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Semyon Varlamov will start in Winter Classic; does that mean Varly holds the upper hand in Caps’ net?

While watching HBO’s fantastic coverage of the December 23rd Capitals-Penguins game, I couldn’t help but notice Pittsburgh’s subtle disregard for the skills of Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth.

After the first period, Maxime Talbot pleaded with his teammates to get more shots on net, saying that Neuvirth was “shaky.” Sidney Crosby pointed out the fact the he was flinching during the two teams’ shootout. Head coach Dan Bylsma went as far as to say “this goalie isn’t that good” during the second intermission of that game.

Even if such comments were made to encourage the team to shoot more often, you have to wonder if the general opinion is that Semyon Varlamov might be the better of the two young Caps goalies. I cannot help but wonder if Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is leaning in that direction at the moment, considering the fact that he announced his decision to start Varlamov during the team’s biggest game of the 2010-11 season so far tonight.

Chances are solid that appearing in the Winter Classic means more to both goalies than any normal regular season game – and while it’s dangerous to read too much into it – you have to wonder if Varly has the upper hand considering right now.

Boudreau thinks the team will have a better idea of which of the two is their No. 1 guy by the final chunk of regular season games, though. At least when he’s on the record.

Q.  Are you looking at this stage of the season for someone to emerge and say I want this job, and they both played well and they both maybe had some bumps?

COACH BOUDREAU:
Well, I think they both want this job.  And I mean, if Neuvy hadn’t have got hurt the day after Christmas, he would still be playing.  But he got hurt and then all of a sudden Varly gets a chance, and he plays a great chance against Carolina and he shuts out Montreal, how can you not give him the start.

Q.  I think early in the season you said ideally they’d play four games, one game each and something would happen in the Playoffs.  Do you want one of them to have identified himself to the rest —

COACH BOUDREAU: By the season’s end I would.  I think it’s a little bit like when we made a trade for Huet a couple of years ago, there was Kolzig and Huet and I played them the first 10 games, just alternated, and then eventually Cristobal won the job and he played the last seven games.

And I just assume or I’m hoping that something like that is going to take over here, and it doesn’t have to happen anytime soon.  I think they’re both really competitive guys having a friendly competition of who wants to be number one.  But it will happen in the last quarter of the season, I would think.

For better (recent times) or worse (the beginning of the 10-11 season), Marc-Andre Fleury is solidified as the Penguins’ goalie of the present and future. The Capitals don’t have that luxury/occasional problem, though. So when it comes to Washington’s goalie situation, it’s all about how these guys respond to big game pressure, making the Winter Classic a nice dress rehearsal for the playoffs.

If tonight’s announced starter is any indication, Varlamov might be the lead actor while Neuvirth seems like the understudy.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Judge for yourself: Was Drouin’s would-be 1-0 goal offside?

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To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.

The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.

As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.

Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.

The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)

Lightning coach believes Drouin ‘is going to be dominant in this league’

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.

At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.

These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.

In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.

” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”

Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.

In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.

The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 6

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning collides with Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:

Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6

Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5