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Around the rink – Sunday, January 23rd

It’s a day loaded with afternoon action across the NHL and while our attention will be focused on Chicago today, there’s a few other fun matchups to keep an eye on across the league today. If you’re not keeping an eye on the NFL playoffs today, fear not, hockey’s got your back if you want the distraction. All times are Eastern.

12:30 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Chicago

It’s the NBC Game of the Week and it’s a battle between teams that have virtually changed roles from where they were last year. Last season, Chicago was the juggernaut in the West while Philly was fighting for a playoff spot. This year, Philly rules the roost in the East while the Blackhawks are in a dogfight in the West. The comparisons go on from there, but make no mistake, the Hawks are still dangerous with All-Stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp. Dealing with Chris Pronger once again should be enough to give some of the returning Blackhawks from last year puck-stealing nightmares.

Despite Philly’s loss yesterday, they’re a hot team having won four of their last five and eight of their last ten. Chicago comes in after a solid win over Detroit yesterday and winners of five of their last six much in part due to the play of previously unknown goalie Corey Crawford. A team of stars being led by an unknown goalie, you say? I bet Philly knows that storyline pretty well.

3:00 p.m.

Florida @ New Jersey

The Devils are on a three-game win streak and now that coach Jacques Lemaire has gotten through to the players the Devils are turning back into that annoying team that battles hard for a full game and doesn’t give an inch. Sounds like fun to play against right? The Panthers are hoping the Devils will be a bit worn out from dealing with the Flyers yesterday afternoon. The Panthers would also like to avoid going to overtime or the shootout. Their last four games have been decided in either of those and they’re 1-0-3 in those four games.

Buffalo @ NY Islanders

Three games in four days for Buffalo with two of them on the road. It’s a most unkind schedule but it might be the sort of thing that leads to seeing Patrick Lalime getting a rare start today. I say rare because he hasn’t started a game since November 20 against Tampa Bay. After Miller was pulled from his start on Friday night against the Islanders, don’t be surprised to see him get a break against them today. The Islanders might not mind seeing an overworked Miller once again as they were able to beat the Sabres in Buffalo 5-2 on Friday night.

5:00 p.m.

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay kicks off the beginning of an incredible 12-game homestand against divisional foes from Atlanta. The Thrashers have to start getting their act together in their hopes of landing a playoff spot. After a tough shootout loss to the Rangers last night, having to deal with the Lightning in short order doesn’t sound appealing. Steve Stamkos comes into the game on fire with six goals and three assists in his last five games and the Lightning winners of three straight, all in the shootout. Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost six of their last seven games. With Carolina and Buffalo both playing better of late, the race for the final playoff spots in the East are getting more interesting.

8:00 p.m.

Nashville @ Edmonton

Just who the struggling Oilers wanted to see come to town – a Predators team that’s been playing great of late. The Preds are winners of eight of their last ten games while the Oilers are incredibly losers of 13 of their last 15 games. As if the Oilers needed to be further handicapped, playing without Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle of late has just made times tougher on them. Dealing with a Predators team that thrives on frustrating and stifling opposing offenses could make this a very long night for Edmonton.

Just for Men: Sidney Crosby

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People love star athletes because they can do amazing things. Even so, people also often love to see the occasional moment of weakness.

Aside from the occasional injury hiccup, Sidney Crosby‘s been as advertised after being a super-hyped No. 1 overall pick. He has that “Golden Goal,” two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of individual accolades.

… Yet he can’t really grow much of a beard.

Granted, his facial hair is thicker now that he’s “Sid the star nearing 30” rather than “Sid the Kid,” but no one will confuse him for Brent Burns and his living-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods beard.

For some, especially Crosby-haters, it’s fodder for mockery.

For the rest of us, it’s merely comforting to see that people like Crosby are human and actually have a few flaws.

Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives,’ says Caps’ Beagle

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Not many people expected the Capitals-Penguins series to be over in five games, but there’s a chance that could happen before the end of the week. After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Capitals are one loss away from being bounced from the 2016 playoffs.

The Capitals failed to take advantage of the fact that Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Letang is now set to return for Game 5 which makes Washington’s task even more difficult.

“We didn’t take advantage of it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “One thing I said to the guys coming into this, and we talked it about it yesterday, was when Kris got his suspension, is that they’re going to rally. Their whole team, their forwards are going to come back. They talked about they didn’t play their best game (in Game 3) and now they have Letang out and everybody had to step up on their side, and I thought they did.”

If you look back at the regular season, the Capitals were head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league for a good portion of the season. Washington finished 11 points ahead of second place Dallas in the league standings and it looked like they had the team that would finally take them over the hump.

Although things look gloomy, it’s important to realize that the series is far from over. Many NHLers would tell you that the fourth win is always the hardest to come by in a best-of-seven series, and by no means is anyone expecting the Capitals to wave the white flag.

“Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed, but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle, per NHL.com. “We’re looking forward. Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”

Game 5 goes Saturday night in Washington.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial:

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.