Around the Rink – Sunday, March 6th

Naturally, we’ll have all the bases covered for today’s NBC Game of the Week between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at 12:30pm ET. Yet this Sunday boasts five other games, including a host of weekend afternoon contests. Let’s get the lowdown on those matches, with start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

3:00 pm

New Jersey @ NY Islanders

Is it sobering or kind of funny that with all the hype the Devils’ impressive run to relevance is getting, they’re still only three points ahead of the Islanders? To be fair, the Isles have played in two more games and are looking fairly stout lately in their own right, but it’s still indicative of the Hoffa-sized hole New Jersey dug for itself.

Then again, the narrowing gap between the Devils and the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes also indicates that the rest of the lower seed East team’s haven’t exactly been elite all season, either.

5:00 pm

Washington @ Florida

Despite the Lightning having a lead going into their 12-game homestand last month, the Capitals kept with the Southeast Division’s top team, as they’re only one point behind Tampa Bay as of this moment. Beating up on the fading Florida Panthers would allow the Caps to take a temporary lead in the division that seemed like it wouldn’t be in doubt for several more years for the team. The Panthers are behind the Devils and only one point ahead of the Islanders right now, so maybe they can finally tank to get a top draft pick?

(Though, in true Panthers purgatorial fashion, they might get a lottery pick in a roundly panned draft. Even when they finally lose, Florida just cannot win.)

6:00 pm

Buffalo @ Minnesota

These teams seem oddly similar, almost like opposite conference cousins. Both teams are hovering around their conference’s playoff bubble. Each squad lost their top center to injury, as Derek Roy is missing for the Sabres while Mikko Koivu is on the shelf for the Wild. They also lean heavily on highly paid and skilled goalies, as Ryan Miller and Niklas Backstrom play key roles in their teams’ playoff hopes (although the gap between Wild backup Jose Theodore and untrusted Sabres No. 2 Patrick Lalime is substantial). These two scrappy teams need this one badly, so the intensity should be solid even if the familiarity isn’t there.

8:00 pm

Nashville @ Calgary

The Flames are two points (and one win) ahead of the Predators, leaving them in the top eight while Nashville is wedged into a virtual ninth-place tie with the Anaheim Ducks. That Calgary lead is deceptive, however, because they’ve played in two more games than Shea Weber & Co. This is a typically big game in the West bubble.

Vancouver @ Anaheim

Unlike the stumbling Flyers, the Canucks haven’t let a lack of fear for their playoff positioning affect their focus in dispatching desperate teams. For the most part, anyway. While they don’t hold the psychological edge that the Blackhawks must against Vancouver, the Ducks are the kind of talented potential playoff team that would give any top seed the willies, so perhaps the Canucks will want to hurt their chances of slipping into the eighth spot.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.