Neuvirth to start against Wings, Boudreau waiting to decide playoff starter

Tonight’s Washington Capitals game will feature a change for the Southeast Division leaders—a change at goaltender. Scorching hot rookie Braden Holtby had been leading the Caps during their most recent stretch, but tonight will feature Michal Neuvirth between the pipes against Detroit. He’ll do his best to keep up with the unbelievable pace Holtby has set as of late.

Holtby started the 2nd period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 7th and didn’t allow a goal in the following two periods, overtime, nor the shootout and has never looked back. He’s played in every game since, earning wins in all 5 games he’s appeared in recently. Last week, Holtby rode a 4-0 and 1.05 goals against becoming the NHL’s #1 star of the week.

Checking out the depth chart in Washington, the Capitals are sitting on an embarrassment of riches in net. Here’s a brief rundown of each goalie and their amazing statistics:

Michal Neuvirth: 22-10-4 with a .914 save percentage and 2.47 goals against avg
Semyon Varlamov: 10-8-4 with a .923 save percentage and 2.27 goals against avg
Braden Holtby: 9-2-2 with a .930 save percentage and 1.95 goals against avg

Neuvirth and Varlamov have been highly thought of prospects since they were drafted 34th and 23rd overall respectively. On the other hand, Holtby was a 4th round pick in the 2008 Draft. When the season started, he was with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL before earning a promotion to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. More stellar play and an injury opened the door for Holtby to show what he could do—and he’s run with the opportunity. Even though there are good, young goaltenders in the Capitals’ system, Holtby just continued to produce.

“[Other young goaltenders in organization] probably plays into everyone’s mind when they’re in the minors, if they’re going to get their shot. At the same time, I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re good enough to play at a level of the NHL, you’ll get that shot. You don’t see many guys that go through their career with NHL skills that don’t get an opportunity. I was just trying to prove myself in Hershey and make sure that if I do get an opportunity, I’d be ready to give it my best shot.”

Coaches have a tendency to play it safe, lay low, and promote the status quo when their team has won 9 straight in the middle of a playoff race. They’ve ridden the surge to the top of the Southeast Division and are only a point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In this situation, Boudreau can either go with the guy who has playoff experience, the guy who has started most of the games this season, or the kid with the hot hand.

For his part, Boudreau isn’t ready to tip his hand quite yet.

“I don’t have to make that decision yet, so I’m really not doing it,” Boudreau said. “Every one of them we’ve put in has really excelled. Probably these next six or seven games will determine who’s going to be the starter in the playoffs for us, but right now we’ve got the three kids playing great and we give [Braden] Holtby a rest and see how somebody else can do the job.”

“I hate to be a historian on this, but in 1971 a kid got called up from the American League named Ken Dryden and played in the playoffs. I don’t think the pressure got to him and his career is history,” Boudreau said. “I see a lot of similarities in the Holtby, Dryden call ups, what their season’s been like and everything else.”

You have to love when a coach drops a reference from 40 years ago when thinking about the upside to a decision. But helping Boudreau out, both Cam Ward and Antti Niemi were rookie netminders who took over the starting jobs in the middle of the season—and both were able to help their teams lift the Stanley Cup when all was said and done.

The Capitals have drafted and groomed all three of these goaltenders to be successful in the NHL. Neuvirth has the best long-term record and Holtby has been unbelievable with his opportunity, but Semyon Varlamov had the best statistics before he was injured. Varlamov last played on February 20th, but he’s joined the team on their 6-game road trip signaling that he’s close to returning to the fold. It’ll be interesting to see what Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee decide to do with the thriving threesome down the stretch.

But the one thing we do know from Boudreau’s recent comments, is that this is, in fact, a three horse race.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins continue push for playoff spot against Stars

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Boston Bruins host the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

With six games to go, the Bruins are in a decent spot when it comes to making the playoffs, but they’re far from a lock.

They currently sit three points ahead of Tampa Bay in the chase for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Bolts have a game in hand.

Boston got off to a great start when they named Bruce Cassidy as Claude Julien’s replacement. They cooled off considerably (they lost four in a row) in the last couple of weeks. Now, they head into tonight’s action having won each of their last two games.

“I don’t have the reason why it wasn’t there for maybe a three-game stretch there,” said David Backes, per the Boston Globe. “But the fact that it’s back, and we’ve got our legs under us and we found that winning way again . . . hopefully, lesson learned.”

The good news for them, is that they can still move up the standings too. The Bruins are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic Division. Finishing in the second Wild Card spot means likely playing Washington in the first round, while finishing third in the Atlantic would mean possibly playing Ottawa.

After tonight’s game against the Stars, the Bruins will play four of their last five games (Florida, Tampa, Ottawa, Washington) at the TD Garden. Their only road game will be in Chicago. So they’ll face some pretty good teams, but at least they’ll do so on home ice.

Last week, the Stars were officially eliminated from the playoff picture, which wasn’t exactly surprising.

Dallas was hit hard by the injury bug, as they lost Mattias Janmark, Ales Hemsky early on, while Valeri Nichushkin bolted for the KHL.

So with the playoffs out of sight and out of mind, the Stars can focus on getting their young players some more ice time over the last two weeks of the regular season.

Players like Julius Honka, Curtis McKenzie, Remi Elie and Jason Dickinson should all get an extended look.

“We’re in a place where we need them to play important roles,” coach Lindy Ruff said of his young players, per the Dallas Morning News. “and we need them to play well.

“We need to finish hard and play hard. I think we’re all focused on being professional and giving our best effort.”

 We’ll find out if they can play spoiler in Boston tonight.

PHT Morning Skate: Zdeno Chara shot catches emergency goalie in a sensitive spot

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–Sean McIndoe looks at five players who became the unlikeliest first 50-goal scorers in their franchise’s history. McIndoe chose Rick MacLeish (Flyers), Rick Vaive (Maple Leafs), Vic Hadfield (Rangers), Guy Chouinard (Flames) and Mickey Redmond (Red Wings). (The Hockey News)

–A lot of people think hockey players are the toughest athletes, but Islanders forward Anders Lee is here to tell you that they aren’t tough at all. In his story for The Players’ Tribune, Lee writes about a tough, young friend, who is battling cancer. “In the seven years since he has been diagnosed, he has gone through multiple surgeries. He’s had countless radiation treatments. He’s gone through chemotherapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. And he does it all with a smile on his face. So when I hear people refer to me as tough because I play hockey, I think of Fenov and kids like him.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Boston Bruins needed an emergency goalie for their practice yesterday, and they settled on Massachusetts state trooper Kevin Segee. Surely, it was the experience of a lifetime for him, but it didn’t come without pain. Segee was clearly shaken up after getting a Zdeno Chara in the…well, you know. (CSN New England)

–Blackhawks forwards Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Tanner Kero each had multi-point games in Wednesday’s 5-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–What was the world like the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs? Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we don’t have to wonder. In 1990, J.K. Rowling had just started writing the Harry Potter series, Donald Trump walked out of an interview with CNN because they were asking tough questions about his casino, the first known webpage was written and much, much more. (Sports Illustrated)

–Edmonton Oilers players and their significant others came together to make 400-500 bowls of homemade soup for charity. It’s pretty cool to see most of the team be involved in such a nice event, even though the onion chopping station gave some of the guys a hard time. (Edmonton Oilers on Twitter)

–Sportsnet has assembled the top hits of the week for your viewing pleasure. Hits from that Toronto, Columbus game made the video a couple of times:

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.