Alexander Semin, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos

Eastern Conference semifinals: Lightning-Capitals; Who do you have?

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While the Western Conference semifinals were clear to us by Tuesday (Predators-Canucks; Red Wings-Sharks), the East’s second round wasn’t determined until Dwayne Roloson completed his shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now that we’re aware of which four teams will square off in the East, everyone can draw sides.

The Washington Capitals were supposed to cruise their way to yet another Southeast Division title, but the Tampa Bay Lightning held the top spot for a healthy portion of the 2010-11 season. Eventually the Capitals adjusted to their new, balanced system and took their title back, though. They also asserted their dominance over the Lightning, going 4-1-1 against Tampa Bay.

The Capitals didn’t miss many beats in their first round playoff series against the New York Rangers, either. That’s not to say that it was as easy as the 4-1 series record would indicate, but it was still a shining example of their renewed commitment to defense. The Capitals’ oft-criticized stars Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin came up big and their rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth seemed perfectly comfortable in high-pressure moments.

Meanwhile, the Lightning were in a very different situation. They found themselves down 3-1 to the Penguins but managed to win all three elimination games. It wouldn’t be wise for Tampa Bay to fall into such a hole against the Caps, but at least they know they can fight back from the brink of premature vacation. Martin St. Louis was his typical brilliant self (eight points against Pittsburgh) and Roloson’s first round output might make him the best low-risk high-reward trade acquisition of the season. Steven Stamkos started to ramp up his game toward the end of the first round, but Tampa Bay probably hopes that he will try to one-up Ovechkin in this series.

Both teams have plenty of firepower, with the Bolts being a bit less proven (beyond a handful of vets) while the Capitals must deliver under intense pressure. Which team do you expect to win and how many games will they need to get it done? Let us know in the poll.

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:

Sharks grind out win, make life difficult for Kings

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If the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings meet again, it will be in the playoffs. If they do so, the Sharks will hold quite a bit of a recent edge.

They defeated them in the first round of the 2016 playoffs and won the 2016-17 season series with the Kings after beating L.A. in a tight 3-2 affair on Wednesday.

During a week where leads have been flimsy and goals came in flurries, this one started off pretty hot. The Sharks generated a 2-1 lead in the first period, and then the two teams exchanged goals in the second, with Joe Pavelski‘s goal ultimately standing as the game-winner.

The Sharks won after a scoreless third period, keeping them in a position to take back first place in the Pacific Division:

1. Ducks – 59 points in 47 games
2. Oilers – 57 in 47
3. Sharks – 56 in 45

San Jose has an opportunity to make up that ground with its games in hand. The Kings, on the other hand, see their margin of error for a wild card spot dwindling:

Second wild card spot: Kings, 48 points in 45 games

Canucks – 48 in 46
Predators – 47 in 44
Stars – 46 in 46
Jets – 46 in 48

The Sharks made life easier for themselves while making it tougher for the Kings. If that’s the end of their interactions for 2016-17, Sharks fans should be quite happy.

Red Wings rally by Bruins in another game that evokes the Eighties

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Things looked pretty grim for the Detroit Red Wings after the Boston Bruins chased Jared Coreau from the net with a quick 3-0 lead. Maybe the Red Wings took note that this has been a weird, high-scoring week in the NHL, because they rallied back and eventually won 6-5 via a shootout.

To recap the zaniest games of each day from this odd few days of hockey:

Monday: The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 8-7 in an overtime thriller.

Tuesday: The Dallas Stars managed to hold off the New York Rangers in a 7-6 victory. Plenty of weird things happened beyond all of those goals.

Wednesday: Red Wings storm back from that 3-0 deficit to eventually win.

Games like these can be a nightmare for coaches and goalies on both sides, yet Claude Julien was probably especially steamed by this one.

The Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 but the Red Wings kept fighting back. As a defensive-minded coach, Julien couldn’t have been happy with his team’s play.

(That’s the coach’s answer to slamming a video game controller in a frustrating loss.)

Fitting in with this week’s other wilder contests, there were flurries of goals even beyond the trio that quickly gave Coreau the boot. The Red Wings warped a 4-1 Bruins lead to a 4-4 tie with three goals in a little more than 10 minutes of time.

Adam McQuaid then regained Boston’s lead 21 seconds after it was tied, but the Red Wings didn’t give up. Instead, they applied a ton of pressure in the third period until Gustav Nyquist tied it up with about three minutes left.

Detroit still has a long way to go to protect its remarkable playoff streak, especially when teams like the Bruins can at least salvage “charity points” with losses. If the Red Wings want to make an unlikely push, they’ll need to show the kind of resolve that was on display on yet another wild night in the NHL.