Penguins clinch playoffs as Malkin, Neal overshadow Radulov’s return

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Thursday night was supposed to be all about Alexander Radulov’s return to the Nashville Predators, but it’s pretty tough to steal the Pittsburgh Penguins’ thunder – even when you score.

Radulov provided the Predators’ lone goal as the Penguins dominated the game, winning 5-1 – and thus becoming the East’s second team to clinch a playoff spot – thanks in large part to another outstanding performance from Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

Penguins pound Preds

Malkin scored his 44 and 45th goals of the season, giving him a stunning seven goals and four assists in his last five games. Malkin has nine games left to get the five tallies needed for 50, which would defy my (seemingly reasonable?) guess that Steven Stamkos would be this season’s only 50-goal guy. Geno now has a whopping 95 points in just 66 games, making it hard to deny the crowd’s logic in chanting “M-V-P!” tonight.

Neal wasn’t exactly chopped liver, either, collecting four assists for the game’s first star nod. Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist) and Kris Letang (two helpers) also played a big part in the win, with the only “bummer” being that Sidney Crosby went without a point.

(It looked like Crosby “finally” scored his first goal of his second return, but Kunitz received credit for the goal as the puck deflected off of a Predators’ skate instead.)

Radulov under review

Radulov did get his goal, but a -2 rating and just two shots on goal show that he didn’t have a super-busy return. He appeared in just under 16 minutes (15:54 time on ice), but it’ll probably be fairer to judge his work this weekend, when the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and start a three-game road trip by visiting the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (which you can watch on NBC Sports Network).

Atlantic race update

As I mentioned before, the Penguins are now guaranteed a playoff spot. Here’s what the Atlantic title battle looks like now:

Rangers: 99 points, 43 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Penguins: 98 points, 37 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Flyers: 94 points, 39 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

It’s likely that the Flyers (who beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout tonight, more on that soon) are out of the mix at this point, although they’ll face the Penguins two more times this season.

Honestly, one cannot help but wonder if it might all come down to an April 5 home game against the Rangers. New York holds tiebreaker advantages so the Penguins almost certainly need to finish with one more point to win the division, but that contest could represent the difference if the two teams remain neck-and-neck down the stretch.

Just ask the Predators how easy it is to stick with the Penguins.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Rangers-Senators, Penguins-Capitals

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The New York Rangers will need to find a way to slow down Erik Karlsson on Saturday afternoon if they are going to avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole against the Ottawa Senators, while the Washington Capitals will have to do the same against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both games on Saturday will be broadcast on NBC and be streamed online.

Here is all of the information you need for today’s games.

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: John Forslund, Brian Boucher

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire

The NHL Draft Lottery is tonight, here are the odds for every team and TV information

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Saturday night is going to be a big night for the 14 NHL teams that did not qualify for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs because one of them will be the lucky winner of the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the No. 1 pick in the draft.

While there probably isn’t going to be a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews at the top of this year’s class, the top-two prospects (Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier) both have huge potential.

The Colorado Avalanche, owners of the NHL’s worst record in 2016-17, have the best odds at winning the lottery. The Avalanche last selected first overall in 2013 when they picked Nathan MacKinnon. New York Islanders have a less than one percent chance of winning.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have a 10.3 percent chance of winning the top pick.

Here is everything you need to know about tonight’s lottery

When: 8 p.m. ET, just prior to faceoff of Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals second-round playoff series

TV: NBC

Odds for every team in the lottery:

Colorado Avalanche — 18.0%

Vancouver Canucks — 12.1%

Vegas Golden Knights — 10.3%

Arizona Coyotes — 10.3%

New Jersey Devils — 8.5%

Buffalo Sabres — 7.6%

Detroit Red Wings — 6.7%

Dallas Stars — 5.8%

Florida Panthers — 5.4%

Los Angeles Kings — 4.5%

Carolina Hurricanes — 3.2%

Winnipeg Jets — 2.7%

Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2%

Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

New York Islanders — 0.9%

The NHL draft will be held on Friday, June 23 (first round) and Saturday, June 24 (rounds two through seven) at United Center in Chicago.

Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly for Capitals in Game 2

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After dropping Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals are making a minor lineup change on Saturday for Game 2 of the series when Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly on the team’s fourth line.

Carey, 28, appeared in only six games for the Capitals this season and did not record a point. He has one goal and one assist in 32 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Capitals, and appeared in three playoff games for the Avalanche back in 2014.

Given how Connolly’s ice time has been decreasing over the past few games this postseason it probably should not be too much of a surprise that he is now being removed from the lineup. After logging at least 10 minutes of ice time in each of the Capitals’ first three playoff games, he has not played more than 6:12 in each of the past four.

Coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday that he likes Carey’s speed in the lineup against the faster Penguins.

Connolly scored 15 goals in 66 regular season games for the Capitals this season.

In other Capitals lineup news, there is no change in the status of defenseman Karl Alzner as he will remain out of the lineup. He has been sidelined since Game 3 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt will continue to take his place.

Scott Darling trade ‘worth the risk’ for Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes made a somewhat surprising move on Friday night when they acquired goaltender Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2017.

On the surface it looks like a good move for both the team and the player. Goaltending has been a major thorn in the Hurricanes’ side for several years now, while Darling has probably earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL after performing extremely well as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago.

The risk for the Hurricanes is that Darling will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and they will have to get him signed to a new contract before then to avoid potentially losing him (and the third-round pick they sent to Chicago) for nothing.

Shortly after the trade on Friday, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said all of that was worth the risk because the team has accumulated so many draft picks in this year’s class.

“This is a bit of a gamble but one we believed was worth taking,” Francis told Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. “This is why we accumulated these picks and we still have 10 left. It was worth the risk.”

He added that they would “like to get something done sooner rather than later.”

The duo of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack finished the 2016-17 season with a .901 save percentage, 26th in the NHL. The Hurricanes have finished higher than 25th just once in the past five years. The Hurricanes have solid young core of talent in place and a defense that allowed the fifth fewest shots on goal in the entire league this season. Solidifying the goaltending position would go a long way toward ending the team’s current eight year playoff drought.