Sauer Erskine

NHL on NBC: Caps, Rangers renew rivalry at MSG

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The latest chapter of a heated Eastern Conference rivalry will be written Sunday when the Washington Capitals face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

But this time, it’ll be written in front of a national audience.

Yes, Caps-Rangers is NBC’s feature game this weekend (12:30 p.m. ET ), something both sides are acutely aware of as they meet for the third time this season.

“I think whenever you’re on national TV and you have a big audience like that, it’s a little more exciting,” Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman told CSN Washington. “Those NBC games are more exciting because you’ve got more people watching at home. There are definitely a few more texts if you mess up, that’s for sure.”

It’s a big game, but also a game of firsts for Washington. Dale Hunter will coach at MSG for the first time in his career; the game also marks Washington’s first visit since MSG’s $850 million renovation project. New York won the first of two meetings at the Verizon Center 6-3, before Washington rebounded with a 4-1 victory in late December.

“I think everybody likes playing [at MSG],” said Hunter. “The atmosphere there, it’s an original six team. It will be an intense game.”

The teams built their rivalry largely on playoff matchups — Washington and New York have met in two of the last three postseasons, with the higher-seeded Caps winning both — but unlike previous years, it’s Washington looking up at New York in the standings. The Rangers improved their conference-leading record to 35-13-5 with their 5-2 win against the Flyers on Saturday. The Capitals, meanwhile, are in ninth place in the conference with a 28-21-5 mark.

“It’s a huge test,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We have to play our best hockey to win.”

Related

— You can chat with PHT’s Mike Halford online during the game by heading to NBCSports.com, then clicking on the liveplayer for an interactive Twitter Q&A.

— NHL.com’s Corey Masisak has a great piece about the challenges Hunter’s facing in Washington.

Jeremy Roenick says it’s “advantage Rangers” on Sunday.

— NHL.com’s Dave Lozo profiles New York’s Vezina-worthy goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

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The San Jose Sharks won a back-and-forth Game 5 to take back the lead in a back-and-forth Western Conference Final, moving one victory away from appearing in the Stanley Cup Final.

After scoring the tying goal late in the second period, Joe Pavelski notched his 12th of the playoffs to give San Jose the lead for good just 16 seconds into the third period.

The Sharks earned a 6-3 victory on the road, in a bounce-back effort from Saturday.

Twice, the Blues grabbed the lead. Troy Brouwer gave them the advantage in the first period, showing off his baseball skills by batting the puck into the net on a rebound. Robby Fabbri gave them another lead in the second period, making Roman Polak pay for snapping on Dmitrij Jaskin along the boards.

But the Blues couldn’t hold on. The Sharks scored twice on three power play opportunities and can now clinch the Western Conference on home ice in Wednesday’s Game 6.

As for the Blues, will Ken Hitchcock change up his starting goaltender again? It’s certainly an aspect of this series that will once again be up for debate leading up to Wednesday’s game.

After Brian Elliott had backstopped the Blues through the first two rounds and started the first three games of this series, Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in Game 4.

Allen recorded the win Saturday, and was called upon again in Game 5 as expected, but gave up four goals on 25 shots Monday.

Video: Sharks’ Polak snaps, Blues make him pay on the power play

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San Jose Sharks defenseman Roman Polak took serious issue with St. Louis Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin during the second period, as the two eventually threw off the gloves off in a fight in the corner.

In the process, Polak let his emotions get the better of him — he snapped — by also taking a roughing minor to give the Blues a power play.

The Blues made him — and the Sharks — pay on a blast from Robby Fabbri, who was a game-time decision for Monday’s contest.

The Sharks tied the game at 3-3 before the end of the second period on Joe Pavelski‘s 11th of the playoffs. Pavelski struck again in the third period, giving San Jose the 4-3 lead.