Alex Ovechkin,  Artem Anisimov

PHT Predicts: Capitals vs. Rangers – Who do you have?

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These two teams played an incredible seven game series a couple seasons ago, but they’re vastly different teams now. New York rolls with Marian Gaborik and a blossoming Brandon Dubinsky while the Capitals are more defensively responsible now. The Caps still have Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin to do the scoring and now Mike Green is back in the lineup on the blue line.

Whether it’s Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth that leads them in goal against all-world star Henrik Lundqvist is still up for grabs though. Here’s how we’re looking at things in this high-profile series which you’ll get to see Game 3 of which on Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.

James says:
There are some flashing neon lights pointing in the way of a Rangers upset, but my gut says that the Capitals are just too talented for New York. As great as Henrik Lundqvist is, can he overcome New York’s disadvantages in terms of quality depth, high-end talent and special teams? The Blueshirts keep proving me wrong, but I must obey my gut or it will grumble.

Capitals in 6. Jason Arnott has been getting a lot of press regarding his veteran presence, yet Mike Knuble brings a more important veteran presence: his presence in front of the net.

Matt says:
Any team that has Henrik Lundqvist is going to have a puncher’s chance. Losing Ryan Callahan is a huge loss for a team that wants to play the type of game the Rangers want to play. Honestly, it might be too much to overcome. For the Capitals, there’s no question that their year starts now. Through the system change and all of the ups-and-downs that came with it, we’ll find out if it was all worth it. As usual, despite a stellar regular season, Washington will solely be judged on their playoff performance. The Rangers won’t be the biggest test, but it’ll be the first test. It shouldn’t be a huge problem for them either. Capitals in 5.

Joe says:
The Capitals learned a lot of lessons from their first round ousting last year against Montreal. They’ve changed up their style and don’t play with reckless abandon anymore. They play the way a playoff team should now and having an ace up your sleeve offensively like Alex Ovechkin is huge. Unless Henrik Lundqvist goes ape and turns into the Swedish Superman, I don’t like how the Rangers shape up against them. It won’t be easy for Washington and the Rangers will give them fits, but I like the Capitals in 6.

What say you faithful PHT readers? Think we’re all in the bag for Ovechkin and coach Bruce Boudreau and his saucy stylings? Vote in our poll and let us know who you think wins.

Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers celebrtaes his goal at 1:11 of the second period against the New York Islanders during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Aleksander Barkov was only supposed to miss 2-3 weeks with a then-undisclosed injury.

That timeline was provided almost three weeks ago, and Barkov still isn’t back playing for the Florida Panthers.

Today, interim coach Tom Rowe provided an update, and it wasn’t good news. Rowe told reporters on a conference call that there’s no timeline for Barkov’s return. He then dropped an even bigger bomb, admitting there’s concern that both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau could have season-ending injuries.

Huberdeau has not played at all this season after suffering a skate laceration in the preseason. His original timeline was 3-4 months. The Panthers are still hoping he’ll be back by early March.

The Panthers’ frustrating season continued last night in Edmonton, where they lost 4-3 in overtime on a Connor McDavid goal with 2.6 seconds remaining. Though they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, the closest two teams they’re chasing, Toronto and Ottawa, each have five games in hand.

It’s estimated that Florida (20-18-9) will need to go in the neighborhood of 20-10-5 down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. And that will obviously be a lot tougher to accomplish without two of the team’s best forwards — if, indeed, Barkov and Huberdeau are sidelined for much, or even all, of the remaining schedule.

‘No doubt that there is a confidence issue’ with Lundqvist, says AV

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
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These are rough times for the King.

Henrik Lundqvist, who for the better part of a decade has been a brick wall for the Rangers, is going through arguably the toughest stretch of his career. He allowed seven goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Stars on Tuesday, and 12 on 49 shots in his last four periods played.

If you go back over his last four games, it’s a staggering 20 goals on 113 shots.

His head coach knows something is wrong.

“There’s no doubt that there is a confidence issue with Hank,” Alain Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “Hank has had some moments in the past, probably never to this degree.

“So he’s in new territory, we’re in new territory to some extent.”

As Vigneault said, Lundqvist’s had some struggles before. The end of last year wasn’t very good — he struggled in late in the year, and was torched in an opening-round playoff loss to the Penguins.

Thing is, both Lundqvist and the Rangers conceded a large part of those struggles were due to the guys playing in front of him, and all the glorious scoring opportunities they allowed.

So it’s telling that Vigneault and Lundqvist aren’t using that theory this time around. In fact, AV went to far as to suggest the opposite — that Lundqvist’s poor play is actually affecting the guys in front of him.

“Sometimes that can trickle down a little bit with the other guys when something happens on the ice,” he explained.

The other big difference with this particular stretch of struggle is that there’s no safety valve. Lundqvist’s traditionally had good backups — Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, most notably — but Raanta is now sidelined with injury, leaving untested Magnus Hellberg as the club’s No. 2.

(Even during his World Cup struggles, Lundqvist had a capable backup in Jacob Markstrom to lighten the load.)

As such, it’s solely on King Henrik to turn this around. And he knows it.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level.

“It’s not good enough.”

Depth scoring helps Penguins get by Canadiens

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 18:  Olli Maatta #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his third period goal with teammates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 18, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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MONTREAL (AP) Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens’ offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday’s wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price‘s woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games.

A tight-checking first period saw Pittsburgh strike first as Cole took a feed from Evgeni Malkin on a counterattack and scored on a high shot inside the near post with Patric Horqvist screening Carey Price. Malkin picked up his seventh point in five games.

Fehr, who got into the lineup with Matt Cullen out 3-to-4 weeks with a foot injury, was left alone in front to take a pass from Chris Kunitz and score 5:19 into the second. Guentzel made it 3-0 at 17:38 when he tipped a point shot from Cameron Gaunce, who was making his Penguins debut.

Andrighetto got one back at 18:11 when he banked one in off Murray from the side of the net.

Conor Sheary got away with tripping defenseman Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net and fed the puck to Maatta at the point for a low shot that went through Price’s pads 15:36 into the third frame.

A scoreboard tribute was paid to former Montreal Expos star Tim Raines for his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Penguins: at Carolina on Friday night.

Canadiens: at New Jersey on Friday night.

PHT Morning Skate: Tortorella says ‘not a chance’ LeBron James could play hockey

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Auston Matthews is putting together one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in a long time, but if it wasn’t for Ukrainian skating coach Boris Dorozhenko’s unique teaching methods, he might not be the player he is today. (ESPN)

–Not many people expected the Minnesota Wild to contend for the Central Division crown this season, but their play is making some in the national media believe they have a chance to do some damage in the near future. “I give them a ton of credit,” NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said. “They’ve put themselves in a great position to win a Cup. This is the best team they’ve had in Minnesota ever. Like, ever!” (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–If he wasn’t a basketball player, I could see LeBron James playing in the NFL. But a hockey player? I don’t think so. It sounds like Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella agrees with me. “He can’t skate,” Tortorella said during a radio interview. “He’s too damn big, he can’t skate. And you can tell him I said that, I challenge him.” (BarDown)

–The Boston Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 in last night’s game against the Red Wings, but they still found a way to lose the game. Watch the highlights of that tilt by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Every hockey fan is aware of the incredible season Sidney Crosby has put together, but for some reason, Evgeni Malkin‘s stellar play seems to be flying under the radar. After all, Malkin isn’t too far behind Connor McDavid for the scoring title. “He doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves,” said Penguins assistant coach Sergei Gonchar. “Not only this season or that season. I think overall if you look at his career, I don’t think he has been covered as much as some other guys. I think he deserves more credit for what he has done in his career.” (NHL.com)

–The 2003 NHL Entry Draft is regarded as one of the best drafts in league history. That year, the Penguins took Marc-Andre Fleury first overall, but if it had to be done over again, who would the top pick be? According to a pair of Sportsnet hockey analysts, Patrice Bergeron or Ryan Getzlaf would go number one if that draft could be done over again. (Sportsnet)

–In his final year of eligibility, former Expos outfielder Tim Raines was finally voted into the Hall of Fame yesterday, and the Montreal Canadiens made sure to congratulate him during last night’s game: