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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.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”