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

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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.

Stars, Rangers do their Caps – Pens impression in wild win for Dallas

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If you watched only Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers game and yesterday’s manic Washington Capitals contest, you might believe that you were transported to the days of the 1988 Smythe Division.

Just ask Justin Williams.

That Penguins – Capitals game ended with an 8-7 overtime victory for Pittsburgh, while tonight’s 7-6 win for the Stars against the Rangers wasn’t far behind.

All the goals

Henrik Lundqvist gave up seven goals, eventually giving way to Magnus Hellberg in the third period. It’s been a rough go of things lately for the future Hall of Famer, with tonight marking the low point.

The Stars opened up leads of 3-1 in the first period and 7-3 through the first two frames, but as you can guess from the score, the Rangers stormed back with three goals in a surprisingly tight third period.

Kari Lehtonen saved the day for the Stars, stopping 12 of 12 after taking over about halfway through the third for Antti Niemi.

Much like with the Penguins – Capitals clash, it was about more than just seeing a lot of goals.

More than just a high-scoring game

Cody Eakin and Chris Kreider were in the thick of things. Eakin scored his first goal of 2016-17, a 7-3 tally that absurdly ended up being the game-winner. Kreider began the Rangers’ rally with his 18th goal of the season, hit Eakin with his own helmet during a fight and created his typical brand of chaos.

As much as this might sting the Rangers, and as concerned as they may be about Lundqvist’s play, at least it looks like Ryan McDonagh avoided injury despite this scary fall:

OK, so these four teams dropped the gauntlet for wild games this week. Who’s going to carry the torch on Wednesday?

Report: Islanders granted permission to interview Gerard Gallant

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 29:  Head coach Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers speaks during Media Day for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena on January 29, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Gerard Gallant might not go long between head coaching gigs.

The New York Islanders have received permission to speak with Gallant, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Gallant was an assistant coach with the Islanders from 2007 to 2009, so there’s some familiarity there with GM Garth Snow (it was early on in his reign). Gallant was unceremoniously fired by the Florida Panthers in late November, with plenty of rumors circulating that he didn’t jive well with the franchise’s analytics-driven mindset. Gallant denied those claims, for whatever that’s worth.

(If such rumblings are true, perhaps Gallant would agree with the questionable logic of giving limited, but heavy-hitting forward Cal Clutterbuck a contract extension. That would be an interesting question to ask him during an interview, eh?)

Doug Weight is currently considered the Islanders interim head coach after the firing of Jack Capuano.

About the only bummer for everyone outside of Weight is that the Islanders already played their three games against the Panthers this season, so we’d have to wait until 2017-18 for whatever drama would come of that.

Robin Lehner’s furious anger seemingly directed at Sabres after being pulled

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Update: There’s now full video to get a better sense of Robin Lehner‘s behavior.

The Maple Leafs ended up beating the Sabres 4-3 after Buffalo made the game awfully interesting.

***

Late last season, Ben Scrivens expressed relief in avoiding a fight with Robin Lehner, the Buffalo Sabres goalie he called “a bit of a psycho.” It sure seemed like the Sabres were the target of his frightening anger on Tuesday.

Lehner really didn’t seem too happy after being pulled from the game, whether that anger was directed at Dan Bylsma, his Sabres teammates or … everyone?

Watch him rage out after getting the hook following Toronto’s three-goal outburst in about nine minutes:

/Cowers in fear.

Onlookers seem to believe that the tension was real.

Raise your hand if you wouldn’t want to be around Lehner right now. Here’s the impressive Auston Matthews 3-2 goal that ended his night early:

Jared Spurgeon shows he has hands like a surgeon (Video)

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Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon has a pretty good knack for scoring goals, especially considering the fact that he doesn’t always take a ton of shots.

Maybe Bruce Boudreau should consider asking him to fire away a little more often.

You won’t see many prettier examples of hand-eye coordination than Spurgeon’s power-play goal from Tuesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, which gave the Wild a 1-0 lead. Watch it in the video above.

It’s almost impressive enough to justify rhyming his last name with surgeon. You know, theoretically.