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Around the Rink – Saturday, January 8th

There are a bunch of games tonight, so let’s get right to the previews. All start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

1:00 pm

New Jersey @ Philadelphia

It might only be for a few hours, but the Flyers could re-gain their Atlantic Division (and Eastern Conference) lead with a win over the lowly Devils this afternoon. The Penguins play later today, but cannot take it easy because Philly is right behind them with less games played.

3:00 pm

NY Islanders @ Colorado

The Avalanche are basically everything the Islanders should be: a once-proud franchise restocking with brilliant young talent and plenty of positive energy. Unfortunately, the Long Island bunch are punchless and far from positive. This one could be ugly.

7:00 pm

Florida @ Washington

The Capitals should be a well-rested bunch considering the fact that they only played one game (a 1-0 overtime shutout loss to Tampa Bay) since last Saturday’s Winter Classic. In other words, there aren’t many excuses if they lose to the Panthers tonight.

Tampa Bay @ Ottawa

The Senators are bruised and battered while the Lightning should be awfully angry coming off a humiliating 8-1 loss to the Penguins. This smells like a blowout for Tampa Bay, but you really never know.

Minnesota @ Pittsburgh

If the Wild could pick a time to play the Penguins, this wouldn’t be a bad one. Pittsburgh is stumbling ever so slightly and is without Sidney Crosby. Can Minnesota take advantage?

Boston @ Montreal

Winning the Northeast Division vs. coming in second place currently means the difference between being the third seed in the East and barely hanging onto a playoff spot. The Bruins can take a nice lead with a win in Montreal, but that’s easier said than done.

8:00 pm

Buffalo @ Phoenix

There’s a lot these two teams have in common: both wish they could play like they did in 2009-10, although each club is pretty happy with what is happening off the ice this season. They’re also both in 10th place in their respective conferences, although that means more to the Coyotes than Sabres.

Nashville @ San Jose

Generally speaking, the Predators (strong defense) and Sharks (efficient power play) get things done in different ways but they are producing similar up-and-down results. Right now Nashville is trending up with a four game winning streak while San Jose is struggling. Is it time to cue the record scratching noise for a change of pace?

NY Rangers @ St. Louis

The Rangers are a rough and tumble bunch who can win on the road (14 away wins) while the Blues are a profoundly different animal at home (14 wins in St. Louis). So which strength will matter the most in this game?

10:00 pm

Detroit @ Vancouver

This one should be an absolute treat, even if the absence of Pavel Datsyuk is a bit of a bummer. Whatever way you slice it – the two best teams in the West or NHL period – face off in this game. Hopefully it’s as entertaining on the ice as it is on paper.

10:30 pm

Columbus @ Los Angeles

Blue Jackets-Kings is like a Thanksgiving dinner argument between two dysfunctional family members, except someone actually will win this game. Columbus will be angry after a 6-0 beatdown from Anaheim last night while Los Angeles wants to end a five game losing streak. I’d hate to be in the losing locker room after this game.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.