said jokingly afterward. “It’s a New York crowd.’’

A crowd that is savvy enough to know they are watching one of new faces of NBA mature before their eyes.

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Porzingis Delivers Early & Late in Win over Hornets

KNICKS 110, HORNETS 107

There was a bit of an awkward atmosphere in The Garden for this game. While it’s great to see old friends like Rory Sparrow, Quentin Richardson and Al Harrington, it’s hard not to recall their years with the Knicks weren’t the best of times. Then there was Patrick Ewing, the franchise’s greatest player and most recent good memories for a generation of Knicks fans, and yet the conversation was less about 1994 and more about 2000, when he asked to leave.

And that leads us to Carmelo Anthony, standing during the national anthem, wondering to himself if this could be the last time he is here at The Garden as a Knick, amid trade rumors with a three-game road trip ahead. That’s when someone yelled out, “WE LOVE YOU MELO!”

By the third quarter, the tone was much different toward the 32-year-old star, who struggled with his shooting en route to an 18-point, 11-rebound performance.

“I enjoy that,” he said, though no one believed him.

Melo’s future in New York is the lead topic among fans and media, but despite the perception, it is not the top priority of the franchise. Nor can it be.

If we’re power ranking importance, Kristaps Porzingis would top the list. So it was encouraging to see him prioritized on the very first possession of the game.

Porzingis has been struggling since his Achilles injury. As we showed you during the pregame Knicks Fix segment on MSG, KP was putting up all-star caliber numbers over the first 32 games of the season:

20.1 ppg

7.8 rpg

1.9 bpg

45.2% FG

40.2% 3PT

But over the next 14 games, KP missed 6 with a sore Achilles and lost his rhythm and his place in the offense. The numbers show it:

13.3 ppg

4.3 rpg

1.8 bpg

42.6% FG

29.4% 3PT

But in this game, Porzingis looked like he put in a lot of extra work in the gym on his shot and movement without the ball. He was far more active and determined. On the first possession, he knocked down a catch-and-shoot off a screen by Joakim Noah. A scripted play, in a Triangle Set, designed just for him.

KP rode that first shot to a 10-point first quarter. He didn’t miss a shot (4 for 4) and drained a couple of straightaway three-pointers that got the crowd roaring. By halftime, he had 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting — including two dunks that looked like he took off from a runway at JFK — and the Knicks had the lead.

“Felt good,” he said afterward.

But then came two issues of this season: 1. KP doesn’t get any more looks. 2. Foul trouble.

It is unfathomable that a player who started the game 7 for 10 in the first half doesn’t see another shot for 23 minutes and 10 seconds of the second half.

But it was a big shot and Porzingis buried it off a great screen by Courtney Lee and a nice pass from Kyle O’Quinn. The hoop gave the Knicks a 107-101 lead with 50.1 seconds left in the game.

On the next possession, however, he fouled out.

Thanks to Lee (nine of his 16 points came in the fourth quarter) and Melo (his pull-up with 13 seconds left iced it at 109-105), the Knicks (21-27) won this game. As Bill Pidto tweeted last night, “Amazing 2 look at standings in the east, and after all that has gone on, @nyknicks only 2 games out of 8th. Only 2. That is it.”

Derrick Rose (13 points) injured his ankle in the third quarter and left the game but Jeff Hornacek said he didn’t expect it to be serious. Early in the game, Rose looked to pass to Porzingis, which was a good sign. The two seemed to have some good early chemistry that, for some reason, went away.

As we look forward, however, with Porzingis as the priority, I can’t help but look again at Ewing, sitting on the sidelines as associate head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. At that moment, it’s no longer about the sadness and regret of his exit from the Knicks in 2000, but about the important move that he credits to his elevation to superstar in the NBA: when the team drafted Mark Jackson with the 18th overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft.

NEW YORK - 1990: Patrick Ewing #33 of the New York Knicks chats with teammate Mark Jackson #13 circa 1990 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1990 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Knicks need to find Porzingis his Mark Jackson, a player who arrived and was invested in Ewing’s success and Ewing was dependent on Jackson’s success.

I know, I know, those are rare commodities in today’s NBA. These days, players are responsible only to themselves and success is less symbiotic and more singular. Are the Stockton-Malone type tandems extinct?

As the Knicks develop their “unicorn”, the realization is they need to find another one.

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Is Reinhart on the Cusp of Being a Dominant Offensive Player?

By: Chris Boyle

Rebuilding through the draft is the best way to reinvigorate a franchise. If done properly, you not only give your team a talent infusion, but you populate your roster with high-ceiling/cost-controlled assets which can allow you to also build effectively through free agency.

The Sabres have shone a spotlight through this intelligent team-building philosophy by landing Jack Eichel through the draft and Kyle Okposo through free agency. While these two players have been focal points of their rebuild, Sam Reinhart has been quietly establishing himself as a dynamic offensive player.

Brad May takes a look at how the line of Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart is starting to build chemistry

The 21-year-old is capable of carrying the Sabres’ offense while he is on the ice through his dynamic vision. It has allowed him to become a dominant center with his ability to distribute the puck and find soft spots in the defense to exploit for high-quality shots.

These are the hallmarks of dominant offensive players and Reinhart is already exhibiting these advanced abilities in only his sophomore season. When Reinhart is on the ice, the Sabres are a very good offensive team.

A quick look at the Sabres’ offensive distribution when Reinhart is on the ice at even strength paints a picture of a team that moves the puck at an above-average level.

Boyle Reinhart Graphic Distribution Overall 012617

The Sabres are consistently forcing goaltenders into complex scenarios by moving the puck and not allowing them to square their shoulders up and line up the release point. Eighty-four percent of the shots are the result of pre-shot movement, and they continually produce slot-line passes and second-chance opportunities. Location data is also consistent with an above average performance.

Where Reinhart’s contribution becomes clear is when we strip out the shots that he doesn’t create and focus on shots he either took himself or shots he had a direct hand in creating for his teammates. These type of opportunities were created by Reinhart making slot-line passes or shots that he released that were tipped by a teammate or the resulting rebound created from his shot.

Reinhart Boyle Distribution 012617

When we isolate these shots, it allows us to separate Reinhart from his teammates and shows how influential he is. This is an elite-level performance from the second overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft.

Of the 24 slot-line passes, Reinhart is directly involved in 10 of them. He is also responsible for almost 40 percent of all rebound shots and 50 percent of all the tipped shots while he is on the ice. Location data is even more extreme as Reinhart produces almost 50 percent of his shot opportunities in the High Danger area of the ice, almost double the average performance of 23 percent. High-quality opportunities that are produced closer to the net are examples of an elite offensive performer and the polar opposite of what his teammates produce when he is not involved with the evolution of a shot on goal.

Location data is even more extreme as Reinhart produces almost 50 percent of his shot opportunities in the High Danger area of the ice, almost double the average performance of 23 percent. High-quality opportunities that are produced closer to the net are examples of an elite offensive performer and the polar opposite of what his teammates produce when he is not involved with the evolution of a shot on goal.

Boyle Reinhart 012617

The Sabres often shoot from inferior positions on the ice. This provides straight lines for the opposition goaltender and the ability to read and recognize the play from a distance, and is exactly how teams can insulate a goaltender. Only 19 percent of their shots occur within the High Danger zone and almost 60 percent occur in the Low Danger area outside of the home plate area and high slot. Significantly inferior to the average distribution of 54 percent.

This type of individual offensive impact so early in a career is very advanced and has been accomplished with a rotating cast of support players. These type of skills are indispensable on an elite power-play and this accelerated growth is something that bodes well for the Sabres’ future playoff aspirations.

Reinhart still trails Eichel in regards to hype, but that might not be in the case in the future. As the Sabres rebuild fully takes hold, his teammates around him will improve and this should vault him to an All-Star level.

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Will a Local Club Go After Kevin Shattenkirk?

  1. The National Hockey League’s trade deadline is a month away (Feb. 28, 3 p.m.) and there’s no doubt that the Rangers, Islanders and Devils will be considering a move. After all, everybody talks deals, but few make them.
  1. The Game’s bible, The Hockey News, proclaims that St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk should have “five trade destinations.”
  1. Since Shattenkirk is a New Rochelle native — and camps in the Hamptons in the offseason — one of our three local clubs could be of interest to him.
  1. Writing in The Hockey News, well-informed Matt Larkin opines, “It’s long been assumed the Blues can’t afford to give Kevin a raise over his $4.25-million cap hit. Shattenkirk, 27, is one of the game’s premier puck-moving defensemen. He’s a commodity who doesn’t hit the open market often.”
  1. Two years ago, the Rangers nabbed Keith Yandle from the Coyotes and last year the biggie was Eric Staal.  Let’s not forget that when the Blueshirts won the Cup in 1994 their deadline dandies included Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish, Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan; all pivotal in the winning Crusade.

Rangers Matteau Devils 1994

  1. Now that Henrik Lundqvist is ruling his crease with old-time authority, some analysts believe that The King’s ever-so-brief slump was a good thing.
  1. One such critic — ex-NHLer Jody Shelley, now TV guru with Columbus — sees Henny as returning to mint condition. “It was good for Hank to go through something like that,” Shelley told me. “He hasn’t lost a thing.”
  1. With the All-Star Break arriving, Doug Weight will have time to evaluate the five games during which he’s been Isles head coach. One challenge will be finding the ideal linemates for Andrew Ladd.Islanders Andrew Ladd John Tavares Alternate Stock 012617 GettyImages
  1. Relentlessly, Jason Chimera is playing more and more of the brand of two-way hockey Garth Snow had hoped for when signing him. JC still could match his 20-goal mark achieved last season.
  1. With a couple more weeks under his belt, Miles Wood — alias Miles Per Hour — will have the NHL figured out and should qualify as a first-liner.
  1. Cory Schneider is the best goaltender to interview regarding the new equipment changes ordered by the league. CS was among the most involved rubber stoppers to work with the league on equipment changes.
  1. John Tortorella brings his suddenly-average Blue Jackets to The Garden Tuesday. If nothing else, Torts’ media scrums are a show in themselves, although our old pal has calmed down a bit.
  1. When his Jackets visited Barclays Center last Tuesday, we saw the two sides of Torts and — no surprise — each one was riveting, as always.
  1. In his pre-game press conference, Torts acted like he was a student of revolutionary decorum. When I asked him about his son, Dominick, who just returned from Army service, John acted the prideful dad, which he is. Canine-lover who finds homes for stray dogs, Torts revealed that his wife, Christine, recently took in another stray. Before leaving us, John mentioned that he’s been in touch with his buddy, Jack Capuano and predicts the ex-Isles mentor will soon get a job. “He’s gonna be fine,” promised Torts. “One door closes, another one’s going to open up for him.”

mavens-haven_tortorella_20150611.jpg

  1. Torts also had time for a joke which was not the case post-game after his club lost, 4-2, to the Isles. Seething over the defeat, John nevertheless kept a lid on his temper. “I’m not discussing what went right and what went wrong with my players,” he said. The coach was asked four questions in 30 seconds and repeated the same mantra.  Bottom Line: No one suffers a loss more intensely than Torts.
  1. S.O.S. for all local goalies. By Feb. 4, the NHL mandates that all netminders switch to the new, streamline pants. Some, such as Minnesota’s Darcy Kuemper insists that the league must monitor the “safety factor.” Others indicate that the new pants may increase the size of a goalie’s “five-hole.”
  1. I like Lundqvist’s sage observation: “The focus of the league should be to increase scoring chances, not necessarily goals. There are lots of goals in the All-Star Game; is that a good game?” (We all know the answer to that one. The King is right — again.)
  1. From This Week in Rangers History, “The Rangers played two games at Yankee Stadium as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series. The Blueshirts defeated New Jersey, 7-3, on Jan. 26 and defeated the Islanders, 2-1, on Jan. 29.”
  1. My recollection, watching the Devs-Rangers was that it suggested the beginning-of-the-end of Martin Brodeur‘s illustrious career. New Jersey had a quick lead and lost it just as quickly.
  1. Marty later joked that he always wanted “to play under the Stadium lights.” (He didn’t mean seven red lights either.)
  1. As for the Isles-Rangers, that was a terrific contest. In the post-game media scrum, I asked Alain Vigneault how much he felt “luck” played into the final score. (He didn’t seem to like the query.)
  1. All things considered, this has been a good week for Rangers’ netminders; and that includes those among the club’s prospects. Exhibits A and B follow:
  1. Igor Shesterkin, the Blueshirts’ fourth-round draft pick in 2014, played in his first KHL All-Star Game last weekend. He is currently second in the KHL with eight shutouts, third in save percentage (.941), and fourth in goals against average (1.55).
  1. Mackenzie Skapski, who missed the entire offseason as well as a huge chunk of this season due to hip surgery, earned his first AHL win of the season on Jan. 22 at Providence, by saving 33 of the 35 shots directed his way.
  2. Of course, it’s too soon to tell but based on early views Jean-Francois Berube looks like the real goods in goal as Islanders backup.
  1. It’s easy to explain Ladd’s awakening on the Islanders’ offense. He had been hurting and coach Weight rested him sufficiently to produce a major asset that’s turned the Brooklynites into winners.
  1. Both of Ladd’s two goals in the winning effort against Montreal weren’t flukes. Handy Andy actually beat Carey Price a third time but his shot the goal post.
  1. Overlooked in the Isles’ climb has been the endlessly reliable Calvin de Haan, shot-blocker supreme and iron man on defense.
  1. This from my man in Newark, Leo Scaglione, Jr.: “Devils newcomer Stefan Noesen played as advertised in the Thursday night game vs. Washington. He was physical, fast, strong on the forecheck and also showed his sniper side with a goal from the slot.”
  1. Pavel Zacha’s adjustment to the NHL has been slow but sure. He’s playing a more competitive game and it’s showing on the stats sheet.
  1. The Maven likes John Tavares as penalty-killer. Granted that the Captain needs time to master the role but he’s giving his game an added dimension and on JT it looks OK.

P.S. FOR HUMOR: When masks became commonplace equipment for goaltenders, Rangers Hall of Fame rubbermeister Gump Worsley was asked why he never wore a face protector. To that, Gump had the perfect squelch: “My face is my mask!”

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Official Rules: MSG Network’s Cheapin’ It Real Trivia Game Sweepstakes

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN

ELIGIBILITY: Open to legal residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, 18 or older.  Employees of MSGN Holdings, L.P. (“Sponsor”), MSG Networks, Inc., Fareportal, Inc. dba CheapOAir (“CheapOAir”), New York Knicks, LLC (the “Knicks”), the National Basketball Association and its member teams, NBA Properties, Inc. (collectively, “NBA Entities”), the New York Rangers, LLC (the “Rangers”), the National Hockey League and its member teams, NHL Enterprises, LP. (collectively, “NHL Entities”) and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates and advertising and promotion agencies, and their immediate families (parent, child, spouse or sibling and their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside) and those living in their same households, whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to enter or win. Trivia Game is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.

GAME PERIODS: The MSG Network’s “Cheapin’ It Real” Trivia Game will take place immediately following the end of the following 2016-2017 Knicks or Rangers home games (each, a “Game”) taking place at Madison Square Garden (“Arena”):

Friday, January 27, 2017 Charlotte @ Knicks
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 Anaheim @ Rangers
Wednesday, February 8, 2017 LA Clippers @ Knicks
Thursday, February 9, 2017 Nashville @ Rangers
Saturday, February 11, 2017 Colorado @ Rangers
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 Montreal @ Rangers
Sunday, February 26, 2017 Columbus @ Rangers
Monday, February 27, 2017 Toronto @ Knicks
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 Washington @ Rangers
Saturday, March 4, 2017 Montreal @ Rangers
Monday, March 13, 2017 Tampa Bay @ Rangers
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 Indiana @ Knicks
Thursday, March 16, 2017 Brooklyn @ Knicks
Friday, March 17, 2017 Panthers @ Rangers
Monday, March 27, 2017 Detroit @ Knicks
Wednesday, March 29, 2017 Miami @ Knicks
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 Chicago @ Knicks
Thursday, April 6, 2017 Washington @ Knicks
Sunday, April 9, 2017 Pittsburgh @ Rangers
Sunday, April 9, 2017 Toronto @ Knicks
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 Philadelphia @ Knicks
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 Montreal @ Rangers

TO PLAY: The MSG Network “Cheapin’ It Real” Team (“Team”) will be present outside the Arena (specific location to be determined by the Team) following the conclusion of each Game for approximately 15 – 30 minutes asking individuals trivia questions related to the Game and filming contestants’ participation in the Trivia Game. If the Team asks you a trivia question about the Game and you answer correctly, as determined solely by the Team, you’ll be eligible to receive a prize, while supplies of prizes last. Most prizes will be awarded on-site; however, some prizes may be mailed to winners following verification of eligibility and compliance with the terms of these Official Rules. Individuals will be permitted to answer questions on a first come, first served basis. Sponsor does not guarantee everyone who wishes to participate will have the opportunity to do so. Individuals who are acting in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, as determined by the Team in its sole and absolute discretion, will not be permitted to participate and may be asked to leave the Arena premises and/or any other area where the Team is conducting the Trivia Game.

ADDITIONAL WINNER VERIFICATION: In some instances, a potential winner may be required to sign an Affidavit of Eligibility and Liability/Publicity Release in order to claim prize. If potential winner chooses not to sign all required documents or is not in compliance with these Official Rules, he/she may be disqualified and forfeits the prize.

PRIZES AND APPROXIMATE RETAIL VALUES (“ARV”): Prizes awarded during the Trivia Game may include, but are not limited to, t-shirts, hats, luggage tags. ARV: $1–$40.  Prizes are awarded “as is” with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied. Winners may not substitute, assign or transfer a prize or redeem a prize for cash, but Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to substitute a prize with one of comparable or greater value. Winners are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes associated with prize acceptance and use. All prize details are at Sponsor’s sole discretion. Limit one (1) prize per person per Trivia Game.

PUBLICITY GRANT: Participants understand that their participation in this Trivia Game may be filmed, photographed or otherwise recorded for inclusion as part of an audio-visual content segment, which may be exhibited by Sponsor as part of the MSG Networks post-Game programming following the applicable Game (i.e., within 30–90 minutes following the conclusion of such Game) and/or on Sponsor’s other media platforms, including, without limitation, its websites and/or social media platforms.  Prior to participating, participants will be required to sign a publicity release granting MSG the right to use such footage for this and other purposes as more fully set forth in such release.  If a participant does not wish to grant such rights, he/she should not participate in the Trivia Game. Sponsor has no obligation to make use of the rights granted in such release or these Official Rules. In the event of a conflict between such release and these Official Rules, such release will govern. In addition, by participating, except where legally prohibited, participant’s grant permission for Sponsor and its designees to use his/her name, voice, performance, address (city and state), photograph, and/or other likeness and prize information, for advertising, trade and promotional purposes, in any manner, in any and all media now known or hereafter discovered, worldwide in perpetuity, without further compensation or notification to, or permission from, participant.

GENERAL CONDITIONS: By participating, each participant agrees (a) to abide by these Official Rules and decisions of Sponsor and Trivia Game administrators selected by Sponsor, which shall be final and binding in all respects; and (b) that Sponsor, MSG Networks, Inc., Knicks, NBA Entities, Rangers, NHL Entities, CheapOAir, and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates and advertising and promotion agencies, and all of their respective officers, directors, employees, representatives and agents (collectively, “Released Parties”) will have no liability whatsoever for, and shall be held harmless by participants against, any liability, for any injuries, losses or damages of any kind, including death, to persons or property resulting in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from acceptance, possession, misuse or use of any prize or participation in this Trivia Game (including any travel or activity associated therewith). Released Parties are not responsible for errors or difficulties of any kind whether human, mechanical, electronic, computer, network, typographical, printing or otherwise relating to or in connection with the Trivia Game, including, without limitation, errors or difficulties which may occur in connection with the administration of the Trivia Game, the announcement of the prizes or in any Trivia Game-related materials. Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion to suspend, modify or terminate the Trivia Game at any time. Information submitted in connection with this Trivia Game will be used in accordance with Sponsor’s Privacy Policy, available at http://corporate.msgnetworks.com/privacy.

WINNERS LIST: For the names of the winners of prizes valued at $25 or higher (available after applicable Game), send a #10 self-addressed stamped envelope with the name of the applicable Promotion to: MSG Networks, 11 Pennsylvania Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001, Attention:  Samuel Simmons, for receipt no later than 30 days after Game date.

SPONSOR: MSGN Holdings, L.P., 11 Penn Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001.

This Trivia Game is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by the Knicks, the Rangers, the NBA Entities or the NHL Entities.

 

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