Game of the Week preview: Rangers try to avoid repeating nightmare finish

You’ll have to excuse Rangers fans if they’re starting to look a little more pale and they’re not eating normally they way the did earlier this year. They’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach and it’s one they’re a bit too familiar with. In case you’d forgotten, and if you’re a Rangers fan you’re punching your computer screen upon reading this, the Rangers lost out on a playoff spot on the last game of the season last year, losing to Philadelphia in a shootout. With the win, the Flyers made the playoffs and the Rangers were out. Philly, of course, went on to the Stanley Cup final where they lost to Chicago.

Rangers fans and perhaps some players as well thought “that could have been us” when seeing the Flyers roar through the Eastern Conference playoffs on the way to a shot at the Stanley Cup. With that sort of motivation you’d think the Rangers would be doing everything in their abilities to make sure they don’t miss out on the party again.

Things had been looking positive for the Rangers on that quest to make the postseason until recently. The Rangers have lost three of their last four games and as we’ve seen elsewhere in playoff races any cold streak like that hurts. For the Rangers it’s knocked them down into a points tie with the Sabres, but the Rangers hang on to the eighth spot thanks to tiebreakers going in Buffalo’s favor.

When tomorrow’s game drops the puck in Philadelphia, the Rangers could see the Sabres ahead of them by one or two points and the Hurricanes hot on their heels trailing them by one or two points. Three teams vying for two spots in the playoffs makes playing the regular season feel like the playoffs because every game from here on out is huge. To the Rangers credit, they’re still very confident in themselves. Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants has this to add from coach John Tortorella.

Though coach John Tortorella certainly expressed things he did not like about Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Islanders and Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Buffalo, he also told his team he and his coaching staff believed in the players and had their backs during the team meeting. And the players certainly believe, with four regular season games remaining, that controlling their destiny is key.

“We’re not in the 13th or 14th spot,” Tortorella said. “We’re right in the middle of it. We’ll respond the right way. I have full faith in them.”

Confidence is a big thing to have, and for the Rangers that all starts with Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has been other-worldly this season with 11 shutouts and standing out as a potential Vezina Trophy finalist. When the offense has gone through the motions and the injuries to their top players like Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, and Ryan Callahan it’s been Lundqvist that’s held it all together for the Rangers.

It’s a familiar juxtaposition considering that last season’s playoff chances went by the wayside thanks to the Flyers beating Lundqvist in the shootout and this year it’ll all fall on his shoulders again to keep the team locked in place for the playoffs. As King Henrik goes, so do the Rangers. We’re sure he’d love to see the Rangers drop another seven spot on Philly tomorrow to send the message that they won’t be going away quietly.

Then again, if you’re thinking things will be that easy for New York, you haven’t been watching them much this season. After the game against Philly, the Rangers wrap the season with games at home against Boston, Atlanta, and New Jersey. Boston still is fighting for a better seeding atop the East while Atlanta and New Jersey (especially) will be looking to spoil their plans. If the Rangers playoff hopes come down to that game against the Devils, Rangers fans might want to find a safe place to hide out for the night lest the nightmares of last year come roaring back all over again.

PHT Morning Skate: King Clancy nominees; Rutherford mad at Flyers fans

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Each team unveiled their nominee for the King Clancy Award, which is given “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Ryan Getzlaf, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban, the Sedin twins are all on the list. (NHL.com)

• Winning three Stanley Cup titles in a row would be a great accomplishment for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a successful year would be making it out of the Metropolitan Division bracket. Anything beyond that is gravy. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Pens GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t happy with Flyers fans after they threw beer can on the ice following their team’s Game 6 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy sat down for a Q&A with Sports Express. He talked about Nikita Kucherov‘s ability to torment goalies, Evgeni Nabokov’s influence on him, and much more. (Raw Charge)

• Paul Maurice’s playing career came to an abrupt ending, but he managed to transition into coaching pretty quickly. Even though he had doubts early on, everything worked out. (Featurd)

• After a great season, the Avalanche decided to give Jared Bednar a one-year contract extension. Also, don’t be surprised if the team becomes even younger than they were this year. (Denver Post)

• There’s been rumblings about Erik Karlsson being on the trade market. Most teams would jump at the opportunity to acquire a player like that, but here’s three reasons why the Rangers should stay away. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• The Minnesota Wild decided to part ways with GM Chuck Fletcher for a few reasons. Cap management, the losses in the expansion draft and the struggles they’ve had in the entry draft are three of the reasons he got let go. (Hockey Wilderness)

• This gay ECHL referee hasn’t had it easy during his time in the hockey, but he keeps pushing forward with his sights set on the NHL. (New York Times)

Jim Howard of Puck Junk recently came across an audio yearbook on the 1979-1980 New York Islanders. The record touched on the Isles’ journey from an expansion team to Stanley Cup Champs. (Puck Junk)

• The Vancouver Canucks need a lot of help on defense heading into next season. They can either hope to win the right to draft Rasmus Dahlin, or they can go after John Carlson in free agency. (TSN)

• Northeastern’s Dylan Sikura was back on campus after spending some time with the Chicago Blackhawks down the stretch. (College Hockey News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: We have a Game 7; Bobrovsky’s playoff struggles continue

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Two games on Monday night

Washington Capitals 6, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (Capitals win series 4-2)

Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the NHL’s best goalies. He is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a claim that only 22 goalies in league history can make. He has consistently been one of the most productive goalies in the league since arriving in Columbus. For whatever reason, that regular season success has not translated over to the playoffs.

After giving up five goals on Monday night in an elimination game against the Washington Capitals, Bobrovsky’s career postseason numbers now fall to a 5-14 record and an .891 save percentage in 24 appearances.

That is not great. He ended this series with a .900 save percentage as the Blue Jackets dropped four games in a row to the Washington Capitals.

In his defense his only real postseason appearances have come against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Capitals, two teams that get the best of a lot of goalies. On the other hand, when you are a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and get paid the way Bobrovsky does there at some point has to be an expectation for more no matter who the opponent is. The Capitals win the series 4-2, will now play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second-round for the third year in a row and the fourth time since 2009. It will be the 10th postseason series meeting between the two franchises.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 1 (Series tied 3-3)

There will be one Game 7 in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it will be played on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET puck drop on NBCSN) in Boston.

The Maple Leafs were able to force a Game 7 thanks to their 3-1 win over the Bruins on Monday night thanks to another great performance from Frederik Andersen in net.

You might remember the previous postseason series involving these two teams also went to a Game 7 when the Maple Leafs allowed a 4-1 third period lead to slip away. They forced a Game 7 in that series by also fighting off elimination with close wins in Games 5 and 6.

This group has a chance to change the script.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs needed a huge game from their goalie on Monday night and they got just that in their 3-1 win. Andersen turned aside 32 shots in the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 win and has been the difference in all three of Toronto’s wins in the series. Without him this series might already be finished. They are going to need one more big performance from him in Boston on Monday night.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Two more goals for Ovechkin Monday as he helped the Capitals top the Blue Jackets. He finished the first-round with five goals, three assists, and four two-point games. Do not ever let anybody tell you he does not produce in the playoffs.

3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Frederik Andersen was not the only player to come through for the Maple Leafs on Monday, they also received a couple of huge goals from two of their young stars in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Marner’s goal, his second of the playoffs, ended up being the game-winner and the result of a rare mistake from Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Factoid of the Night

This is probably why the Columbus Blue Jackets are now 0-4 in playoff series since entering the league.

Upcoming schedule

No games on Tuesday.

Game 7 for the Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs is on Wednesday.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin powers Capitals to another second-round series vs. Penguins

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When the Washington Capitals lost the opening two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice — including a Game 2 loss that seemed to only add to their playoff torment — it seemed as if they were headed for another bitterly disappointing exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then they changed goalies.

Then Alex Ovechkin promised they were going back home tied at two.

Then they finally got a playoff bounce to go their way.

Then they won four games in a row, including Monday’s 6-3 Game 6 decision in Columbus, to eliminate the Blue Jackets and move on to the second-round where they will meet a very familiar nemesis — the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the third year in a row.

For now, though, the focus remains on what the Capitals accomplished in Round One and the way Ovechkin helped put the team on his back and lift them to the series win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Do not let anybody ever tell you that Ovechkin doesn’t come through in the playoffs. If they try to, they are wrong. Horribly wrong. Laughably wrong. After his two-goal effort on Monday, he is now up to 51 goals and 98 total points in 103 career postseason games.

His 0.49 goals per game average is the second-highest among active NHL players that have played in at least 50 playoff games, trailing only Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

His 0.96 points per game average is sixth among that same group, trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Ryan Getzlaf.

He has never had a postseason series in his career where he did not score at least one goal. Don’t think that sounds impressive? Consider that out of the top-25 active postseason goal-scorers in the NHL, all of them — except for Ovechkin — have had at least one postseason series where they were held without a goal. Only four of those players have had fewer than two postseason series without a goal. Scoring goals in the modern day NHL is difficult. It is even more difficult in the playoffs. There is something to be said for that level of consistency.

He brought it in the first-round against the Blue Jackets scoring five goals and adding three assists. He had at least two points in four of the six games, including three of the Capitals’ wins.

On Monday, those two goals were massive for the Capitals, scoring them just six minutes apart in the second period to help them open up a 3-1 lead. The second goal was a vintage Ovechkin power play goal that he scored from his office on top of the circle.

The greatest sign of dominance in professional sports is when the other team knows exactly what you are going to do, where you are going to do it from, and how you are going to do it, and they are still powerless to stop  you. That is Alex Ovechkin on the power play.

That power play unit was 9-for-27 in the series.

Now the Capitals move on to the second round where they have to play the team they’ve had issues trying to solve. The Penguins and Capitals have met in the playoffs 10 times before. The Penguins have won nine of them, including in the second-round in each of the past two seasons and all three times in the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin era.

Will this be the year the Capitals get over that hump? They are not quite as deep as the teams that could not do it the past two years, but Braden Holtby appears to be locked in in net after regaining his starting job and Ovechkin is playing great. Both are great signs. If the past three matchups between these two franchises are any indication it is sure to be an amazing series that probably goes the distance.

Get ready for it.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Andersen, Maple Leafs shut down Bruins to force Game 7

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The formula for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins has been a simple one: When Frederik Andersen is great, they win. When he is not, they get blown out.

In the past two games, both with the Maple Leafs facing elimination, they have been fortunate enough to get the “great” Andersen. His 32-save effort in Toronto’s 3-1 Game 6 win on Monday night is a big reason this series is now headed for a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Maple Leafs have leaned on Andersen a ton all season, not only giving him a massive workload that saw him have to play in 66 games (second most in the league, just one shy of the NHL lead), but also forcing him to face the most shots of any goaltender in the NHL.

Nearly 200 more than the next closest goalie, to be exact. That reliance has continued in this series.

He may not have finished the season with the best numbers in the league, but there is a lot to be said for a goalie that can play that many games, face that many shots, and give his team above average goaltending the way Andersen did.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The combination of a young, offensive-minded team with a suspect defense that bleeds shots against the way the Maple Leafs do can put a ton of pressure on the goalie. If that goalie is not on his game, things can get ugly in a hurry, just as they did early in the series when Andersen struggled and Toronto was absolutely crushed on the scoreboard and looked to be on their way to a rather quiet and unimpressive postseason exit.

But in the three Maple Leafs wins, Andersen has been a difference maker, especially over the past two where he has stopped 74 of the 78 shots he has faced to help keep their season going.

It is not as if the Bruins haven’t had chances in those games, because they have. Andersen has simply been up to the task.

It would be hard to argue that the Maple Leafs have been the better team at any point in this series because the Bruins have looked downright dominant at times. But in a short series there are a lot of variables that can completely turn things upside down. Goaltending is always at the top of that list.

Over the past two games the Maple Leafs have been getting it.

But it was not just the goaltending on Monday that helped give Toronto another game. They also received big contributions from two of their young stars as William Nylander and Mitch Marner scored goals, with Marner’s goal — his second of the series — going in the books as the game-winner.

Veteran center Tomas Plekanec, a trade deadline acquisition that has at times struggled mightily since coming over from Montreal, also looks to have some new life as this series has progressed and helped put the game away with his second goal of the series late in the third period.

Then there was the penalty kill. With just under seven minutes to play in regulation, the Maple Leafs clinging to a one-goal lead, Marner was sent off for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. The ensuing penalty kill was clinical by Toronto as they completely shut down the Bruins’ power play and nearly scored a shorthanded goal when Kasperi Kapanen broke in alone on Tuukka Rask, only to have Rask just get enough of his shot to send it wide.

Now it all comes down to one game on Wednesday night.

The big question for the Maple Leafs will be the same one that has existed this entire series: Which Frederik Andersen is going to show up? If it is the one they had over the past two games, they might actually pull off this comeback and move on to the second round for the first time since 2003. If it is the one that showed up in the three losses, it might be another ugly result if the Bruins keep generating shots and chances the way they have in the first six games.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.