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Keith Ballard back in Canucks lineup, greeted by practical jokers upon return

Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard has been out of the team’s lineup the last few games for reasons really only known to head coach Alain Vigneault. Ballard’s been healthy but he’s been kept out of the lineup in favor of the likes of Aaron Rome. If you think that Ballard’s benching hasn’t been noticed by fans in Vancouver… You’d be very wrong.

Also taking notice of Ballard’s absence are his teammates who decided to greet Ballard’s return to action in a way that makes you think it was an idea borne from bloggers themselves. Gordon McIntyre of The White Towel shares the Canucks practical joke on Ballard that proves “tough love” has a few meanings.

In honour of Keith Ballard rejoining the lineup for a game tonight, after four healthy scratches in a row, one of his teammates had a little fun at the defenceman’s expense.

On the wall in the visitors room there often is taped a sheet for players to sign up for tickets for friends or family in the road city.

Among the handful of requests for tickets to tonight’s game, someone wrote K. Ballard in the ‘donor’ column and T. Vokoun under ‘recipient.’

“I think it’s hilarious,” Ballard said after the morning skate.

If you’re missing out on the reference of what’s going on here, think back to last November when Ballard swung his stick in frustration and accidentally cracked Tomas Vokoun in the head after being burned for a goal against. Despite playing in Florida at the time, this moment was one of the lowest of Ballard’s career, at least until he scored into his own goal later in the season anyhow.

As for who the responsible party is for the tickets, Ballard’s got a short list of suspects that makes a lot of sense.

“I have a couple of names in mind,” he said.

Burrows?

“That’s one of them.”

Bieksa?

“That’s another.”

Kesler?

“And another.”

At the very least, Roberto Luongo knew better than to potentially agitate the goalie-swinging Ballard. Well played, Roberto.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for today

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After the Eastern Conference Game 2s played out on Saturday, we’re getting the Western Conference set today. You can watch the action via NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Here’s a quick overview of where specifically you can watch the contests:

St. Louis at Dallas (3:00 p.m. ET)

If you want to watch the game on television, NBC is the channel to do that. If you want to stream the game with the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Nashville at San Jose (8:00 p.m. ET)

The game will be televised on NBCSN. You can also stream the contest by clicking here.

Here’s some relevant pregame reading material:

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning: