Tonight on NBCSN: Doubleheader action with Rangers-Devils and Sharks-Ducks

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You can’t ask for more when it comes to the excitement of playoff season and there’s a pair of games with postseason jockeying in mind tonight on NBCSN.

New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Rangers are in a bit of a funk and while they’ve finally got their lineup back in order after a few injury hiccups, they’re in need of some wins. Meanwhile, the Devils are looking to get into the hunt with the Penguins and Flyers for the fourth and fifth seeds.

The Rangers have dropped five of their last seven and sit just one point ahead of Pittsburgh. They’ve taken two tough losses in a row at the hands of the Pens and Avalanche but with Henrik Lundqvist back from a bout with the flu and Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto feeling healthy again, it should only be a matter of time before they’re all back into form. New York could stand to see a bit more out of Brad Richards as it’s been Marian Gaborik who’s done most of the offensive heavy lifting for them of late.

New Jersey, meanwhile, is seeing Martin Brodeur look more like the goalie we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the years. While he was lit up by the Penguins on Saturday in a 5-2 loss, he was New Jersey’s best player. That’s saying a lot considering how great Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise have been this season but even Brodeur is giving Kovalchuk tips on how to score in the shootout. Opposite of the Rangers, New Jersey has won five of their last seven games and sit five points behind the Flyers for fifth. Finishing sixth wouldn’t be so bad seeing how you get to face the Southeast Division champion. Maybe the Devils want to cool it on that whole “winning” thing.

source: Getty ImagesSan Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET)

The Sharks are in a Mexican standoff of sorts with Los Angeles, Calgary, Dallas, Colorado and Phoenix for the final two spots in the Western Conference and getting hot at any time now means taking control of a playoff spot. As it is, San Jose is tied in ninth with the Kings at 82 points, one back of Pacific leading Dallas as well as Colorado and Phoenix who sit in seventh and eighth.

Perhaps the Sharks are rounding into form. Martin Havlat is back healthy and he got his goal scoring touch back against the Red Wings potting two goals including the overtime winner. With the amount of talent the Sharks have, there’s no reason for them to miss out on the playoffs.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are virtually toast in the playoff race but they would enjoy playing the spoiler for everyone. If Bruce Boudreau can keep his temper down when it comes to officiating, having their top players run roughshod on opponents can make anyone’s life hell. From Teemu Selanne to Bobby Ryan to Ryan Getzlaf to Corey Perry, that’s a lot of high-end talent to help make everyone else miserable. The Sharks are hoping they can accept their lot in life for at least one night.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.