Your primer for tonight’s three playoff games

As I mentioned earlier today, from a sheer quantity standpoint, this will likely be the best remaining night in the 2011 playoffs. Obviously, schedules are subject to change, but if things stay the same this would be the last night with three games. The rest of the evenings will likely include no more than two contests, with many one-game nights as the playoffs go on.

Don’t be too sad, though, because each game becomes that much more significant as we go deeper into May and eventually June. If you want a quick guide of tonight’s three games, you’ve come to the right place. As always, start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

Philadelphia @ Boston (Versus) – 7 p.m.; Bruins lead series 2-0.

The Bruins are saying all the right things about taking this game seriously. Considering their recent history (from their first round comeback against Montreal to last year’s collapse against Philly), they obviously should.

The Flyers’ lineup changes are still a bit up in the air, with Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter’s statuses unknown. Boston should see few changes aside from Shane Hnidy taking big Adam McQuaid’s spot on the blueline.

(Other links of potential interest: Peter Laviolette won’t blame the goalies alone and Tim Thomas dominates Game 2.)

Washington @ Tampa Bay (NHL Network) – 7 p.m.; Lightning lead series 3-0.

It’s natural to focus a lot of attention on what the Capitals are doing wrong, but don’t lose sight of the great work by the Lightning. They are getting contributions from big name players and lesser known skaters alike, not to mention their outstanding elder in net.

It’s unclear if Mike Green will play for Washington while Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina are question marks for Tampa Bay. Alex Ovechkin says the Caps will win this game while Bruce Boudreau thinks that it’s dumb to ask if his job is on the line. Yes, you’re right in thinking that there is a lot of pressure on the Capitals at the moment.

San Jose @ Detroit – 8 p.m.; Sharks lead series 2-0.

The Sharks and Red Wings were in this exact position last year, at least from a series score standpoint. San Jose ended up splitting the two road games before closing out Detroit, so surely the Wings want to hold serve at home.

They’ll try to mix things up by separating Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, a perfectly reasonable move since both are comfortable (and adept) in the center spot. There’s been plenty of “gamesmanship” as this series gets nastier, with all of the vitriol caused by the impolite Jimmy Howard snow showers and the back-and-forth between the teams’ two coaches. These two teams are high on talent, but that’s not the only reason this series has been so entertaining.

Goalie nods: After blowout loss, ‘Hawks start Darling against desperate Bolts

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It wasn’t a good performance from Corey Crawford in Saturday’s 7-0 loss in Florida — the Chicago starter was hooked after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

Of course, it wasn’t a good night for the guy that replaced Crawford, either.

Scott Darling was torched for three goals on six shots against the Panthers, but now gets the first crack at redemption — Darling will start tonight when Chicago gets back into action in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are hopeful they’ll have as much success against Darling — and maybe even Crawford — as the Panthers did on the weekend. Tampa Bay is desperate for points, and heads into tonight’s action sitting three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are idle tonight, but the Isles — who have 82 points, to Tampa Bay’s 81 — are in action, hosting Nashville.

So it’s a big night for Tampa, to say the least. Appropriately, Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start, after stopping 29 of 30 shots in a big OT win over Detroit on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Eddie Lack is 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage, so he gets the call as the ‘Canes host the Red Wings. Petr Mrazek goes for Detroit.

Roberto Luongo is still out, meaning James Reimer gets yet another start for the Panthers (he scored the shutout against Chicago over the weekend). Robin Lehner is in goal for Buffalo.

— We mentioned the Isles-Preds game above, and it’ll be Thomas Greiss in goal for the host team. It’s his second straight start, having played in Saturday’s loss to Boston, and it comes ahead of the recently recalled Jaroslav Halak. No word yet on a Preds starter.

Jake Allen‘s ridiculous month (7-1-1, .951 save percentage) continues with a start against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will be in goal for the visitors, looking to snap a five-game personal losing streak.

— The Flames will stick with Brian Elliott when they host the Avs tonight. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for Jarnkrok sucker punch

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for his sucker punch of Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 over the Sharks on Saturday.

“Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

 

Cassidy says Bruins ‘overused’ Rask early on

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Some interesting comments today from Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, after goalie Tuukka Rask returned to practice.

Cassidy’s remarks came in the wake of Saturday’s big win in Brooklyn — a game that Rask missed with a lower-body injury.

“He had a good practice today,” Cassidy said of Rask, per CSN New England“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year … and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

It remains to be seen which netminder will get the nod tomorrow against Nashville at TD Garden. Anton Khudobin stopped 18 of 19 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Islanders. After a 1-5-1 start to the season, the 30-year-old backup has won his last five starts.

But Cassidy insisted today that Rask is the Bruins’ “No. 1 goalie.”

“He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important,” said Cassidy. “When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision.”

Couture seeing dentist today, Sharks hoping for the best

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Logan Couture took a puck to the face Saturday in Nashville, forcing him to leave an eventual 7-2 loss to the Predators — and leave it without all his teeth.

Today, the San Jose forward is seeing the dentist. The hope, according to head coach Pete DeBoer, is that Couture’s injury isn’t as serious as initially feared.

“You see him the next day, the swelling wasn’t as bad as we thought,” DeBoer said Monday, per CSN Bay Area. “He’s seeing the dentist today, and going to have some dental work done. But, I think the initial prognosis is that we feel pretty fortunate that with the amount of damage compared to what it could have been.”

The slumping Sharks, losers of six straight, have seven games left in the regular season. They host the Rangers tomorrow.