Pittsburgh Penguins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

Four games have three potential first round clinchers on tap for a busy Saturday

It’s as big and busy of a Saturday as you’ll find in the playoffs as four games will dominate your afternoon and evening across the NHL playoff landscape and there’s the possibility we’ll see three teams lock up spots in the second round of the postseason today. Oh yeah and we’ve also got the Bruins and Canadiens looking to beat the tar out of each other again. If your groove in the couch hasn’t been carved out yet, it will be after today. All times are Eastern

Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh – 12 noon (Versus)Pittsburgh leads series 3-1

A little afternoon delight for the Penguins as they’ll look to wrap things up with the Lightning and after seeing James Neal get the game winner in Game 4, they’ll be hoping to see him continue filling the net. As for Tampa Bay, we’re still waiting on Steve Stamkos to show up in this series. Through four games, Stamkos has just one assist. Meanwhile, Martin St. Louis has been carrying the team on his back in hopes of getting through the first round. He needs some help though and he’ll need some tougher goaltending out of Dwayne Roloson. Roloson’s been OK, but the three goals he allowed in Game 4 were all very stoppable shots. If he’s not big today, the Lightning will be pondering what could’ve been at the end of the day.

NY Rangers @ Washington – 3 p.m. (NBC)Washington leads series 3-1

The Caps will be looking to take a sort of zen approach heading into Game 5 as they look to close out the Rangers. They keep saying they’re not thinking about last year’s first round loss to Montreal, but you know in the back of their heads they realize they had the Canadiens in this spot last season and failed to close them out. For the Rangers, they’re hoping that Henrik Lundqvist can do his part to evoke the spirit of Jaroslav Halak while the rest of his teammates figure out a way to score goals and play smart defense to hold a lead.

Montreal @ Boston – 7 p.m. (Versus)Series tied 2-2

Is it really home ice advantage for the Bruins in this game or should the Habs have any kind of comfort level playing in front of a hostile crowd in Boston? We’ll see how much their tough Game 4 overtime loss affects them mentally as they were able to score first on the B’s in that game and managed to blow a 3-1 lead before losing in OT. Montreal is hard-headed enough to know they just have to stick to what they do well to frustrate Boston but they should fear the Bruins getting reinvigorated with confidence after sweeping the Canadiens in Montreal. For now, Montreal hopes that this “road team winning” trend continues and they can get a shot at finishing things at home.

Los Angeles @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. (Versus)San Jose leads series 3-1

The Kings are hoping they can find a stroke of luck and some better defense and goaltending to put some fear into the Sharks. Scott Parse will rejoin the Kings lineup in Game 5 to give them someone a bit more helpful than either Oscar Moller or Kevin Westgarth. No, Dustin Penner won’t hit the press box although you’d have to think coach Terry Murray would be tempted to do so. The Sharks are hoping that they can again twist the knife on the Kings and put them down for good.

San Jose’s getting tremendous production out of Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe in this series and considering those guys play on what’s essentially their third line, that doesn’t bode well for the Kings prospects on the road tonight. Jon Quick will hope to evoke some of that magic he had in Game 2 to fire up his team to get back into this series.

Simmonds tells AV ‘I’m not a dirty player,’ says he had ‘no intention of hurting’ McDonagh with punch

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers
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Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has taken exception to criticisms from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, in the wake of Simmonds concussing Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh with a punch over the weekend.

“Vigneault can say whatever he wants. He’s the coach, that’s his opinion,” Simmonds said, per CSN Philly. “I don’t really care. I’m protecting myself; guy comes to cross check you in the head. I didn’t know what he expected. I had no intention of hurting him and I feel bad about that. That’s not what I want.

“I may play physical and I like to take the body. I fight occasionally. But by no means am I a dirty player, trying to run around and injure guys.”

Simmonds was tossed from Saturday’s game after punching McDonagh, but wasn’t suspended by the league. McDonagh missed New York’s next game — Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils — and the lack of supplemental discipline incident irked Vigneault, who had words for both the officials and Simmonds.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said following the Flyers game, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the Flyers and Rangers play each other on Sunday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Worth circling that one on the ol’ calendar, methinks.

Goalie nods: ‘The losses have gotten to’ Dubnyk, so Wild turn to Kuemper

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Devan Dubnyk has started Minnesota’s last four games — all of them losses — so in an effort to try and right the ship, head coach Mike Yeo is going with Darcy Kuemper against Dallas this evening.

“This has definitely not been Dubnyk’s fault,” Yeo said of the Wild’s losing skid, per the Pioneer Press. “Even watching his game and evaluating it closely afterwards, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell he’s grinding right now like everybody. The losses have gotten to him.

“Kuemper has been part of this, but not to that level, so he’s probably got a little bit of a different mindset and a little bit of a fresher mind coming into the game.”

Kuemper has been pretty solid this year, going 5-2-4 with a .928 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. That said, he’s only made four appearances in 2016 and his last was a brief one, playing just over 11 minutes in relief against the Isles.

For Dallas, Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start.

Elsewhere…

— No definitive announcements out of Boston, but Tuukka Rask is likely for the Bruins, and Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings.

— It’s Roberto Luongo for the Panthers in Buffalo. Sabres are going with Robin Lehner.

Cory Schneider‘s going back-to-back for the Devils after stopping 35 shots in a loss to the Rangers on Monday. Cam Talbot starts for the Oilers.

John Gibson is not going back-to-back after getting shelled by Pittsburgh last night. Frederik Andersen starts in Philly, Steve Mason for the Flyers.

— Columbus will keep rolling with Joonas Korpisalo as it hosts the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak gets the nod after getting hooked against the Red Wings over the weekend.

Ben Scrivens will look to win his third game in a row when the Habs host the Bolts. Ben Bishop‘s in for Tampa Bay.

— Barry Trotz heads back to Nashville and will continue rolling with Braden Holtby in goal. Trotz’s former workhorse, Pekka Rinne, starts for the Preds.

— It’s Connor Hellebuyck versus Brian Elliott as the Blues host the Jets in St. Louis.

— Good matchup in Chicago tonight, as the in-form Corey Crawford starts for the ‘Hawks. The Sharks will counter with Martin Jones.

— After Ryan Miller started the last four, Jacob Markstrom goes for the Canucks in Colorado. The Avs are starting Semyon Varlamov.

— Fresh off today’s blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade, the undermanned Leafs are going with James Reimer in goal in Calgary. The Flames will give Jonas Hiller another start after he beat Vancouver on Saturday night.

Here’s what TCF Bank Stadium will look like for Minnesota’s outdoor game

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What you’re looking at is an architectural rendering of TCF Bank Stadium for the upcoming outdoor game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Feb. 21.

The current forecast for that day in Minneapolis is a high of 27° F and a low of 19° F, with only a 20 percent possibility of precipitation, i.e. snow.

Which is to say, that guy in the Toews jersey is gonna be cold. At least roll up your sleeves, man. Don’t be a hero. 

The game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, will be broadcast live on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America, while Hockey Night In Canada and TVA Sports will have the action for the folks up north.

50 years ago today, the NHL’s ‘great expansion’ begins

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers fight during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 8-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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“This is the year of the great expansion. For the first time, the league will be composed of twelve teams.”

Those were the words of former NHL president Clarence Campbell as he ushered in six new franchises to join the Original Six for the 1967-68 season.

We only mention this because it was 50 years ago today, in 1966, that the league awarded conditional teams to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis.

(To read more, click NHL.com’s anniversary piece. The Los Angeles Times also has a story on the birth of the Kings, while CSN Philly remembers the Flyers’ beginnings.)

For all you youngsters out there, San Francisco’s team, originally named the California Seals, ended up playing in Oakland, but not for long due to attendance issues. The franchise would move to Cleveland in 1976, where in 1978 it ceased operations and merged with the North Stars.

The North Stars also eventually relocated, though that didn’t happen until 1993 when they moved to Dallas. The expansion Wild were born a few years later.

Of the five surviving franchises of the “great expansion,” only the Blues have never won the Stanley Cup.

The Flyers were the first expansion team to hoist the Cup. They did it in 1974.

Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas