NHL on NBC: Rangers, Caps start Round III of their playoff rivalry


For the third time in four years, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers will face each other in the playoffs. Washington won the first two series, but things could turn out very differently in 2012.

The Rangers team that Washington will face in Game 1 on Saturday (3:00 pm ET, NBC) is not the same as the one the Capitals dispatched in five games last year, but then again, Washington has changed too.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that this time around, it’s the New York Rangers that dominated in the regular season while the Capitals had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs.

New York’s success has been due in large part to the fact that Marian Gaborik and blueliner Michael Del Zotto both bounced back from their rough 2010-11 campaigns. The off-season signing of Brad Richards also proved to be a big boost. Combine that with their more versatile forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, plus their all-star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender on paper.

Still, the New York Rangers struggled against the Ottawa Senators in the first round and nearly became the latest top seed to be eliminated from the playoffs. Although they can take a lot of positives out of their opening round, not everyone has come together yet for the Rangers in the way that they will likely need going forward.

Of course the same can be said for the Washington Capitals – only in their case, you could have said that at basically any point this season. For all the star power they have, it was a young goaltender with almost no NHL experience that led Washington through the first round.

The Capitals did help him out defensively, but netminder Braden Holtby was the story of Washington’s victory over the Boston Bruins. Unless Washington’s best paid players start to shine a little brighter, he’ll need to be story again for them to beat the Rangers.

Game 1 Notes:

— Washington allowed a staggering 35.4 shots on goal per game in the first round. Only the Phoenix Coyotes allowed a heavier barrage.
— Washington ranked second in the league with a 91.3 penalty killing percentage in the first round.
— Of the three teams that won at least 50 games in the regular season, only the New York Rangers remain.
— The Rangers and Capitals ranked first and second respectively in blocked shots during the first round of the playoffs.

With Kucherov day-to-day, Lightning recall Conacher

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Nikita Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after Thursday’s unfortunate spill.

(You can see that crash in the video above.)

That’s a bummer, no doubt, especially if there are a lot of “days” missed. On the bright side, the Lightning have some reasonable depth to help stem the tide; in this case, that means recalling familiar face Cory Conacher.

The 26-year-old has been bouncing around hockey a bit lately, playing in the Swiss league last season. He’s something of an AHL/NHL ‘tweener at this point, but Bolts fans can look back fondly at him scoring 24 points in 35 games with the Bolts back in 2012-13, a span that inspired enough interest in Conacher that he was the main piece Ottawa received in the Ben Bishop trade.

So, hey, if you’re a Bolts fan feeling sad about Kucherov … just take a look at Conacher. It will probably remind you that you have, you know, one of the best GMs in hockey.

Get this: Bruins aren’t happy with Pastrnak’s suspension


You’re not going to believe this, but the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers don’t see eye-to-eye on David Pastrnak‘s two-game suspension for a hit on Dan Girardi.

In discussing the decision, the NHL provided the following explanation:

“Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Claude Julien provided the Bruins’ side of the argument, as CSNNE.com reports.

“To me I see a guy [in David Pastrnak] whose feet are still on the ice,” Julien said. “I just think that was an attempt to finish his check, but certainly not to injure.”

Julien insists that Pastrnak didn’t go “full-tilt.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, believe that it is the sort of check that needs to be eliminated.

“Initially when watching it, we didn’t feel it was the type of hit that the game wants, and the league took a stand,” Alain Vigneault said, according to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

Now, if the roles were reversed, would we see Vigneault griping about a suspension and Julien backing it up? Perhaps.

Ultimately, what we know for sure is that the top-heavy Bruins will be without a red-hot performer in Pastrnak for two games.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”