Sean Avery, Sidney Crosby

Tonight on Versus: Crosby goes to Broadway to face streaking Rangers

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Sidney Crosby’s return to action has been pretty impressive. Understatement of the day, we know, but with eight points in his first four games he’s gotten right back into the saddle of being the best scorers in the league. The spark he’s brought to guys like Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, and Jordan Staal has been noticeable as well.

The Penguins have cruised along but now they’ll get perhaps their biggest test since Crosby’s return tonight in their divisional rivals the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET). The Rangers have won 9 of their last 11 games including two in a row. Keying the Rangers attack is offseason acquisition Brad Richards. Richards has 16 points in 20 games this season and is paying off immediate dividends for the Blueshirts. Marian Gaborik and his 10 goals are doing their part as well to give New York a useful offense.

Where this game could be decided depends on how Dan Girardi can do in containing Crosby. Girardi has been earning the hardest minutes in New York and he’s consistently being lined up against the opponents’ best players. If Girardi wants to help improve his write-in candidacy for the All-Star Game, holding Crosby in check would go a long way towards that.

Of course, scoring might be at a premium as it is with Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury expected to go head-to-head in goal. Lundqvist is again proving why he’s the best goalie to hit New York since Mike Richter while Fleury is showing that all the superstars in Pittsburgh aren’t just big scoring forwards.

If there’s one side story to keep an eye on it’s how the Pens handle the tenacity of the Rangers’ forecheck led by pesky Sean Avery. Avery since coming back to New York has reveled in his role as a pressure checking forward and eliminating a lot of the silly antics. The feisty Penguins should provide him with enough sandpaper to potentially spark fury through the game.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”