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Around the Rink – Wednesday, December 15th

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Here are previews for tonight’s 11 games. As usual, all start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Phoenix @ New Jersey

The Coyotes and Devils are prime examples of the disparity at the lower levels of the two conferences. While New Jersey is so far behind the pack that some wonder if they’re already out of playoff contention, Phoenix is only four points behind the Pacific Division lead and seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the overall lead in the West.

So yeah, the West is better.

Anaheim @ Washington

On paper, this should be an easy win for Washington. The Caps have 12 of their 18 wins at home while the Ducks only won five in 15 games on the road. Yet, you know the drill: the West tends to beat the East more often than not. If nothing else, the offense on both sides should make for an entertaining contest.

Boston @ Buffalo

Despite losing their last game, the Bruins are now only two points behind the Canadiens for the top spot in the Northeast and Boston also owns two games in hand. Beating the stuck-in-the-bubble Sabres would be very helpful, especially considering the daunting task facing the Habs tonight.

NY Rangers @ Pittsburgh

The Rangers won’t get the chance to end the Penguins’ winning streak after Pittsburgh lost to Philadelphia last night, but they can start a losing trend for their division rivals tonight. They’re more rested than Pittsburgh, so it might come down to whether or not the Penguins are more angry or tired on these back-to-back games.

7:30 pm

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

With the Capitals on a six-game losing streak, the Thrashers and Lightning can entertain the idea of leading the Southeast Division sooner than almost anyone imagined. Atlanta could tie Washington’s record (before the Caps play tonight, though) while Tampa Bay would only be one point behind them, depending on who wins tonight.

Carolina @ Florida

Tonight’s games feature the other Southeast Division teams, as the Hurricanes and Panthers also square off. Carolina is a model of up-and-down mediocrity (12-12-4) while it’s difficult to say if Florida is mediocre or just bad.

Philadelphia @ Montreal

The Habs will have Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek back, but will that be enough for them to beat the newly crowned kings of the Eastern Conference? It should be fun to see another rematch of last summer’s conference finals either way.

St. Louis @ Detroit

With the Blues being seriously depleted by injuries and the Red Wings so clearly strong at home, it would seem like a shoo-in for Detroit. That might happen, but don’t count scrappy old St. Louis.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ Nashville

It’s almost a joke at this point; since the days of Tomas Vokoun, the Predators have had resounding success when their should-be starter goes down with an injury. This time around, it’s Anders Lindback carrying the torch for Pekka Rinne. The result is hard to deny: Nashville is going for their fourth win a row against San Jose tonight.

8:30 pm

Colorado @ Chicago

The Avalanche and Blackhawks share the same numbers of wins (16) but Colorado has more points (36 to 35) in two less games. The Avs are quietly hot, too, as they’re on a three game winning streak.

10:00 pm

Columbus @ Vancouver

To show how closely matched the West is: the Canucks are tied with the Avalanche (but with less games played) and only two points ahead of the Blue Jackets. In other words, it seems like just about every game matters in this wacky conference.

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told 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.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The Canadian Press via AP
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The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

Related: Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

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.”