Ryan Miller, Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly

Around the Rink – Saturday, March 12th

Today is a typical Saturday, being that it’s full of games (10) with plenty of playoff implications. (OK, plenty of playoff implications is typical for any day, but we digress.) Since there’s so many contests, we’re going to keep it fairly simple. All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

2:00 pm

Montreal @ Pittsburgh

Is this uncomfortable reunion week for the Canadiens? After losing Max Pacioretty, the team was forced to play against the goalie who took them to the Eastern Conference finals (4-1 loss to St. Louis) and now play the team they beat to get there in Pittsburgh. This should be a good test for both teams.

7:00 pm

Columbus @ Carolina

As bad as things have been going for the Hurricanes (three losses in a row, seated outside the East’s top eight), they’re that much worse for the bumbling Blue Jackets. Columbus is on a seven-game losing streak, so they should be a desperate team, but file this under “Games you must win if you want to make the playoffs” for the Canes.

NY Islanders @ New Jersey

The Devils keep winning and winning, while the Islanders quietly stay just a stride or two behind New Jersey. If the Isles win today in regulation, they will have the same amount of standings points (although the Devils will have two games in hand). That’s quite the turnaround, though one wonders how much it will benefit Garth Snow’s team in the long run.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia

Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger (health permitting) get to renew their hostilities Stanley Cup finals, although the match loses some of its luster since Buff is playing on defense/being a rover. The Thrashers need this one badly after losing to Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils last night.

Buffalo @ Toronto

One must wonder if Toronto-area hockey fans are just hoping that one of these two teams make the playoffs. After all, Buffalo is just a hop, skip and a jump away from that area, making it an interesting foster team for jilted Leafs fans. It’s definitely a big one for both teams, with the Sabres in seventh and the Maple Leafs in 10th.

Tampa Bay @ Florida

This might be the week in which the Lightning’s Southeast Division hopes go up in smoke, unless they excel during this four-game road swing. The Panthers are a very Panther-like 1-1-1 in the first half of their six-game homestand. Will this be the night their playoff hopes will be put to bed?

8:00 pm

Detroit @ St. Louis

The Blues seem like the West’s answer to the Islanders: they’ve been hit with a litany of injuries yet they’re currently putting together a winning run that might ultimately be pointless. This might be their best chance to take points from Detroit, though, being that the game’s in St. Louis and the Red Wings squeaked out an OT win against Edmonton last night.

Colorado @ Nashville

Jeez, the Avalanche are a downer. Either that, or they’re very committed to tanking this season. The 10th place Predators would love to help them maintain that losing spirit as they have some ground to make up to get back in the top eight.

10:00 pm

Vancouver @ Calgary

As stunning as the Flames’ turnaround has been, they’re one of those home-dependent (21 wins in Calgary vs. only 15 on the road) clubs who might be in serious trouble in a 1 vs. 8 seed match. Then again, who wouldn’t be in trouble against the Canucks in the playoffs?

10:30 pm

NY Rangers @ San Jose

The Ducks slapped the Rangers around on Thursday. Will the Sharks be equally unaccommodating as New York plays its second game against tough California teams? With the Stars nipping at their heels, San Jose has plenty to play for, which might not bode well for the Broadway bunch.

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.