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Ilya Kovalchuk scores in return, but Devils fall to Rangers 3-1

NY Rangers 3, New Jersey 1

It was pretty hard to blame the Devils’ woes on Ilya Kovalchuk after the team was bludgeoned 6-1 by the Buffalo Sabres in his absence. You cannot really point to him for this loss, either, as Kovalchuk was the only New Jersey player to pierce Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the Devils’ fourth loss in five games.

Many will focus on the Devils’ struggles – after all, last season’s Atlantic Division winners are now 2-6-1 in nine troubling games – but let’s not ignore the Rangers’ hard work. The Blueshirts are on a three-game winning streak and won each contest by one goal, despite being without crucial offensive weapons such as Marian Gaborik. One might even say that the Rangers are doing their best impression of the Devils in the last few contests.

Michal Rozsival and Ryan Callahan scored while Brandon Dubinsky added an empty-netter for the Rangers, who put 33 shots on Martin Brodeur.

Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise combined for 15 of the Devils’ 28 shots tonight, indicating that the team’s top scorers are getting a little frustrated … but are certainly giving it the old college try. The Devils dominated the third period (out-shooting the Rangers 12-5) but could only get one puck past Henrik Lundqvist in the game and that frame.

A lot of blame will go to rookie coach John MacLean – and with good reason – but the Devils might want to ponder changing their captain as well. Jamie Langenbrunner is a solid two-player who can bring a lot of intangibles to the table, but he’s a -6 so far this season and took three penalties in this one. Perhaps Langenbrunner remains sour after an ugly 2009-10 season that included a healthy scratch and some serious issues with former coach Jacques Lemaire? Either way, he hasn’t been playing well and his contract expires after this season. He might be an interesting guy to watch in trade rumors going forward.

The Rangers find themselves in the middle of the Atlantic Division race now, with nine points in seven games played, keeping them on pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins (11 points in 9 GP) and New York Islanders (10 points in 8 GP).

Meanwhile, the Devils are among the worst teams in the NHL so far. They’ve earned only five points in nine games played which ties them with Ottawa (but the Senators played eight) and places them one point ahead of Florida (but the Panthers only appeared in six games at this point).

Neither team should get too high or too low, but you can bet the Rangers relished pouring a little salt in the wounds of their regional rivals.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.